“Bryan’s got plenty of ability; he’s just lazy.” “There’s no reason Susan can’t get her homework done; she’s just lazy.” “I should have studied more for that test. I guess I was just being lazy.”
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard remarks like these about students – from their parents, from other teachers, and sometimes, even from themselves. The problem is, it’s a load of nonsense. And I’m not putting up with it anymore.
At the beginning of each semester, I make an effort to contact a parent or guardian for each student by phone. I try to do this during the second week of class. Usually by that point, all class changes are final, and my roster will be somewhat settled.
I say I “try” to do it during week 2, because if I’m honest, I’m lucky to get it done that quickly. Since we’re on semester blocks, I only have half of my class load at a time, which does make it easier than if I had all of my students for the full year. But it’s still a chore and a hassle. Many of the telephone numbers that we have in our records have been changed or are out of service. It doesn’t help that some of the telephone numbers in our district require ten-digit dialing WITH a one, and some require ten-digit dialing WITHOUT a one, or that there’s now only one telephone on each hall to be shared by all teachers who use that work room.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
“You can’t make me!”
One of the defining moments of my youth was when I told my mother I wasn’t going to try out for track again my sophomore year. I’d run cross country and track as a freshman, and cross country in the fall of my sophomore year. And I hadn’t liked any of it. So I hadn’t planned on signing up again.
She pushed a bit, urging me to change my mind. Now, she was very reasonable about it, pointing out that I didn’t have physical education as a class and that physical activity is an important element to maintaining optimum health. Both very good points.
Didn’t matter. I didn’t want to do it. And maybe this is imagination painting details into memory, but I distinctly remember using the phrase, “and you can’t make me.”
At the start of the school year, it’s easy to get caught up in setting up the class and starting the curriculum. Then, once you and your students have learned a little about each other and are working hard each day, you kind of get into a pattern – a hopefully-comfortable sort of rhythm to what you’re working on together. But there’s another learning partner that it’s important not to forget: the parents!
Establishing contact with parents and guardians at the start of any new term is absolutely vital.
I’ve never actually heard anyone seriously offer the old saw “Don’t smile until Christmas” as genuine advice to a teacher. But I think that teachers – especially new teachers – are often worried that if they’re friendly and approachable to students, their classes will devolve into chaos. While this can happen, it doesn’t have to!