The Benefit of the Doubt

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I have read so many articles and books about education during my career as a teacher. I have read them from the parent point of view, and from the educator point of view. I have seen what politicians think and I have seen what community members think.

I’m sure all of you out there know the usual things we talk about: teachers are overworked and underpaid, teachers are overpaid because they have the summers off, schools are failing, school lunches suck, the whole education system needs to be revamped, and probably hundreds more.

I love my job, you guys. I swear. 4th graders make me OVER THE MOON happy. They are so lovable, funny, creative, and kind-hearted—my days with them are so well spent. I love books, and writing, and solving math problems, and I love how I get to laugh and learn all day. Sure, kids are frustrating sometimes, and there are a LOT of things about education that anger me (*cough*standardized testing *cough*).

But, if there is one thing that will eventually drive me away from this career, it’s stress. And it’s not stress because I have NO TIME TO DO ALL THE THINGS (although that is definitely real). It’s emotional stress.

Being an educator is this weird mix of things. Ultimately, I’m responsible for delivering curriculum to students, and making sure they are proficient in certain main areas over the year. But really, in the end I also have actual human being children in my room that I have to keep safe both physically and emotionally.

I work in an elementary building where I have gotten to know the staff very well. I’m a people person, I like to get to know interesting things about people, I like to listen, I observe. I can tell you this, without a shadow of a doubt: EVERY staff member in this building cares IMMENSELY about the children in their classroom.

Teachers have strengths in weaknesses, just as there are in any profession. Some of us are better with behavior, some of us might be more organized or more creative, but we ALL are doing everything we can to make school a safe, enjoyable, fun place for kids.

My biggest stress, then?

It’s the fact that I am consistently and never-endingly questioned on my motives and decisions.

Not giving spelling tests this year? I get a scathing email from a parent demanding to know why. I don’t give as much homework as the year before. Scathing email sent directly to the principal wanting to know why I’m “allowed” to do that. Didn’t do the same activity as another 4th grade class at my school? Oh, man.

I am NOT saying parents should never question their child’s teacher. Educators improve on reflection and analysis of their methods. Perhaps I could demonstrate the difference:

Method 1:

Dear Mrs. W,

Hey, I noticed Jim hasn’t been bringing home spelling words this year. Will he be? Or is there another way you have been practicing spelling? Just want to make sure we’re not missing anything.

Thanks,

Jim’s mom

Method 2:

Explain to me why there are NO spelling words in 4th grade.

You have no idea how many emails and voicemails I’ve gotten similar to #2 above. I dream of writing, “Oh, I respond to people who are polite,” just like I would say to one of my students who was impolite to me.

I am a sensitive person, and so are many of our colleagues. Many of us are in the field of education because of those emotional, perceptive sides of ourselves. Those are great qualities when you work with children. We all want to make a difference. We don’t make decisions lightly. Also, a LOT of the things we do are not actually our choice. In my school district, for example, I have seriously little control over the curriculum between the common core and the series we are required to use.

I am human. I have 25 9 year-olds in my class. Some of those children are facing issues that are heart-breaking, soul-crushing problems I can’t even begin to understand. I have kids with IEPS, severe allergies, medication, anxiety, phobias..I can GUARANTEE you I am going to make mistakes. I will say things I shouldn’t, joke about something that makes someone sad, tell a funny story that will make someone scared, or give an explanation to a question that a parent disagrees with. I will lose my temper and scold someone for tapping their pencil 875,600 times in 30 minutes. I may “punish” (I use that term really lightly here) the wrong kid on accident.

But, what I need parents to understand is that I really, truly, honestly MEAN WELL. I strive EVERY SINGLE DAY to be the very best human being I can be. I love the students in my room. I know their hobbies, their fears, their sense of humor. And sometimes I fall short. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to degrade me, or speak to me condescendingly, or rudely.

I need the benefit of the doubt. 

Now, I realize that you are thinking, but, Christy, you’re saying everyone makes mistakes, maybe the parent is just angry and fires off the email before thinking. You should forgive them for that. Yes. Yes. I get that, totally. But, to me, this is a society-wide problem. We don’t think about our words. There is not enough thinking-before-we-write-that (or say that).

One bad communication with a parent will ruin my day. A parent who doesn’t even have a child in my class unfriended me from Facebook and I cried-this was months ago and it still bugs me because it feels so personal-like I did something, but I know I didn’t. I had literally no interaction with her except for likes on Facebook-not a word about her or around her, and so I felt like someone was lying about me. I know I’m overthinking this, by the way. I just hate being hated.

I’m not tough. I’ve tried to be, but it turns out my emotions are my strength, and I don’t want to lose that. I want everyone to be happy that I’m their child’s teacher. I wish I could get everyone to feel the family and community that I work SO HARD to building my classroom every year. This community is built first, that way we work hard together. We laugh a lot. I laugh at myself a lot. But …

I have feelings.

Lots of feelings.

That’s why I’m an educator.

I am asking parents to step up and try to forge an actual relationship with your child’s teacher. I’m asking for you to remember to ask questions first. Please, please remember that children are sometimes dishonest about what happens at school because they don’t want your disappointment or consequences. Seek answers before you blame. And if something is really wrong, and the teacher doesn’t handle it correctly, then by all means, you do what you have to do. Stay firm to your convictions and take action.

I am asking teachers to be honest, to respond favorably to parents, to admit when you are wrong, and to remember the children are what matters. Don’t judge parents for things you really don’t know about-you have no clue what goes on in their home.

Do this, though, without blame.

We are, after all, all in this together.

 

 

 

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