Mae spent reading period in the office today. Her reading teacher, Mr. J, took her there after she spoke disrespectfully to him. I was co-facilitating a discussion on motivating and recognizing employees when Mr. J attempted to reach me by phone. His voicemail message said that for the past couple of weeks, Mae had been “saying disrespectful things, interrupting class, and not obeying instructions.” My first thought was “Two weeks and I’m just hearing from you on the day that you decide to take her to the office?” He has not been Mae’s reading teacher for very long, and I have not met him yet. In retrospect, I wish I had introduced myself to him when I first learned that he would be taking over Mae’s reading group, and I should have encouraged him to contact me if and as soon as he had any concerns.
Anyway, when I returned Mr. J’s call today, he told me that Mae seems disinterested at times, and that she doesn’t want to do her work or she does it very slowly. When she does finally do her work, she does a phenomenal job. Part of the problem is that she reads faster than the other child (there are only two of them in this pull-out group), and when she finishes her silent reading first, she becomes impatient and restless while waiting for her classmate. When they are taking turns reading aloud, she doesn’t always stop to allow her classmate to have his turn. She doesn’t like to sit when she’s told to and follow other instructions. Mr. J said that Mae has told him “I wish my other teacher was back. I don’t like you.” and “You’re too strict.”
As I listened to him, I was thinking that he sounded so green, so new and uninitiated. I am not a teacher, and I recognize what a difficult job it must be. On top of that, I know that my daughter presents challenges that can test the most patient of the patient. From my heavily biased, parental perspective — Mr. J needs to buck up. Here is what I wanted to say to Mr. J.:
There are only TWO frigging kids in the reading group! What kind of education, training and experience have you had that didn’t prepare you to handle TWO frigging students? Just TWO. Mae is entitled to an opinion; tell her how to keep her opinion to herself or express it respectfully and give a consequence if she doesn’t or a reward if she does. Try to get to the bottom of why she feels that way. If she doesn’t like you, it’s probably not for nothing. Talk to more experienced teachers down the hall, and find out what they do. Talk to her homeroom teacher. Do you think you’re the first adult in the school that she has crossed paths with, and how do you think the others handled it? By my calculation, your decision to wait and call me after the problem has grown to this point, means that you have added to the problem. You’re telling me that she is more advanced than the other student in terms of pace of reading and comprehension and that she seems disinterested, and that yet you have to try to keep them on the same level. Are you listening to yourself? And, grow another layer of skin. Your feelings are hurt because a seven-year old says “I don’t like you”, and how long are you planning on staying in this teaching business?
Instead, I told Mr. J that Hubby and I would talk to Mae and remind her that the teacher is the leader in the classroom and that she has to be a good citizen, which includes following the teacher’s instructions and speaking respectfully. I recommended that he give her extra or more challenging work, if possible, to keep her interested and focused.
When I talked to Mae at home this evening, she told me that today’s particular issue was that she muttered to herself “I don’t like Mr. J____. He’s last on my ‘I like’ list and first on my ‘I hate’ list.” (Without condoning the behavior, I have to say that’s pretty clever. Redundant maybe, but clever. I don’t know where the phrases originated, but it’s a heck of a lot more creative and interesting than “I don’t like you.” How could Mr. J not recognize and seize that as a teaching moment?) I told Mae that she will sometimes disagree with a teacher, and that’s fine, and that she still has to speak respectfully or keep her thoughts to herself. I reminded her that she can use her journal to express her thoughts if, for example, she thinks the teacher is being mean or too strict.
Yes, Mae gets saucy sometimes. And, yes, she responds well to boundaries once they are made clear. It seems reasonable to me to expect a teacher to set and reinforce boundaries, especially if he or she is willing to work with and use the parents as a resource.