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This Note from My Son’s Teacher Went Too Far

Parent signature1I’m a responsible parent. I’m a tough disciplinarian. I don’t lie on reading logs. My kids get flu shots and their bedtimes are carved in stone. But in spite of all that Type-A parenting, I’m still human. I make mistakes and forget things once and a while, and recently I forgot to sign my second-grader’s homework. Now keep in mind, he did the homework. He did the math worksheets and the spelling activity. He studied for the geography quiz and practiced for the timed math tests. He did the required reading on his reading log and completed the reading worksheet, but what his mom failed to do was sign off on it.

I get it. I get that my son’s teacher wants parents invested in checking off the completion of every assignment. I get that she wants parents to know what’s going on, but I’d like to believe this truth is evident by the quality of the work he turns in – by the nicely written penmanship, by his carefully written name scrolled across every worksheet (front and back), and by the parent-completed reading log pictured above. But hey, I respect that that two parent signatures each week are her policy and I totally forgot one, but what I’m having a hard time reconciling is the manner in which she chose to communicate with me for a first offensive. Why have we skipped the pleasantries and reached code orange? Whatever happened to sticky notes? Or a polite reminder in the corner?

But the worst part wasn’t how the amber admonition of terror made me feel, it was how my 7-year-old reacted to it. He was afraid to show me his reading log for fear that he’d done something horribly wrong. And sadly, he’d gone above and beyond the 80 minutes of required reading that week only to be rewarded with a herculean orange tongue-lashing? Of course he thought he was in trouble. I felt like I was in trouble!

But was I crazy for feeling so shocked and angry? Was my receptivity meter off? Knowing I have a tendency to be overly sensitive, I took it to Facebook (you know, to the people who know all) to gauge the appropriateness of my reaction.

One-hundred and sixty comments later, I learned my feelings were echoed by all.

Reactions ranged from anger:

That teacher is a jerk off. Our poor kids have so much thrust upon them at school. Seriously, that reaction was over board.

She doesn’t have self control. I would be a bit scared to leave my kids with her.

I have a problem with any teacher who would demand that a parent comply with any sort of arbitrary rule. They can make rules for the kids, but as an adult, I would resent it. I graduated from high school thirty years ago. I’d be tempted to sign my name right under the phrase “bite me.”

Seriously, I would be in the Principal’s office then the district offices. Uncalled for!

What ever happened to lighting a bag of poo on a teachers door step?

To passive-aggressive:

You should get every single parent you know to sign it. Even parents you don’t know.

I would get an orange marker and freaking sign every single thing like that! That’s just rude!

That’s inappropriate on the teacher’s behalf. I would have returned it with my signature in bigger letters and bolder color because I’m feisty like that.

Hmmm just wait till the first time SHE forgets something. Go buy some really bright markers.

Sign your name over the entire page and return it !!!

To understanding:

Don’t take it personally. Assume the teacher is overwhelmed by the number of parents she is dealing with.

While this seems harsh please remember that teachers are under extreme pressure right now. She probably just needs a hug and a bottle of wine.

Maybe remember next time. We teachers put up with a lot. And overlook a lot. Parents need to keep up too. It’s about responsibility which no one is willing to take for themselves. Sad. Maybe the writing was big, but what if that teacher was just sick of her rules and routines and assignments being ignored. Parents who aren’t teachers never try and see the teacher’s side. Ignore it. Bite the bullet and build a bridge and get over it! There are so many other things to be irritated over.

… and everything 145 comments in between could bring.

While some of you might think taking this image to the interwebz is akin to a larger, oranger, equally obnoxious attempt to publicly shame my son’s teacher, that’s not my intention. This note, along with the thousands of others just like it floating in backpacks and tossed in mail piles across America serve as an important starting point for discussions involving parent-teacher communication.

Listen, I’m not a teacher. I can’t possibly speak on behalf of the immense pressures our teachers face. Heck, I can barely maintain my sanity in my son’s classroom for the length of time it takes to volunteer at a class party, let alone be responsible for educating and disciplining them, but there has to be a better way.

That said, I’m a believer in the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my absent signature was the 30th one she’d seen from that week’s homework pile. Maybe she’d had a bad day. Maybe she was overwhelmed. But in spite of all these maybes, there’s a bigger maybe that rises above the rest: maybe she made a mistake. They happen. They happen all the time. I mean, my failure to sign was a mistake, too.

Was this note OK? Absolutely not. But should she be burned at the stake for it? I’m going with no.

But now comes the hard part, the part where I actually have to step out from behind my comfortable keyboard and do something about it. But what?

The all-knowing Facebook had some pretty good suggestions:

I think you should go to the class and speak with her. I’ve found in the years with teachers, it’s much more productive to go to the source. You’ll have to deal with her the rest of the year.

Write a short, polite note about how it was upsetting and could they please be more discrete in the future.

Involving the principal is completely over the top. Make calm, polite contact with the teacher. She will likely agree that she was in the wrong. If she becomes confrontational with you when you are being calm or this happens again, THEN involving the principal would be appropriate.

Just set the example. Anything else is either an overreaction or sinking to a similar level of tactlessness. Don’t completely destroy your future relationship with the teacher. If you say something quietly, like in a short, polite note, she will be embarrassed and say sorry. Then you can both move forward, positively.

After reading through everyone’s comments and talking with my husband, I’ve decided a discreet face-to-face is in order. I intend to bring the note and simply ask whether she felt as if her response was necessary. I’ll explain the way the note made my son and me feel. I’ll ask that future communications be handled differently. But I won’t shame her. I won’t be rude or angry. I won’t sit down with the principal. Instead I’m choosing to trust that things will be handled better next time. And of course, I’ll be sure to sign all homework assignments in the future.

This is my son’s teacher, a woman I will be in contact with for the next seven months. I’ll need her grace as much in the future as she’ll need mine. And on the assumption my son’s teacher was simply having bad day; it doesn’t mean we have to have a bad school year.

How would YOU handle this situation?

Image credit: Lori Garcia

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