For Michelle, a physical education teacher in northern Florida, the school year ended just a few days ago. Though she’s been looking forward to the summer, Michelle said she’ll miss her students and her colleagues.
One thing she won’t miss? The car line. Hands-down, she said, it’s the worst part of her job.
As many an elementary school parent will tell you, the car line is a dreaded, slow-moving serpentine creature consisting of, as you’d expect, cars. At best, it allows for the orderly drop offs and pick-ups of students in the mornings and afternoons, respectively. At worst, it’s a traffic jam as bad as anything you’d see on a clogged interstate, with angry drivers honking horns and shouting the occasional obscenity. The latter is especially unfortunate since it happens in the company of children — many, many small children.
“You couldn’t even imagine the names I’ve been called,” Michelle, who didn’t want her real name published, told me. “Parents scream at you because they don’t want to sit there.”
Among the colorful adjectives and names thrown at her? Ignorant, stupid, ugly, and the one that rhymes with witch. And yes, sometimes F-bombs are dropped too.
I learned of Michelle’s car line qualms through a conversation on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. I’d heard parents complain about school pick-up problems before but I’d never stopped to consider the issue from a school staffer’s perspective. And I definitely never imagined that any parent — let alone, many parents — would have the gall to swear at a school staffer running a car line.
Michelle said that 70 to 80 percent of the time, parents follow the car line rules and act amiably, but “it’s that other 20 to 30 percent of the time that’s painful.”
Michelle has worked at car lines at two different schools over the course of seven years — the duty is often assigned to “special area” teachers like phys. ed instructors, she said — and has heard her share of abusive language coming from moms and dads. This, despite the fact that the car line at her current school never takes longer than about 15 minutes to get through, Michelle said.
“I get the impression sometimes that parents think this is fun, that we enjoy making things difficult for them,” she told me. “We don’t want any confrontation. We tell someone, ‘So sorry, this is the process, this is procedure for your child’s safety.’”
Pick-ups that happen during thunderstorms are especially bad, she said, because what are usually two lanes for pick-ups are condensed into one that’s right alongside the school. This allows for students to spend minimal time outside when going from the school to their parents’ cars but makes for a longer car line — and more screaming from parents.
“I look at the radar and if it’s going to be raining at 3 o’clock, I’m frantic,” she confided. “It makes my stomach turn.”
Recently one mom, she said, refused to sit in the car line so she hopped out of her car, grabbed her son and walked through moving traffic to return to her vehicle. Michelle tried to stop her, explaining the safety procedures.
The angry mom’s response? Declaring “I don’t give an a** about your m****r f*****g procedure” and stormed off with her first-grader in tow. The child, Michelle added, seemed unfazed.
One dad skipped the expletives but did tell Michelle that if his son wasn’t out in front to be picked up within minutes, he would throw rotten eggs at her.
Usually, Michelle said, she doesn’t take the threats and insults personally. She’s a parent, too, and she understands that emergencies can come up, time is tight, and harried parents cross the line.
But sometimes the barbs do get under her skin.
“One guy called me a fat b***h,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘I feel bad about myself right now. Maybe I won’t have that doughnut.’”
Michelle’s biggest concern is how all the incivility will affect her students.
“They see their mother talking to me like I’m nothing,” she said. “No wonder they don’t listen to me in class. Why would they? Their mother has demonstrated to me what I have to say isn’t important.”
Michelle, I think what you have to say is important. Thank you for persevering, even in the face of some bad eggs.
Photo via morgueFile.