Monday, May 07, 2007


I used to think that having grown up with two public school teachers as parents had given me a biased view of what public school and teenagers were all about. My father quit teaching when I was pretty young, and eventually went back to it, but my mom has always taught, and still does. She teaches orchestra, and built a huge, statewide recognized program in Rogers from virtually nothing. But teaching an elective also has its downside, especially when you're dealing with something like music, where egos tend to become oversized and demanding. I'll never forget when I was in 8th grade, seeing my mom sitting in her car in the parking lot of my junior high, sobbing uncontrollably, because she'd just come from a meeting at the high school where she taught, where a group of students, led by their coddling parents, had decided to make my mother's life miserable. She couldn't bear to come inside the classroom in that condition, obviously, and it took her 15 minutes to collect herself enough to do so. This particular group of students, who all had horribly pretentious, overbearing parents, had decided that they had outgrown my mother's musical instruction, that she wasn't giving them the credit they rightfully deserved, that she was treating them unfairly, and that perhaps she was no longer suited for that job, and someone else should step in. I don't recall all the details; my mom tried to hide them from me the best she could since I knew all of these students and their families, and a couple of them went to our church, but from that day forward, my mother has barely been able to conceal her contempt for each of those students and their parents. Even to this day, and that was like, 17 years ago. Because of them, after that year she quit teaching high school and taught only elementary and junior high students. I know that was a really heartbreaking decision for my mom to make. She loved teaching high school, and many of her students went on to major in music in college and have rewarding careers as professional players or teachers, and she loved being there through all those transitions, and she loved many of them personally. But I guess it's sort of how if someone breaks your heart, it's impossible to ever go back to the way things were before, even if you want to. It's over.

So in a sense, those awful kids won: they got a new instructor, though this time it was a man, and they didn't go any easier on him. In their senior year he got leukemia and actually began dying, and they showed absolutely no compassion or support, and the worse he got, the harder they tried to make things on him, because somehow they perceived it as being shortchanged on the education they should be getting.

Over the years since then, though, things haven't gotten much better. My mother eventually moved to a whole new school district in a whole new town to start a whole new program from the ground up, and already in the second year, she was facing many of the same problems, the same egos, and the same overbearing parents, but this time, it was starting in 7th and 8th grade, not 10th or 11th. She's had parents in her office literally screaming at her because little Johnny isn't first chair violin, even though little Johnny doesn't practice and is disruptive in class. She's been called a bitch, told she's a horrible teacher, told she's unsuitable, been threatened, and had parents rip their kids out of her class because she won't acquiese to every demand. This is what education in America has come to.

Being an older student at a private, mostly-white and upper-class university has been interesting for me. Professors confide in me. They see that I'm different, that I work really hard, that I make an effort to work with them, and come to them in humility when I have an issue, instead of in anger and entitlement. Obviously, I'm not the only student like this, but I can only speak from my experience. And a couple of professors there have told me the same stories. So much entitlement. That's the word they always use. Parents who call up screaming at them because their child got a B, or students who throw hissy fits in the professors' office because they failed the class, but didn't bother to show up for half the semester and failed two tests. It seems to be an epidemic, and it's terrifying. These same college kids are no doubt the same kids and parents who give people like my mom such a hard time and suck out what little joy or fulfillment she ever found in teaching.

I never understood the psychology behind any of this. Even as a child it was baffling. These kids will never learn to fail and pick themselves up; they'll never learn emotional coping skills or experience the fulfillment of real success and struggle.

This whole post was inspired by another post I just read about the exact same thing (albeit much shorter) with a link to a jaw-dropping ABC news story about how employers are now even feeling the heat from parents, but shockingly, they're bowing to them! Parents have created a whole generation of crippled adults, which in some ways is better news for those of us who have actually learned to struggle and cope and don't expect handouts: it can only make us that much more appealing in a glutted and overly-competitive job market.


Tom Drew said...

I'm so glad my parents aren't so involved. I mean, I call them when I have news, but I don't solicit answers from them. Only money. As we've discussed, it's also part of the reason I'm terrified of teaching unless it's at the college level. I never had any contact with parents during grad school, but I had plenty of students who weren't pleased with their high B's and couldn't fathom why they weren't getting A's, since that's all they'd gotten in high school. And I can't understand why anyone would WANT their parents calling a prospective employer. That would embarrass me to no end.

Mandy said...

My coworker used to teach English at a Texas college when she was a grad student, and she experienced some pretty nasty stuff from parents there.

I didn't know how bad it was for your mom back then (and now), but I do remember when she quit teaching high school. Crazy. I bet she is counting down the seconds until retirement. I would be.