Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How About We Declare a Cease Fire on Finger Pointing?

The saying, “There are two sides to every story” is so true; particularly when it comes to teachers and parents.  Luckily, I have been very fortunate in my career in that I have had a lot of wonderful parents.  Oh sure, I’ve had a clunker or two here and there, and one who truly gave me a run for my money, but focusing on them takes away from the vast majority of the others who were, and are, truly wonderful, supportive, helpful, kind, and generous people. 

However, even with the very best of parents, I sometimes find myself feeling like we teachers are on one side of a fence pointing our fingers at them, and they’re on the other side of the fence pointing their fingers at us.  Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.   

Take, for example, the whole Healthy Schools movement.  Now this is an idea I wholeheartedly support, despite the fact that I sometimes look at what’s being served in the cafeteria, shake my head, and think, ‘Really, that’s healthy food?!’ But I think the intent is there, and each year I do see improvement, so I try my best to be supportive.

The Healthy Schools movement started in our district at the district level, of course, and then it trickled down to the schools (via the cafeteria), and it has now made its way into the classrooms.  Because I am not a teacher who does any type of food rewards, and I certainly never give my students candy, I figure this really shouldn’t effect me.  Yet, it does.

I am one of the Teacher Representatives for our school’s Parent Teacher Organization, and at the beginning of this school year there was much ado about treats at school, mostly via classroom celebrations (birthday parties, holiday parties, etc.), but there were also concerns about teachers who use candy as an incentive.  I listened with respectful interest to what the parents had to say, which was basically that teachers were “serving our kids too many treats.”  Thankfully, a parent who does quite a bit of volunteering at our school raised her hand and said, “Well, it’s all well and good to blame the teachers, but let’s remember, it’s the parents who provide the treats for the parties, not the teachers.”  I gave her my most charming smile and she instantly became my new BFF!

Of course, another involved parent brought up the very valid point that while the parents may be the ones providing the treats, it’s the teachers’ classrooms and ultimately it’s the teachers who can control what’s being served, right?  Well, yes and no.  I now offer two scenarios that happened in my class recently, and I’ll let you be the judge about who’s to blame for treats at school.

Scenario #1

Last Thursday we took our annual trip to the Post Office to mail letters to our parents in honor of Valentine’s Day (a great trip except for the fact that I had four naughty kids and only two hands, but that’s another post).   We return to campus just in time to start lining up for lunch, and as I’m waiting for the kids to get their lunch boxes, get in line, etc., I notice that some of the kids have M&M’s.  At first I thought that maybe they had brought them themselves as part of their lunches, but there are simply too many kids that have them for it to be a mere coincidence. 

I put on my detective hat, look around, and notice that sure enough, a parent is passing out bags of M&M’s (mind you, they’re the small bags, but still…that’s treats in school and they are being handed out on my watch).  So what am I supposed to do?  I don’t feel it would be right to just go around and start grabbing M&M bags.  I mean, some of the kids have already gobbled theirs all up, and I didn’t think it would be fair to the kids who hadn’t already chowed them down to get theirs taken away.  Also, I didn’t want to cause any hard feelings with the parent who was passing them out.  I mean, it’s only February…we still have another four months together and I certainly don’t want there to be any tension between us. 

It just doesn’t seem worth it to throw away a solid parent relationship over M&M’s…and yet...these kids will likely go home and tell their parents not about the great field trip and all they learned, but about the M&M’s they received at the end (in case you are rolling your eyes right now, a parent did, in fact, mention the M&M’s to me).  If I’m lucky, the kids will remember that the M&M’s were given to them by a parent, not their teacher…but that’s a long shot with most of these kids.  They got a bag of M&M’s, they got it at school, which means that I, the teacher, gave it to them.  That’s just how these things work.

Scenario #2

As I said, I am supportive of the whole Healthy Schools thing, and while I don’t give my students candy, I do allow treats for birthdays and for parties.  However, I always ask that the birthday treats be small, and that the party food always include fruit and/or vegetables. 

(Truth be told, and I’ll probably lose my primary teacher card for this, but I’m really not a fan of birthday celebrations in school.  Call me The Grinch, that’s okay.  But here’s the deal:  The kids get so caught up in what they’re getting that they totally lose sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be celebrating someone else!  Nothing turns my stomach more than a bunch of 6-year olds with a bad case of the “gimmies.”  If it were up to me, we’d sing the birthday kid a song, let her pick a book for me to read during Story Time, and we'd call it good.) 

But it’s not up to me; therefore, as I mentioned above, I try to take a common sense approach to our classroom celebrations.  And this is the approach that I took when planning our Valentine’s Day party.  I figured the kids would be getting candy as part of the valentines they exchange, so I decided that our classroom party would be a “no food” party; instead we would do a craft and play some games outside.  My room parents were totally on board and we were all good to go. 

That is, until a parent shows up with not one but two ooey, gooey chocolate treats.  His daughter’s birthday was Saturday so they were birthday treats, but neither he nor his wife mentioned a single word to me about them bringing in treats.  Once again, I am put in a tricky situation.  Here I am trying my very best to respect my district’s and my school’s desire to “do things healthier,” yet there’s no way I am going to refuse to let this student pass out her treats.  I mean, really, what would you do? 

I don’t quite know what the answer is here but I do know one thing:  The next time you see parents pointing their fingers at the teachers, please encourage them to get their facts straight first.  I promise to do the same.  In fact, with regards to the “surprise” birthday treats, I went back through my emails from this family just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and nope, there was not a single mention of bringing in treats. 

My point really is that we teachers are faced with things like this all the time.  Whether it’s treats in school, or kids who are struggling, or any number of other things that people think it’s okay to blame us for.  And I’d just like to set the record straight that just as the vast majority of parents are trying to do the right thing in raising their children, so too are the vast majority of teachers in educating their students.  I guess I’m just getting a tad bit tired of teachers being blamed for every obese child in America, for every failing child in America, and for every other problem, real or imagined, that a child can possibly have.  Do the math:  We spend less than half of a year with a child…who’s responsible for the rest of that time?  Instead of pointing our fingers at each other, how about we try pointing our ears instead and truly listen to what each of us has to say?  I think we'll find that we actually have the same goal:  Doing the very best we can for our children.

Now...where did I put those M&M's?!

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