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Sometimes You Have To Be Your Own Advocate

, , , , , | Learning | April 1, 2022

I worked in the office of a middle school several years ago. One Monday, around lunch period, a young boy I’d never seen in our office before showed up clearly upset and begging to see the principal about “changing classes”. By chance, she was free, and she took him to her office to speak with him.

I wasn’t privy to the direct conversation, and we took student confidentiality seriously. However, from talking to the student more later and what bits were dropped in the office, this is the situation as I understood it.

Apparently, this student, a sixth-grader, had been in our advanced classes, which covered math and science about a year in advance of the standard curriculum. He alleged that his math teacher had been bullying him and “hated him”. Supposedly, this had been a problem for a while, but he hadn’t said anything to anyone about it before. What finally inspired him to talk to us was that he had just been informed that morning that, starting that day, he was to be moved from the advanced courses to the least advanced classes due to said math teacher’s claims that he was distracting class and struggling with his work.

While he seemed sincerely upset, it’s not uncommon for kids to say teachers behaving in perfectly reasonable ways were “bullying” them when the kid didn’t like a punishment or similar issue. In this case, the kid didn’t explain the bullying much beyond saying she punished him when he didn’t turn in homework and told the class, which didn’t sound that terrible, so the principal — and honestly, I as well — was inclined to believe he was mostly upset about being moved away from the class with his friends rather than actually being bullied by a teacher.

The issue about his being put in different classes was more complicated, though. It required the four teachers of his “main” classes to agree to move him (though we later found out it was almost entirely the math teacher who made it happen with the others simply trusting her reasoning). The principal wasn’t involved in that decision specifically and was apprehensive to intervene due to fear of undermining the teacher’s authority by micromanaging.

Instead, the principal had promised to set up a meeting with the teachers and the child’s parents, but setting up a time for such a meeting was difficult and so that meeting wasn’t going to happen until the upcoming Friday evening. Until then, the kid was supposed to stick with attending the courses he had been reassigned to. For the record, since I was the one that called the parents to arrange the meeting, I knew they were unhappy about the situation, wanted their kid moved back to his old classes, and actually felt terrible that they couldn’t arrange a meeting sooner than Friday to sort it out. I also knew they had not been consulted before their son was downgraded to his new classes.

Two days later, on Wednesday, the kid showed up again and sat himself down on the same chair he had to wait in last time for the principal.

Me: “Can I help you?”

Student: “I don’t know. I guess the principal will need to talk to me for skipping class.”

Me: “Oh, did a teacher send you here?”

Student: “No, but I’m skipping math, so I figured I’d come here so she could talk to me.”

Me: “You’re skipping math class right now without permission? You should go to class.”

Student: “I’m not going back there. She hates me and they aren’t teaching me anything!”

We went back and forth like this some. The student was getting visibly more worked up as I spoke to him to the point that he seemed to be holding back tears, but he was also adamant that he wasn’t going to go back to the math class even if it meant he had to be punished. Since the kid mentioned not learning anything a few times, I tried changing tactics to focus on that.

Me: “You won’t be able to learn anything while here.”

Student: “I didn’t give my old math book back; I brought it to read.”

Me: “But learning from a book without a teacher is really hard. You need a teacher and class to help learn.”

Student: No, I don’t. I already knew most of the stuff in my class before they moved me, and they’re doing basic fractions in the new class.”

This was said in a tone that implied he was offended anyone would still be learning something so simple.

Student: “She wouldn’t even let me read my math book yesterday, so I can learn better here. I’m not going back.”

Eventually, the principal was free to talk to the wayward student. The student was clearly worked up; numerous times I could hear him through the door with a clearly upset and sad voice that made me feel sorry for him. The principal eventually sent him to talk to the student counselor, but it seemed that neither individual was able to help the student because the subsequent day, he showed up at the office again during his math class. He looked at me with a look that was somehow sad, resigned, upset, and defiant at the same time before going back to the same seat as before and pulling out his math book to read. I even saw him doing math problems on paper at one point. The principal told me that she was still working on sorting things out and to just let the kid stay in the seat he had appropriated for the next two days as long as he wasn’t disruptive.

By the time of the scheduled conference, the principal had already investigated and was ready for what he told me was going to be a difficult talk with the student’s parents.

Despite the teacher’s claim that her student “couldn’t keep up” with the advanced coursework, the student’s parents had actually encouraged him to work ahead in math the previous year which led to his claim that he “already knew everything” in class not being entirely an exaggeration. He was consistently acing every test in the advanced math course.

Unfortunately, this led to the kid not feeling challenged and thus not engaged in his math course. He often was caught reading other things — even course books from other classes — in math class out of boredom and getting scolded for not listening to the lesson. He also apparently was doing a horrible job at completing homework and so regularly took partial credit or even full zeros on his homework. The net result was that he was straddling the line between a high C and a low B for his overall grades despite acing every test.

