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Lisa Belkin


When The Teacher Is Wrong And Your Child Is Right

Posted: 09/30/2012 9:53 pm

When to step in between your child and his teacher? What to do when what you want to teach your kids about the world is at odds with the message the educator sends?

That's the dilemma facing Eva Wisnik, a mother of three in suburban New York, and she and her son have asked me to ask Parentry readers for advice.

She writes:

Today in school, Jake, age 11, was asked to write down on an index card what he wanted to be when he grew up. He wrote down "happy". The teacher told him in front of the class that he missed the point of the assignment. What do you think of this response?

The dilemma raises both practical questions and existential ones. Of course the teacher was expecting an answer like "doctor" or "firefighter," and I have always cringed a bit when adults have asked my children their life's career plans. It has always felt like a way to cram big spirits into small holes.

Add to that bias, this one: in seventh grade my social studies teacher insisted that a landmark I had stood upon just months earlier simply didn't exist. I remember the feeling of helplessness -- my truth against her power.

And yet, in an age when parents swoop in far too often, resulting, we are told, in a generation that is coddled and entitled, is this the kind of fight you want to pick? Especially when life will be full of moments where there is an expected way to answer. Maybe it is better for them to start learning how to meet those expectations now?

Yes, I think it was the teacher who "missed the point of the assignment," not Jake.

But what should his mother do about that?


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  • 1. If you want to talk to me about a problem, schedule a morning appointment, when I'm fresh.

    By the afternoon, I can get pretty frazzled. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 2. You're right, that teacher does stink.

    I'm actually in the process of firing her. Legally, I can't tell you that, though, so that's why I'm sitting here quietly while you complain. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 3. Of course I'm going to disapprove of a child missing class for vacation.

    What I won't tell you is that I encouraged my own daughter to pull her kids out of school to visit me during my break. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 4. We had a young man struggling to focus during year-end tests.

    "My underwear is on backward," he said. That's the problem with all this testing: We're being judged by assessments taken by kids who may have their underwear on backward. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 5. You think that what happens at home stays at home?

    We hear about your financial problems, your nasty fights, your drinking problem. We end up knowing way too much about everybody. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 6. The child you see at home?

    That's almost never the one we see at school. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 7. Don't tell me your child would never lie to you.

    All kids make mistakes, and great students are often the ones most afraid to tell their parents when they screw up. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 8. When we have a child who throws things or tries to hit when she's angry...

    ...her parents inevitably say, "I don't have a problem with her at home, because I spank her." <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 9. My biggest pet peeve?

    Parents who complain to me before talking to the teacher. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 10. Don't ask me to make a teacher forgive a homework assignment or not to teach a specific subject.

    We don't dictate to teachers; we work with them. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 11. I've had a few students who were bullies.

    We suspend them again and again, but it's very tough to expel a student. The truth is, they have a right to an education. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 12. Kids are easy.

    It's the parents who are tough. They're constantly trying to solve their kids' problems for them. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 13. What do I love about this job?

    I can influence and inspire kids and adults, help work through problems, and find solutions. And every day I can pop into a classroom where something interesting is going on. What other job gives you all of that? <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 14. C'mon parents, this is your child's homework, not yours.

    We know what a seventh-grader can do, and we know what an adult with an engineering degree can do, so please don't do your child's work for him. Kids need to make mistakes and struggle through things; it's how they learn. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 15. Principals never know what the day will hold.

    One minute you're mopping up vomit, the next you're in a special ed meeting, and the next you're dealing with two kids who got in a fight. Then you shovel snow off the sidewalk in front of school, you meet with teachers to decide whether to change the language arts curriculum, and you play basketball with a group of kids. And that's just in the first two hours. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 16.The last thing I want to do on the sidelines of a basketball game or during intermission at the school play is have a conference with you about your child.

    If you have something to talk to me about, come by my office during the day or even better, make an appointment. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 17. If you and your child don't like his teacher, tough luck.

    Think of it as a lesson: In school, as in life, sometimes you have to learn to deal with things you don't like. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 18. When an unruly student gets sent to my office, my favorite strategy is not to engage right away.

    I just let them sit there in agony while I keep working. It gives them a chance to calm down and de-escalate. Try it at home; it works. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 19. For years, folks have said that if you can't do anything else, you can always go into education.

    The truth is, we're not the leftovers, and this is what most of us wanted to do. I had been accepted to law school, but I chose this. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 20. Our favorite kids aren't necessarily the ones with the highest IQs.

    What we really value is hard work. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 21. Since the economy has gotten bad, it seems that more parents are taking any job they can get...

    ...working crazy hours and neglecting their children. Then a lot of them try to make up for that by coming to their child's rescue when there's an issue with a teacher, coming in here and hollering at us. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>

  • 22. As a principal, you're expected to know about bus routes, curriculum, communication, school lunches, adolescent development, conflict management, learning disabilities, and more.

    You have to be an expert on everything, sometimes in the same 20 minutes. <em>Credit: <a href="" target="_hplink">Reader's Digest</a></em>


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