Saturday I observed a brief encounter between a young woman and a store clerk. She was rather curt and impatient and displayed a hostile attitude that probably had little to do with the clerk or her purchase. Her three young children were bored and tired. They were whining and misbehaving. I left before I overheard the solution to her problem. However, when I got to my truck it occurred to me that she could very well have been one of “my parents”. And I breathed a sigh of relief. One of the benefits of retiring will be that I no longer have to attempt to solve the problems of curt, impatient people with hostile attitudes.
Of all the reactions to my profession the one that annoys me the most is “Oh, you teach kindergarten? They are so cute! I’ll bet that’s so much fun!” Well, yes they are and yes it is. But they are also little people with personalities and problems…lots of problems. And my job is to help solve those problems so they can be successful students for the next ten to fifteen years. Most of that process is not so much fun. It’s work. It’s sleepless nights. It’s long discussions with parents. And parents can be the biggest problem of all.
There are lots of jobs that require one to work with John Q. Public. My husband works in retail. I worked in retail for several years. We’ve both worked in food service and in a hospital. I’m sure many of you work daily with strangers. But some of you out there generally work with your “peers”: people from the same socio-economic group, perhaps even from the same religious background, who have similar goals and expectations. You may not understand what it is like to be required to commit your time and effort to a total stranger for nine months and not only work with them to make plans and solve problems, but do so with a smile and a positive attitude even if you see “disaster” in everyone’s future!
Please don’t misunderstand this. I love people and I enjoy meeting new ones and most of my experiences with parents have truly been enjoyable. Many have become lifelong friends. But teaching has also obliged me to work with some people that I would never have encountered in my personal daily life. Here are some of my most memorable parents from the past twenty years: thief, self-declared witch, pimp, drug dealer, rapist, ex-con, alcoholic, drug addict, murderer. Throw in a few who were mentally unstable and one or two who took an instant disliking to me and you may understand my sigh of relief. Anyone can have a child. Teachers are the ones who end up working with the people who shouldn’t have had one.
“Working with parents” is often a neglected topic of teacher education. I remember only a few “what if” discussions in my college classes and most of those depicted scenarios in which the parent wasn’t the problem. I’ve often wished that I’d taken more abnormal psychology classes in preparation for some of my encounters! But I’ve muddled through. I’ve prayed a lot. I’ve asked other teachers for advice. I’ve read reports and done some research. I’ve tried to change the lives of my students and in some small measure, those of their parents. In retrospect I think that I’m the one who has changed the most. Teaching has forced me out of my comfort zone to witness environments and lifestyles that I still don’t fully understand. Working with John Q. Public has been frustrating at times, but oh so fascinating.