Dearest Dr. Laura,
Thank you for being via your Podcast my workout buddy, and for filling my commute time with thought, information and joy. Thanks for making me chuckle sometimes, too: your laughter is very contagious.
I am in my 22nd year of teaching music in public school, 25 years of teaching in total. I am rather conservative in my political and social views. I direct 500 mostly very sweet middle school kids in 3 huge choirs, and I love it. Most of the parents I deal with are wonderfully polite and supportive, too: I am very blessed. I hardly even get any complaints for having the kids sing Christmas and Hanukkah music in December!
Still, now and then, I run into a parent to whom I wish I could say, “Call Dr. Laura. She’ll try to prevent you from doing further damage to your kid.” Case in point: this past week, after dismissing two disrespectful boys to the office in an unusually rowdy class, a third boy loudly and sarcastically called out: “Can I go, too?” “Yes, you may,” I calmly replied. The boy sat still and smiled at me. “Go ahead,” I said. “Get up and go to the office.” The boy remained still. Only after I threatened to call a principal to escort him to the office a total bluff on my part: they are way too busy to come down to my room for this, did he exit my room. I continued to try to teach a lesson on Sonata Form in a Mozart Symphony.
Ten minutes later, the boy peeked back into my doorway. “You haven’t gone to the office yet?” I asked. The boy shook his head. “I emailed the principals,” I explained. “They’re expecting you. You’re cutting class, now…” Then, and only then, did he finally do as I’d directed and proceed to the office. There he received a “talking to” from a vice-principal.
After school, I decided to call said student’s mother. I offered her the same reasonably dispassionate narrative that I’ve offered you. Her response to me was a hysterical tirade in which she compared me to the authoritarian teachers in the communist country of her origin. She accused me of being interested only in power and control. At one point she screamed: “What you have done to this boy has caused a physical reaction in me!” She ended her verbal assault on my character and professionalism by warning me that she would be calling my principal.
To organize my thoughts, I wrote a letter of rebuttal to her which my principal will probably not allow me to send since such written responses must go through him, and which is unlikely to do her or the child much good anyway. But I thought you might enjoy a few excerpts, Dr. Laura. I have changed the child’s highly unusual name to “Jack” for his privacy:
“Unlike you, I was lucky enough to grow up in a wonderfully free society: the USA. But back then, even in this very free place, students did not interrupt teachers, call out with unsolicited sarcastic remarks, or refuse to leave a classroom when dismissed to the office. To do so would have meant an automatic suspension. Am I correct that Jack did not even receive a detention today? Had I acted like this in school even once, my very libertarian, very anti-communist, very American parents would not have yelled at my teacher in an uncivil, hysterical manner; they would have taken me to task. How things have changed! I know my parents wanted me to be an all-American free spirit, too, but this did not include liberty to sass teachers, especially when those teachers were already clearly razzed and struggling to maintain order in a classroom.
…I repeat my assertion that my sensibilities about poor student behavior mean nothing to Jack compared to your sensibilities. You’re his mother, I’m only a teacher that he’ll see roughly ten more times before he leaves for High School. You’re everything to him; I’m nobody. No need to worry about my impeding his evolution as a free spirit – he’ll take his cues from you. But I won’t guarantee that I’ll tolerate rudeness, even if you and Jack characterize it as a joke.
…Please understand that I don’t want to interfere in your teaching Jack what is right and wrong, and what constitutes real and meaningful freedom. If you feel he should be free to call out with sarcastic jokes in the middle of a tense classroom situation in which a teacher has already countenanced an unacceptable level of rudeness from a class, then it’s your prerogative to teach him this. If you feel he should be free to refuse teachers’ directives to go to the office, and wander school halls unsupervised for 10 minutes, then it’s your prerogative to teach him this. I guessed incorrectly that you might want to teach him otherwise; hence, my phone call. If you do let him know his choices today were OK with you, then I will have to resign myself to expecting these behaviors from Jack again. That ball is totally in your court, not mine. I encourage you to follow up with our principal, as you said you would. Good luck to you and Jack as he enters High School and beyond!”
Did I mention that part of the reason I love my job is that it’s never boring?
Very Truly Yours,