Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Perfect Teacher

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 17, 2015]  © 2015 

I don’t think there is a parent out there who wouldn’t agree that if there’s a good teacher-child fit, the school year flies by. A bad fit and it’s a long year indeed.

I should probably interject that there might not be anything wrong with the teacher other than that she doesn’t like your kid. As hard as it is to accept, your child may be a total pain.

You try to work with the teacher, of course. But at what point do you decide that it’s time to try to change classrooms, or even schools? A friend’s free-spirited child pretty much had his tushie firmly affixed to The Bench at his tightly-wound local private school. In fact, we heard so much about that time-out bench that it became incorporated into our lives as well. (“Olof,” I’d say to my husband, “do that one more time and you’re going to The Bench!”)  Ultimately, she moved him to public school where he thrived.  

It’s a fine line between trying to make everything perfect for your child versus concluding that the kid is just going to have to suck it up.

And that doesn’t change after elementary school.

My older son, Rory, was either adored or hated by his teachers. He had a teacher one year named Mr. Munzer who truly brought out the best in him, made him excited about learning, or even more, about behaving. At the time, I would have liked to have cloned Mr. Munzer and had him teach Rory for life. But that’s just not the way life works and it’s probably for the best. Rory would have missed a lot of life lessons along the way. Like, for example, what happens when you drive to berserkness someone who has power over your grades.

I’ve written quite a bit about Rory who could best be described as a parental terrorist in training. There was nothing he enjoyed better than getting an adult – parent or teacher – totally wound up.

When Rory was in eighth grade, all the kids were required as part of their PE class to run around the track within a certain time limit. Rory never quite made the grade (but not for any lack of physical ability). The PE teacher, whom Rory decided to target, decided she would make Rory her personal project, working with him every day after school.  As she told me at the time, she wanted every child to succeed.

Okay, maybe not this one. About three weeks into this endeavor, I picked up my phone at work to hear a woman screaming “I HATE your child! I have NEVER hated ANY child as much as I HATE your child!!!” I was hoping it was a wrong number but alas, I knew just which child she was referring to. It had taken her that long to realize that Rory, in collaboration with his digital watch, was running around the track precisely two seconds slower every day just to annoy her. You could be a quadriplegic and get an A in PE at this school. But she threatened to give Rory the first F in the school’s history.

I know some parents feel that their child’s teacher has it in for the kid, but I’ve always felt that if a teacher called me at home or the office, it wasn’t because they didn’t have anything else to do.

 I rarely heard from a teacher about my younger son, Henry, who was always a dedicated student and athlete. But in the spring semester of Henry’s senior year of high school, I got a call from the AP Physiology teacher who reported that she didn’t like his attitude. Actually, I didn’t like his attitude either. In fact, I didn’t much like HIM at the time. That spring, his spirit had already left for college but his body had to remain behind. I don’t know who suffered more.

Now, Henry had logged ten AP classes during high school and captained two sports teams so nobody could accuse him of being a slacker. Discussing the situation with him that night, he complained that the teacher was terrible; she had them coloring in diagrams of organs. Total waste of time, he protested. OK, sounded totally lame to me too. 

I had logged a lot of hours in the employment world by that time, 12 of them as a single working mom after my divorce from the kids’ father. I told Henry to think of this course not as the study of physiology but as an exercise in getting along in the real world. If he could master this, his future work life would go much smoother. You only have to deal with a teacher for an hour a day for nine months, I noted. In the work world, your boss might be having you do idiotic assignments for years at a time. You only have two more months with this lady until you graduate. Unless, of course, she gets so annoyed that she fails you in which case you won’t. Then you’ll be here for another year or until one of us kills the other. So figure out a way to do what she asks so that she’s not calling me again which I told her to do if you don’t shape up fast. 

I think it might have been the most important course he took in high school. 

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