Back to School Drama

At every school, there are some teachers that get a reputation for being great and some, for whatever reason, are known, to put it kindly, as being less desirable. Maybe it's because they're mean, maybe it's because they don't know how to manage their class, and maybe it's because they just don't have it all together instructionally and so kids walk out of their classroom not knowing all that they should.

Last Friday I found out that my youngest son was assigned to the kindergarten class taught by the teacher that wouldn't be my pick for him if it was a cold day in hell. So, I did what any normal parent would do, I requested that the principal call either me or my husband to discuss switching my son to another class.

I didn't receive a call on Friday afternoon so over the weekend, we drafted a formal letter detailing our request and the reasons behind it. I knew it shouldn't be a problem to get him switched to at least one of the other kinder classes because low-enrollment is a big issue in LA schools and I highly doubted that both of the other classes were full. On Monday I went over to the school to drop the letter off and found that the school was closed for some state holiday.

Yesterday morning I hung around at home, hoping the principal would be professional enough to call me, but by noon, I hadn't heard anything so I headed over to the school with the letter. Once there, one of the secretaries put it in the principal's mail box and then said, "Hey, she'll be finished in a minute. Do you want to wait?"

In retrospect, I probably should have said, nope, she can call me and went about my business. I am not a fan of the principal and I don't enjoy talking to her. In my opinion, the way she operates as a principal, and, in particular, the way she speaks to people would not be tolerated at an excellent school in a wealthier area. I think she 's one of those principals that give public education a bad name.

But I figured, what the heck. I'll wait. To sum it all up, she told me that she'd switched my son to a different classroom on Friday. (Oh really, so why not spend 30 seconds on the phone telling me so, or have your secretary do it if you're too busy!) And then went on to make some super passive-aggressive comments about me expecting preferential treatment because I'm on several of the school councils.

I asked her what she meant by preferential treatment and her response was to say, "Well, the bottom line is you got what you wanted so let's just leave it at that."

I asked her again what preferential treatment I'd received and she said she was very busy and she had to go.

So, I proceeded to tell her that I have made the decision to keep my kids in public school and I want to be a supportive and active parent, but I will not tolerate rude or passive aggressive comments from her and if she has something to say to me, she can say it politely or not at all.

She was all, "Likewise. And you have a good day."

I'm still pissed about it and on a deeper level than her rude behavior. Why should any parent have to tolerate their child having to be in the classroom of a teacher that's not doing right by the kids? I'm sorry if that principal thinks it's preferential treatment if I actually go to the school and advocate for my kid but that's what I'm going to do. Hello, our tax dollars pay her damn salary and that of the teachers. Parents who don't advocate for their kids, particularly parents of African-American boys, end up with their kids shuffled over to special education, even if that shouldn't be where they belong. I've seen parents asked to have their kids removed from that teacher's room two months into the school year and then they're frustrated because it's too late. I wasn't about to have my child's kinder experience go down like that. No way, no how.

I find myself thinking about how much so much of public education is about giving lip service to wanting parents to be involved. Coming from the standpoint of being a former teacher, I know so many teachers who don't really want parents involved. They don't want parents asking questions or putting any responsibility for the child learning back on them or the school. I can't tell you how many principals I've sat across from who were more interested in asking me out than actually discussing their vision for student achievement. I guess if I know that a teacher is not going to do right by my child and I advocate for my child, that's preferential treatment.

Yeah, I got all the back-to-school shopping finished last Sunday: new pencils, crayons and folders, new backpacks, new shoes, new pants for my seven year-old who's grown three inches over the summer. But the most important thing I can do is show up at that school and demand what's right for my child and others.

Sigh. Welcome to the 2008-09 school year.


Anonymous said…
Hi, stumbled upon your blog and I feel your back to school pain! I had to do the same thing for one of my girls, but I made the mistake of waiting to give the teacher a chance.

I was so surprised how hard I had to fight for my kid to be moved! My principal was pretty pissed because he felt I was challenging his hiring choice, and in essence I was, but hey, teaching is a CHOICE.

Sorry to leave this anon, but my google pw has escaped me at the moment.
Jen said…
Oh, Liz, I spent the day today in a similar way. Fortunately, my son's teachers are all fine, but there was a glitch in his schedule and a secretary with whom I've always had a very cordial relationship absolutely went off on me today insisting my son couldn't take a course that had already been approved by his advisor and the course supervisor. And she'd also yelled at me Friday over the phone (she didn't have any idea who I was that day) when I asked if I could leave a message for the course supervisor.

