The Teacher Is Always Right…Usually

Last night, as I was flipping through channels before going to bed, I saw a local news story about a teenaged girl and her English homework assignment. The passage she was asked to read and write about contained sexually explicit material, some of it bordering on violent. The parents were outraged, the girl was disturbed and I was horrified. However, my horror was not over the reading assignment; my horror was due to the parents’ response. The homework assignment was given on Monday. The news broadcast occurred Monday evening. What happened to contacting the teacher, principal, school board or superintendent and giving them a chance to investigate and respond? What happened to finding out why the assignment was given? What happened to respect for the teacher and the chain of command? The news media is not the first line of defense.

Growing up, my parents taught me that the teacher was always right. ALWAYS. When I was in second grade, we were learning about the solar system. My teacher asked the class what planet we lived on. The boy behind me raised his hand and responded, “Mars.” To this little Goody Two Shoes girl, the answer was wrong. Completely wrong. Not necessarily surprising coming from the child who answered, because he was never known as particularly smart (and certainly not as smart as I thought I was), but still completely unacceptable. I smiled as my hand shot up with the correct answer and was stopped in my tracks. My teacher did not shoot down his answer as the moronic response I knew it to be. She said some encouraging blather and left open, in my mind, the possibility that his answer could be correct. Hello! Mars? Are you kidding me? By the time I got home, I was filled with all the righteous indignation an eight-year-old could muster and immediately told my mom everything Mrs. So-and-So said (Goody Two Shoes, remember?). And got the second shock of the day. My parents, who I’d always considered the smartest people I knew on Earth (not Mars!)—I hadn’t yet entered the teenaged, “my parents are dumber than dirt” phase—said, “She must have had a good reason for what she did.” Are you kidding me? From that moment on, I knew that no matter what happened in school, my parents would always support my teacher.

As an adult—having successfully passed through the “dumber than dirt” phase and recognizing again that my parents actually are intelligent—I have come to realize that their party line was public. What they did and thought in private, away from me, were probably quite different. But I was never privy to their personal thoughts about my teachers. They found a way to support me without disrespecting my teachers. As a parent myself, I have tried to instill respect for teachers into my own children. I don’t go as far as my own parents did. Depending on the needs of my children, I may commiserate with them, or even say that I don’t particularly agree with a choice the teacher made. But I always follow that up with the idea that people can make mistakes, and in spite of that, teachers deserve our respect. You don’t have to like them or agree with them, but you have to show them the respect their position deserves.

By going to the news media before the school system had a chance to sufficiently investigate and respond to their concerns, those parents are teaching their daughter disrespect for the very teachers responsible for her education. They are backing the school up against a wall and making any positive outcome impossible. They are squandering a perfect opportunity to show their daughter the proper way to voice a concern and lodge a complaint. Instead of demonstrating patience, they are taking advantage of their fifteen minutes of fame. And in the long run, they are making things more difficult for her—how many future teachers are going to judge her because of her parents’ actions and not treat her fairly?

I don’t always do the right thing. My infrequent moments of “brilliance” are surrounded by many moments of idiocy. But I do know the importance of respect. Just like I know the difference between Earth and Mars.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Teacher Is Always Right…Usually

  1. Do you recall the name or author of the text that upset the parents?

    I think teachers struggle in a culture that finds it difficult to define what “teaching” is: profession, calling, avocation, or “woman’s work.” Teachers fall somewhere between educators and child caretakers, without a conventional sense that they are professionals in either field – the lack of which, I think, allows parents to see, at times, poorly-considered professional choices as an indirect form of child abuse. I’ve always marveled that there aren’t classrooms monitored by CCTV at all times, like parental nannycams.

    • The book is The Rules of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis. The parents contacted the school in the afternoon, after everyone had left. They got a quick letter back saying the teacher was a sub and wouldn’t be teaching the class again and the book wasn’t being used. Number 1, I think you exhaust all avenues with the school before going to the media. While I’m generally against using such explicit work in the classroom, there may have been a good reason for it, but without exhausting all avenues in the school, it’s impossible to know that. I also think there’s a knee-jerk reaction by parents whenever something occurs that either they don’t understand or may be different from what they would want to expose their child to. In order to teach something like this, there has to be much more communication before, during and after the lesson–with the kids, parents and the school.

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