Worse, it seemed that every time the kid failed to complete his homework, the teacher would drag him in front of the class and basically scold him so everyone could hear about his every failing. The “disruption of class” charges the math teacher had alleged were actually due to her insistence on interrupting the class to scold him. Other students in the kid’s class had agreed that the only disruption was from the teacher’s lectures and that she was particularly harsh with him when she dragged him into class.

The student further alleged that she said even more hurtful things to him in private. While the teacher claimed that wasn’t true and no one could prove otherwise, given that everything else the student said was true and given how upset he was just talking about the teacher, I’m pretty sure everyone believed he was telling the truth. In short, the teacher really did hate him and was bullying him just as he had claimed. The bullying may have been non-physical and a bit subtler than what one usually thinks of, but she had clearly traumatized the poor boy with regular lectures on how he would never succeed in life because he refused to try hard enough.

The worst part is that while the principal was outraged, it was nearly impossible to replace a teacher in the middle of the school year. Since we found absolutely no indication of her harassing or hurting any other student beyond this one, and she technically had some claim to only trying to “teach” the child, no matter how much we disapproved of how she did it, we were effectively forced to keep her for the rest of the year — under very close supervision.

On the plus side, she was replaced at the end of the year by a new math teacher, and our principal was almost gleeful on giving a less-than-stellar reference about her when another school that she was interviewing with called us.

As for the student, no one wanted him to be stuck in the same classroom with a teacher that bullied him, so we worked out a situation where he would take science and math courses with the other sixth-grade class (i.e., with a different set of teachers) while still doing his English and Social Studies with the teachers and students he had started with. From what I understand, this made him an outlier that caused difficulty a few times by not fully being part of either sixth-grade class, but there was no other situation that seemed remotely fair to the poor kid, so everyone made it work.

It also turned out that the student had a previously undiagnosed case of ADHD. He was treated and registered for special accommodations if necessary; though, to my awareness, he never needed any accommodations beyond not having a bully for a teacher. In the end, he was quite thankful about everything that was done; he often would stop to wave to me or say hello while passing the halls and even insisted on bringing cookies for the office around Christmas and at the end of the year as a thank-you to us all. Still, as thankful as he was for our help, I could only feel guilty it took his coming to us and insisting we pay attention to realize something was wrong and needed to be done.

They Literally Drove That Instructor Crazy!

, , , , , , , , | Learning | March 21, 2022

This is the story of how my dad failed driver’s education because of his siblings.

My dad’s oldest sister was the first member of his family to take driver’s education in high school. She needed glasses but wasn’t aware that she needed them at the time. Due to her nearsightedness, she managed to drive the driver’s ed vehicle, with the screaming instructor and three other kids inside, off of a pier and into a lake.

After that, the school bought a car with a passenger brake system for the instructor to use.

My dad’s youngest sister went next. During her class, the instructor (the same man) walked in front of the car while his sister was getting out. She accidentally failed to turn off the car and stepped out. Driverless, with power still being applied to the wheels, the car slammed the teacher against the wall of the school, trapping him.

It took nearly an hour to get him free. The school instituted new procedures so that, should something like this happen in the future, it would get fixed faster.

Then, it was my dad’s turn. Same driver’s ed instructor. The instructor was calling roll. When he reached my dad’s name, he visibly blanched. He never let my dad actually drive, and at the end of the class, he marked my dad as failing.

Dad’s dad was on the school board. He learned that my dad had failed driver’s ed and demanded to know why; no accidents had been reported from my dad. 

Long story short, the next year, the school had a new driver’s ed instructor. The old one won some sort of settlement or compensation for psychological harm during his time at work, and the school paid for my dad to retake private driver’s education with an off-site facility.

My dad’s little brother went on to be the first in the family to pass driver’s education on the first try, and he eventually became an automotive engineer.

There’s No Substitute For Openness With Your Kids

, , , , , | Learning | March 18, 2022

I teach younger children. One school assignment is for kids to make a poster about themselves, answering a few questions such as when they were born and what their favorite things were. Every day, we have a few kids present their poster, explaining things they had on it and answering questions from the class.

Today, the girl presenting is a very sweet and smart child who has a tendency to be a bit precocious, as her parents are very open and honest with her, resulting in her knowing things most parents hide from kids.

Girl: “And when I grow up, I want to be a programmer and a surrogate!”

Almost immediately, a kid asks what a surrogate is, but I make them wait until after the girl’s presentation. When the presentation is over, plenty of hands go up for questions. I’m not surprised when the second student called on has this question: 

Student #1: “What’s a serra-git?”

Girl: “A surrogate is someone who helps women who can’t get pregnant but really want to have a baby. She will be pregnant for them and then give them the baby when it’s born.”

[Student #1] blurts out without raising her hand again, sounding shocked:

Student #1: “You have to give away your babies?”