Clearly, this wasn't about me, but she was schooled in that same passive aggressive tone and kept telling me that she could see I was upset (I wasn't - I was more perplexed) and used all that "control speak" that public school folks use when they're "handling" someone. And I didn't need to be "handled"! I just went in to pick up a form... and then she didn't like the form I picked up... etc.

So my afternoon was spent in the counseling office finding out that everything she'd told me in the morning was just so much nonsense.

I've given hours and hours of volunteer time to the school and due to my teaching commitments, I've helped the school reap $25,000 in tax dollars (that's a post in itself). And no, I don't do this for preferential treatment or to expect such, but I DO expect to be treated with the same respect that I extend to the staff members and teachers there.

Yikes... I've written a novel again.

Glad you advocated for your son and it sucks that you had to. And it totally sucks that you were treated in such a disrespectful manner.
Anonymous said…
What strange behavior on the part of the principal? Still, you have to be your child's advocate, and if you have reason to want him moved you press it. Glad it worked.
Anonymous said…
I'm super proud of your Perseverance. I wish you hadn't had to, but I'm glad you did.
Liz Dwyer said…
Glad you came across my blog. Wouldn't it be nice if every teacher was fab and then none of us had to go through this? I mean, we don't send our kids to just any dentist or doctor, so why do I have to be cool with whatever teacher a principal randomly assigns to my child?

I'm definitely glad I found out and got everything switched up beforehand because I've seen other parents trying to get their kid out of that class after the start of the school year. I wish schools would have parents meet the next year's teachers, hear about their educational philosophy, get an idea of how far they moved their kids academically, etc., and then parents could enter a lottery for the teacher of their choice.

Good grief, what happened to you with the secretary sounds like a nightmare. I'm glad it finally worked out but what's up with treating you like that and the wanton giving of misinformation and then sticking to that misinformation? I can't stand that passive-aggressive handling either. It makes me slash-tires angry. And what really bugs me about the preferential treatment thing is that they aren't being asked to do anything but their job.

Unfortunately, that's not the first time the principal has behaved like this, and it's not just with me either. I tend to believe that if every parent at that school was a millionaire, she wouldn't roll like that at all... or if she did, she'd get fired in a heartbeat.

I wish I hadn't had to deal with any of it, but I'm glad I did. I'm glad my son won't have to be in that class but I wish no one's son had to be there.
Anonymous said…
That was ridiculous. What was the big deal? I would think that a principal would be glad to have an involved parent. Wow.
Anonymous said…
Liz, public services paying lip service to 'customer' involvement is pretty common in Britain too. The reality is you always have to push and shove for what you want or you're likely to be fobbed off with what's most convenient for the staff. Good for you asking for a different teacher from the crap one. Yes, exactly how is wanting the best teacher for your kid prefential treatment? She's just pissed off that you challenged her and her staff's authority and put your child's needs first.
Jameil said…
giiiirl. i hope you filed a complaint about her with the superintendent. and i would be on her like white on rice to make sure she was acting right!!! hmph! you keep advocating for your kids like i know you will! you rock liztastic!!!
Mango Mama said…
I am with you! In fact, I don't even wait for the school to make the teacher assignments for my kids. I try to avoid the drama you faced, by simply requesting the specific teacher I desire at the end of the school year.

I, too, spend lots of time volunteering, identifying and securing assets/additional resources for their school and I do it gladly, but I also expect to be "heard," when I make such requests!

We are advocates for our kids and their interests and more parents need to take the same stance and hold these teachers/school administrators accountable.
Anonymous said…
Ugh I can't even go here. I've been blogging about it for the past week.
Toni Campbell said…
i don't have children so i fortunately don't have to deal with the tragedy that is the public school system. but i do know that for every well-prepared, caring educator there are 5 "old-schoolers" that are just waiting for retirement. they have been lulled into a pessimistic coma by all the parents that don't care about their children's education - so when they come up against someone who does, it just blows all their circuits and they freak out!
Lisa Blah Blah said…
Oh, no. That is so not right. I have a slightly different issue, but it's school-related also and it is the same kind of "I am now in a blind rage" category. Never never NEVER should you be made to feel like you are wrong for trying to do right by your child. I'm really ticked off on your behalf!
It shouldn't be this hard.

I had to advocate for my child who has a Jewish surname in public school in a Southern State after a teacher stood her in front of the class and said,"Children, the Jews killed our Lord Jesus, an' this here is one of 'em."

