Last October, my colleague sat with a boy of 16 and his mother for a required parent-teacher conference. The boy had failed his first quarter and was presently failing the second. When my colleague broke this news to the boy’s mother, she explained, “He rarely comes to school. The times he is present, he rarely participates in any of the class work or discussion.”
The mother then harangued her son and wept for all to hear. “Where do you go? Why are you not in school?” She turned to my colleague, “You know, I’m a good mother, Mr. _________!” She returned to her son, “Tell me! Where do you go? Tell me! Where?”
The boy interrupted her. “Ma, what the f–k? You know where I am. I’m on the couch. With you. Smoking.”
This is not every story. This isn’t every boy or girl. It is not every mother or father, but sadly, it is not rare to run across this or a similar scenario. The characters may change, but the theme remains the same—an irresponsible parent is at the root of many a failing and already unmotivated student.
Is this you? Probably not. Most likely, you would be intolerant of the parent who refused to supply the school with a working phone number or a legitimate address so that the school can contact you in case of an emergency, or for example, that your son is failing the first and second quarter of his junior year. You are most likely confused by a parent who refuses to accept her child’s learning disability or mental retardation, even after separate state administered exams have presented the same unbiased results. You would never believe your son or daughter if they didn’t show you a report card because, according to them, the school “doesn’t mail them out.”
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No, this isn’t you because you are responsible. You pay your bills. You make your rent or mortgage payments. You live within your means. You don’t buy clothing or laptops or cell phones you can’t afford. You not only ask your boy or girl about their homework, but you check it (just in case your little angel was trying to pull one over on you). You don’t reward your child when they fail every class or even if they just barely pass with a 65. In fact, 65’s alarm you. They are just as bad as failing because you know no student who makes those grades goes onto college on full scholarship. And so, you take action. You get involved. You do these things because you are responsible.
This is what I see and hear over and over from children who succeed in high school and beyond. They have an involved mother or a father who knows exactly where they are at 10 o’clock or at midnight or even 4 in the morning. You are the parent who takes them to the store for pens and paper. You work, but that isn’t an excuse for not knowing your child’s teachers or principal by name. You know that sacrifice is good and a challenge, which is what you want your child(ren) to understand.
If this is you, chances are we’ve met at parent-teacher conferences. Chances are when I asked for your phone number, it worked. When I explained that I’d like your email address so that I could send you my handouts and progress reports, your address was simple and did not start with with “imsexy@” (true story). Chances are you managed to get some time off work, pick up the little ones, take the train, subway or drive to my school.
We’ve met—and you rock! Chances are, your kid/my student thinks you rock, too, even if she or he doesn’t express it. Rock on!
S.F. NYC has been a public school teacher for 12 years, eight of them in NYC.