Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mistakes

It happened.

We didn't think such a thing would happen. You never expect something like that to happen.

But it did.

I'm talking about the dreaded pink slip sent home with your kid. "Pink slip?" you say, "What is that?", until last week I myself had no idea what those pink slip thingys were. Those of you with older children know or maybe not because for all I know they could be unique to my daughter's middle school. The pink slip is a delightful sheet of pink paper telling you how your horrible child forgot to turn in THE MOST IMPORTANT ASSIGNMENT IN THE WORLD. In the WORLD!

Ok, I jest. It's just that the pink slip was so doom and gloom. The tone of the whole note, and really it's just a form letter style note, is so negative. That tone and the way it was presented is why it upset my dear girl. She's the type of child that every teacher wishes they had in their class. She pays attention, she's a good student, she follows directions, she completes assignments, she likes to help people, she's polite, she respects her teachers, she likes learning, she's quiet when she's supposed to be, etc. Even though she's a really great student she's also a child. A child who at times is forgetful and has bad days. Even the best students have bad days. So, by now you're thinking to yourself "What in the world happened?" and you have good reason to wonder because it's really not that serious of a matter. At least in my opinion it's not so serious to warrant a threatening pink slip.

If you haven't been aware it's Science Fair season for kids in grades 5-12. The Science Fair! Yes! Big project season is what we are dealing with at school. Le's science fair project is due next month. She is required to turn in a paper and display board. To prepare the children for success the science teachers and language arts teachers work together to help students get their science reports completed. This is very helpful for kids who need assistance especially those who can't get help at home. It's great. I like that the school is taking plenty of time to prepare the students. Slow and steady is very helpful with a big project.

The science project research essay was due last week for peer review. This peer review was set to occur in language arts class. My girl worked very hard on her science fair project essay the weekend before to make sure it would be done in time. She printed it out tucked into her science project folder and took it to school. On time. A day ahead. But....she just plain forgot to take the science project folder to language arts class. The result of this little mistake was that she was scolded along with the other kids in her class. The naughty, lazy, forgetful and the like were sent to the hallway to start writing out that essay. Apparently those who didn't bring the assignment were deemed a nuisance only to be worthy of hallway time. The next thing that happened was the handing out of the dreaded pink slips with a lovely email sent within minutes of handing them out. The pink slips are sent home to parents to inform them about their poorly prepared child. Sure if that's all the slip contained it would not be such a dreadful thing. There was more to that pink slip than you think. It was very informative about having an ill prepared student. It also included the threat of detention and the very solid confirmation that your kid's grade for the assignment will be a zero.

It was harsh. Even extreme maybe. I think a tad overbearing. However you want to describe it the pink slip was far too serious of a punishment for a little piece to a project that has a due date a month away. And then there's the irrational idea that kids are going to perfect. As I said even the good ones have bad days. Maybe it had to do with her keeping her science folders with her science binder for her science class which she has first period. Maybe it had to do with it being a bad day in general for her. She left her lunch at home and had a moment of panic of feeling like she would have to go hungry. (I noticed that lunch box and took it to school after Liv went to school. But Le didn't know and while I was gone she left me a very emotional answering machine message asking me to bring it to school. Because in middle school no food means no eating.) No matter it was just a rotten time for her to forget that essay.

My daughter strives to be a good student and you know what, she is very much one in all manners. I can assume that she didn't even think she had forgotten the folder because she DID that essay. Unfortunately she neglected to bring it to class. Being a critical person she took that mistake very hard. It upset her to be scolded and possibly embarrassed. What she needed from that teacher was empathy. Possibly even a little more patience. We were not upset with Le getting a pink slip. We just think that the whole tone of the pink slip was unnecessary. Regardless of what we think a hard lesson was learned but at a cost. And, I'll tell you, the cost was not so much for my daughter. Nope. It affects the teachers more than they would like to believe.

What that pink slip did was make my daughter reconsider her teachers as people. How they reacted to the minor mistake made a tremendous impact on her perception of their character. Where she was mildly fond of them, they are middle school teachers, she has now decided that they are simply robots. It that a good thing for her to do? No. It is that reasonable for any person to feel upset? Yes. The point is Le no longer sees those two teachers in a positive way. They no longer have the shiny teacher luster. To her they are tarnished.

After she and I discussed her feelings towards these teachers I too felt disappointed. I didn't want her to immediately take on a feeling of negativity for the teachers. Teaching is tough work. But...I changed my mind after I received the reply from my email regarding the whole pink slip ordeal. The tone was not friendly. It was not in any way making me feel like that the teacher could see that my girl just had a really bad day. The teacher admitted it seemed strange that Le didn't have her paper and knew based on her past grades etc. that it was very unlike my daughter. Then the teacher told me simply my daughter needs to learn how to speak up for herself.  

Gulp.

It took much patience to not respond to that comment. I never did respond. I had many things I could have said but decided to not make this teacher angry with me or especially my daughter. I know my daughter has a hard time with speaking up. She is diffident. She is so very shy that in situations such as a teacher being angry will cause her to stay silent. Besides I made that very clear in the message I sent to the teacher about the whole pink slip that Le is very timid. So this made me think. Think deeply. As an educator myself I am flabbergasted by other educators who respond like this to students. Forgetting that they are children, human even. Does it take more time to individualize consequences? Sure does. I am experienced enough to say this but by the time you get through half the year you begin to know your students. You know the ones that need the extra gentle touch and you know the ones who need less involvement. Most importantly you know who cares about school and who does not. No matter how much you yell, rant, and demand it won't change what you want it to change. If anything you just provide evidence to your students that you may be a bit crazy. There's good crazy as in your high school Chem teacher showing you how to nearly set your lab on fire and then there's the bad crazy where teachers just yell negativity. The bad crazy is the low point. If you teach and you are being too much of the bad crazy then maybe it's time to re-think your approach.

Despite my disagreement with the teachers and the school policy I decided to be positive about the situation. I embraced Le and let her know it was no big deal. She needed to hear that sometimes we have very bad days. Bad days are not good but they don't last forever. We endure the lousy feelings because that's part of experiencing the world. Even when the days are tough the situations are awful there's one place you can go for comfort. Coming home you will find a smile, a hug and lots of love. At home pink slips do not matter. Feeling like a failure is not possible. Being shy no longer is an issue. At home we embrace it all.



2 comments :

Heather Cullen said...

You get pink slips and I get condescending phone calls from teachers because, I work at night and Im not home for my child.

Carolyn said...

Back in my day, I would have explained to the teacher that my paper was in my locker. The teacher then would write me a hall pass so I could retrieve it. Seems like a simple solution to me. Maybe this teacher, or any teacher should read your post to remind her/him of why they became teachers in the first place. I think schools now make things a lot more difficult than it really has to be.