It simply shouldn't be as hard as it is when manners and basic human decency are considered preferential treatment. Good luck with your little one's kindergarten experience in the better classroom.
Liz Dwyer said…
Parent involvement used to be pretty high at the school. Now it's insanely low. It's IS ridiculous and what really killed me is that she clearly thought I wasn't going to say anything about how she was talking to me.

You do have to push for everything and it's so frustrating. Just imagine how much better everyone's quality of life would be if folks just did the right thing and didn't try to just get over with total crap.

I am definitely documenting everything she says and does and I'm not the only one doing so. The kids at the school deserve so much better. I like so many of the teachers, but overall, I wish I'd actually gone ahead and pulled my kids out of there this year.

Mango Mama,
I wanted a certain teacher last spring but then I found out he moved up to 4th grade. This year I think I'll be observing the other teachers before the end of the school year and then making a request.

I spend so much time volunteering and doing stuff at the school and everything with this principal is a fight. It's beyond frustrating.

Why are so many of us going through this? Public schools are getting the big thumbs down. :(

Yep, I kept hoping she'd retire over the summer... or get fired. And as sad as it is, I think all the rude behavior and, "There's nothing we can do about it," kind of response parents get when they do try to get involved really turns folks off.

Nope, it's not right at all. I was absolutely in that blind rage space, especially because my kids were right there to witness the whole thing. It's not the first time she's tried to make me feel like I'm doing something wrong by advocating for my sons. I wish I could know that it's the last.

That teacher should've been fired instantly. That's inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable. You're right, this shouldn't be this hard but it is. My son is so excited about kindergarten. He's been ready to go back to school for like two weeks. I'm excited for him!
Anonymous said…
Oh the LAST thing they want is for you to be involved. I had drama with my son's principal. I had the Vice Chairman of the school board calling me on a Friday night around 9 because she said she felt she needed to call me ASAP since she was off that day.

Get in their butts and keep everything in writing. I had a someone from the county come and mediate a meeting between my son's principal and I.

I was a registered volunteer. If they treated me like crap there is no telling how they treat others who aren't involved and more importantly their children.

It all stemmed from three attempts on my part to have a conference and no one bothering to call me back. And the last draw was when they sent him home on the bus when he was supposed to stay after for tutoring. I was no where near home when he got there. Luckily my mother was around.

My motto when it comes to schools and my kid is simple: I set the bear and you march to it.

Too many parents think the school tells you what to do. Most times, its nothing more than a suggestion; but they will play it off like they have the power.
Liz Dwyer said…
Craziness! I'm glad you're on it like you are. Parents have to be because otherwise, our kids will end up behind and in trouble and the principal will get promoted to a district job. I'm getting everything in writing and documenting everything. The sad thing is that this is a school district that is unresponsive to parents even when staff are having affairs with students, so it's a huge battle.
jillybean said…
Los Angelista,

I ama teacher and I suggest that you write a letter to your principal at the end of the school year describing the best learning environment for your child. You should describe the qualities and teaching style of the teacher you want without mentioning the specific name of the teacher. You should also describe your child's learning style and how that specific environment would enhance his learning.

I think you might have a more positive response from the principal.

I'm not excusing her rude behavior. She was extremely unprofessional.
Anonymous said…
Sorry to hear you had to go through that type of behavior, once again, before the school year has even begun. I really think that catching the principal when she is rude and pointing it out to her right at the moment she does it, will be a bigger payoff than you imagine. Don't worry too much about her, she is not worth your time, trust me...because all things, good or bad(mostly bad, hopefully) must always come to an end. Her days will be over sooner than anyone might think. Our kids deserve the best no matter what anyone thinks. We are their advocates. We are the ones who must fight for them and demand the best for them. Don't ever hesitate to stand up for them(I know you won't)As long as there are people who won't settle for whatever is offered to them there is always a will for change...
Liz Dwyer said…
Certainly a good idea. The K teacher I thought he'd get was great but unfortunately, we found out at the last moment that he was moving grade levels and then we packed up and went to Chicago for the summer. I should have been more on top of it and I won't make that mistake twice, but trust me, writing a letter three days before summer break or a week before school starts wouldn't have made a difference with her as far as politeness. And actually, if it hadn't been a possible move, she could have said that and then let me know how much she wanted to work with me to support my child with that particular teacher.

I can't tell you how reassured your words make me feel. Thank you for saying it. I hope her days at the school are over soon. I really REALLY do!
Karen said…
You GO! You were so right. It's interesting, I was just listening to a discussion of LA area public schools with Sandra Tsing Loh on, I think, KPCC. She said one of the biggest problems the public schools have is "customer service." Given your story, it sounds like she is SO right on.

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