Girl: “It doesn’t have to be your baby. There are two kinds of surrogates. One type, it is your baby, but you promise to let the mom and dad have it, but the other type, the mom and dad make the baby with a doctor’s help, and then they just put it in you for the pregnancy. I’d do the one where it wasn’t my baby at first because it’s supposed to be easier. But I might do the one where it’s my baby, too, if the surrogate is open so I would still get to visit the baby but I wouldn’t be the mom.”

I’m torn on how to handle this. On the one hand, some parents will get angry if any topic remotely touching on sex, sexuality, or where babies come from is ever discussed in my classroom, even if I’m not the one discussing it, so I know I risk angry parents just from this answer. I know the best thing to do would probably be to stop taking questions now to avoid this topic getting any more dangerous.  

That being said, I also personally believe parents try too hard to shelter their kids, and all the current research and child psychologists I’ve read seem to agree with me on that topic. I have always been frustrated that I couldn’t answer reasonable questions kids have out of concern for parents’ responses.

This little girl is the perfect example of that; I know her parents tell her everything and she clearly understands it, and still, she grew up well adjusted and kind. I don’t like the idea of shutting the girl down from giving sincere answers just because parents may complain, especially since only two questions have been asked, and the kids may notice she got fewer questions than most and wonder why. In the end, my own curiosity to see how she will answer future questions wins out, and I decide to let a few more questions go despite risking irate parents.

Student #2: “Can you be a programmer and a surrogate?”

Girl: “Yes. You can be pregnant while programming, but I might have to take a day off to have the baby.”

Student #3: “Why do you want to be a surrogate?”

Girl: “My parents had me using a surrogate. They couldn’t do the kind where the baby is made by the mom and dad, so I’m actually made of partly my dad and partly my surrogate; we call her Aunt [Surrogate], but she isn’t really my aunt. She visits me sometimes and is really fun to play with, and my mom and dad are always thanking her for helping them have me because they love me so much. She made my mom and dad really happy by helping, and I want to do that for other moms and dads. Also, some moms and dads will pay lots of money for one, so it could help pay for college or something if I needed money.”

Student #4: “How does the baby get in the surrogate?”

Now here is a truly dangerous question for me, and I immediately start trying to think of how to interrupt this answer delicately when the girl beats me to it.

Girl: “Umm… a doctor helps with the one kind, but that’s all I’m allowed to say. You’re supposed to ask your mom or dad.”

Thankful for the discretion of this girl and her parents, I took the out here and ended question time after this question. I thanked the girl for her lovely answers and we moved on to the next child.

I eventually learned that at least one child ended up asking their parents some awkward questions about how babies were made thanks to this discussion, though, luckily, I didn’t actually get any angry parents blaming me this time.

Personally, I thought the young girl had a wonderful plan for adulthood. She is clearly smart enough and gifted enough in math to be a programmer, and I sincerely hope she does get to be a surrogate when she’s old enough.

Teachers Are Not Paid Enough For This

, , , , | Learning | March 16, 2022

Due to the ongoing health crisis, everyone in public schools in my state is required to wear face coverings. The community I teach in currently has the highest rate for the disease in question, as well as a large non-compliance level. My coworkers are lax in enforcement of the rules, with many outright insubordinate themselves, making it difficult for those of us that try to enforce the rules appropriately.

Fortunately, there were no repercussions the other day when I instructed a student to put on his mask.

He said he wouldn’t because:

Student: “Masks don’t work, anyway.”

Me: “They don’t work if you don’t wear them. Ask your parents. I’m sure they’ll agree.”

Don’t Football Players Normally Wear More Padding?

, , , , , , | Learning | March 15, 2022

I work the night shift at my college library. We have study rooms with big TVs that students are able to reserve. Normally, it’s for watching recorded lectures or powerpoints, but you can watch anything in there.

Tonight, we have a group of guys reserving it to watch the playoff games. That’s okay, as long as you don’t get too rowdy. We set them up in a room on the far side of the library. They’re not disturbing anyone; I can just faintly hear the sound of screaming and excitement from the TV itself, or so I think.

Student: “Umm… there’s a group of guys watching… non-school-related videos.”

Me: “Oh, I know. Is it too loud?”

Student: *Flustered* “Yes! It’s too loud!”

Me: “All righty, I’ll tell them to turn it down. Thanks for letting me know.” 

I start heading toward the stairs.

Student: “They’re not up there! They’re back there!”

The student points to the other side.

Me: “Wait…”

I realize that the “football noises” have been coming from the wrong direction this whole time. 

I follow the “football noises” and uncover a librarian’s worst nightmare: a group of teen boys huddled around a monitor.

Me: “WHY?! Why with the volume up all the way like that?! My God!”

I turn to the hero student that reported them.

Me: “I’m sorry, I got them confused with a group of guys watching football upstairs.”

Teen Boy: “You’re allowed to watch football in the library?” 

Me: “You’re watching sexually graphic videos in the library. Why do you care what’s allowed?!

They were subsequently herded out like a group of crime-committing cattle.