Friday, October 22, 2021

Teaching Chronicles: Parents Behaving Badly — The Man Purse

      It was my youngest daughter's senior year.  To be specific, it was the fall open house of my youngest daughter's senior year — after this, I was done!  No more teacher conferences, science fairs, fundraisers, or open houses... I could almost taste freedom!  I begin with this to partially excuse my behavior, because in this episode of "Parents Behaving Badly," I am the parent.

     The way open houses are set up in high school is parents are rushed from one ten-minute presentation to another with a three-minute passing period so we can, "Get a feel for how your kids do it."  The flaw in this is the kids get a chance to know their school... and they are younger and more resilient.  Parents wander from wing to wing approaching teachers with beseeching looks as they attempt to find their child's next class period only to discover it is on the other side of campus.  So, with it being my last open house and the way it was organized, I think I am allowed a certain degree of cynicism.

     We had arrived at the final class: "Home Management and Design: Textiles and Fashion."  If you like me are wondering what this class is about, perhaps it will help if I tell you when we were in high school, we called it "sewing."  Worse than the somewhat highbrow title, the teacher was really enthusiastic... I mean really enthusiastic — more enthusiastic than I was ready to deal with at the end of this ordeal.  She was, in fact, on a sewing mission from God.  After introducing herself, she rocketed off into a list of exciting projects the kids would be working on.  She enthused about starting with stuffed animals, moving on to pillows, and possibly learning enough stitches and patterns before the end of the semester  (her voice reaching a crescendo of triumph) to be able to make "man purses" for the dads.

     You know how even in a completely quiet room of thirty or forty people, there is always a little bit of background noise — people fidget, feet shuffle, throats are cleared.  When she said the word "man purses" the room went entirely silent as eighteen dads froze. Over the years, my daughter has developed a finely tuned dad snark-o-meter.  At the phrase "man purse" she knew the needle had been buried, and I was about to say something oh-so clever.  As I turned my head toward her, she attempted to preempt me.  Quietly, out the side of her mouth, her eyes frozen straight ahead, she said, "Shut up." 

     Undeterred by her shocking disrespect for her parent, I asked, "Honey, are you going to make Daddy a man purse?" 

     Refusing to look at me, she muttered again, "Shut up."  

     I persisted, "But, Honey, what if Daddy really wants a man purse?"  

     She hissed, "Shut up!"  

     Unfortunately, I never did find out any more about the man purse or my daughter's feelings concerning it because the session ended.  Sadly, I never got my man purse that year.  One of the important lessons of parenting is accepting there will be disappointments along the way.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Teaching Chronicles: Kids Behaving Badly — Pencil Sharpener Bully

     Mark's handwriting was completely illegible.  Now, I don't mean it was difficult to tell his E's from his A's or he forgot to cross his T's, I mean it looked as if he had taken off his shoes and socks in class, stuck a pencil in between his big and second toe, and attempted to scratch out his work.

     At first, I just tried to encourage him to write more neatly.  His handwriting would improve for a little bit, but within a few days be right back to the illegible scrawl.  As a next step, I brought him a couple brand-new pencils, and then sat with him and worked on his penmanship.  As long as I was sitting right there, he actually had pretty good handwriting for a fourth grade boy.  Boys always have a harder time with handwriting in the younger grades because it takes longer for their fine motor skills to develop.  I had developed some pretty incredible ninja abilities to decipher poor handwriting, but Mark had me beat.  Although this was my first year of teaching, I knew better than to ding a kid for penmanship on a spelling test.  No, I wasn't expecting perfection, but I couldn't give credit for spelling the word "truck" if it looks like you have written the word "glurp."  I was even considering giving him oral spelling tests instead of written ones.

     It was a Thursday morning before school when his mom called me.  "Has Mark talked to you about the boy who sits next to the pencil sharpener?"  No, in fact, Mark had not.  It turned out every time he went over to sharpen a pencil, the kid would poke him with his pencil, or say something threatening to him under his breath, usually following up with his threats during recess.  Rather than undergo the trial by fire that was sharpening pencils, Mark would use his pencils until they became just nubs, mostly wood with mere traces of graphite, scratching against the paper — he had a whole collection of them in his desk.  Sigh… thank goodness for parents.

     The bully's seat was immediately moved to the front right of the room close to my desk, he received a lecture that I believe included threats of dismemberment, and like magic, Mark's penmanship became legible.  Now after thirty years of teaching under my belt, I would like to think I would've picked up on this on my own quickly.

     Still, it's an important rule in teaching and in life: What you see and think is going on, is not necessarily what is really going on.