A view from my side.
Continuing on…(read Part 1 here).
The next morning I called the Assistant Principal to discuss the matter. The first words out of her mouth set the tone. She just wanted to let me know that she had been in education since 1992 and had been an administrator since 2000. In essence, she was not new to this and had experience. Since we were “showing our balls” as it were, I let her know that I had been in education since 1991 and had been a central office administrator for 8 of those years at the time of our conversation. In essence, mine were bigger.
If she wanted to be adversarial, I could do that. But, I wanted a more congenial conversation, so I kept my tone soft and even. I asked her what grades she had taught, and we traded stories about elementary classrooms and the funny things that kids and kids parents do. We chuckled and laughed for a while and then I turned the conversation to Kid#3 and the specific incident. I told her the story and related it to several of the situations she had shared with me about her experiences in the classroom. It was just another silly story of a teacher trying to punish a student for something a parent didn’t do. And, had the teacher taken the time to communicate directly with the parent, it all could have been avoided.
At first she laughed and seemed to agree. But then, she realized where the conversation had gone and did an abrupt about face. No, this was not similar at all to the stories we had shared. Kid#3’s detention was in line with that Team’s Discipline Plan, which she herself had reviewed and approved at the beginning of the school year. He was guilty of not having his supplies after being told to get them and would have to serve a detention for his offense. She started to dig in.
I fully expected her to support her staff and would have been a bit disappointed in her if she had not. I reminded her about how late at night it was when I was informed that I needed to make a run to the store. I added that had it been so important that he have his glue stick the very next day, the teacher should have sent a note home telling me. I pointed out that if she had done that, I would have gone out to one of the 24 hour super stores in our area and made the purchase. Since she had not, I did not feel it crucial and told Kid#3 we would go supply shopping over the weekend.
Her reply was two fold. First, she said it is up to the student to take responsibility for his/her own actions and that Kid#3 should have told me he needed supplies. Second, I could not expect the teacher to send a note home for every little infraction. I reminded her again that punishing my son with a detention for me not going out to the store at 10:15 p.m. to get a glue stick was not teaching him to be responsible for his own actions. It was actually sending a completely different message. One that said he will punished for actions completely out of his control. I asked how that was teaching my son to be responsible?
As to her point about expecting too much from the teacher when I said she should have communicated with me via a note home my reply was simple. First, I reminded her that I had also attended classroom management seminars and workshops over the years, probably teaching the same philosophy as those she attended and probably even led at times. A reasonable classroom management plan for elementary school always has parent notification before disciplinary action unless the infraction is something spontaneous in the classroom, i.e., classroom disruption, continued talking out of turn, hitting/threatening another student, etc.
The workshops always remind a teacher that a note or phone call home is the preferred method to communicate the seriousness of the offense and to give the parent the opportunity to take corrective action before punishing the student. The idea of relying on the student to tell the parent is insufficient to convey the teacher’s intent in elementary school. I also then pointed out that the note home the teacher did take the time to write in assigning Kid#3 his detention, was from a pre-printed “Notes Home” pad. It had check boxes on it and she had checked “Detention.” One of the available check boxes was “Needs Immediate Attention.” I told the AP that had the teacher taken the time to send that note home and check that box, Kid#3 would have had his glue stick the next day.
I summed it up by telling her how, according to the research and prevailing pedagogy, either the team’s discipline plan was flawed or the teacher assigning the detention was a step too early. Silence. I also added that the teacher had a classroom supply of glue sticks (along with other items. A completely different post could be made on the issue of school supplies in our county! haha) on her desk for situations such as this and wondered aloud how many other students had needed to use supplies from the box before, etc., etc., etc. Silence. I let the silence hang for a bit and then listened to her dig her heels in deeper as she said that her teacher had followed her team’s approved discipline plan and that my son would need to serve his detention.
I smiled and replied that I was not going to bring him to school early on a Wednesday morning to serve a detention under these circumstances. She told me that if that was inconvenient he could serve it as a lunch detention. I replied that she was missing the point. It was not a matter of convenience, it was a matter of principle. He was not at fault in this situation and would not be serving a detention at all. As you can imagine, it escalated rapidly at that point. She went through the list, threatening me with a suspension, then Saturday School, then Alternative School.
I asked her to stop and think about what she was saying. I told her I appreciated and understood her zealous backing of her teacher and their discipline plan. But I pointed out where the plan was flawed and/or where the teacher had failed to do her job adequately. I pointed out the lesson being taught, if she continued along these lines, was that when the adults failed the student (in this case the teacher, the parent and the AP), the student would be the one who ended up suffering consequences while the adults went on with their life.
I asked her if that was really what she wanted. I asked her if she planned on talking to the teacher about it now that she had heard my side of the story. I told her that if she had any plans to tell the teacher to alter her behavior in the future, as in sending the note home checking the appropriate box, then she needed to also waive the detention. I told her I was prepared to go through all of her punishments and that I would appeal them all to those above her if necessary.
Then I told her she did not have to make a decision right then on the phone. I told her we had talked about a lot of things and that the best thing to do was to think about it over the weekend. I told her to think about it not in terms of her being in the middle of it, but to think about it as a case study in a method’s class at the university. I told her to lay it all out and evaluate it in terms of the decisions being made.
How would a class full of teachers react to the student being assigned to the Alternative School for not having a glue stick the next day in this situation. I asked her to think about how it would play out at the school board and in the local media, reminding her that I was completely prepared to go that far with it. I told her to think about the real lesson being taught. I told her it was about the integrity of the system, not who had the most power in the situation.
She was silent for a few seconds, sighed and agreed that taking the weekend to consider our conversation was probably best. I turned the topic to how the weekend at my house would be full of a variety of activities and that one of them included a run to the store for school supplies. We laughed a bit about being over scheduled on weekends and she talked about all the things she had on her plate as well.
I told her I appreciated her willingness to discuss our issue and thanked her for not being one of those school administrators who so often take the “my way or the highway” approach to dealing with parents. I told her I appreciated her integrity and her professionalism. She admitted to being caught off guard in that was so used to angry parents claiming their child could do no wrong and it was all the school’s fault. She thanked me for not being a “hothead” parent and for giving her reasoned and research based arguments to think about. She said she had much to consider and would get back to me after the weekend.
The results of that call will be posted in the Great Glue Stick Fiasco, Part 3…