Positive outcomes | Mark’s Remarks


It’s no secret to readers and folks who know me that I get a little bit passionate and up in the air when it comes to people bashing our schools. 

I used to be worried about speaking up, but I’m here to tell you people don’t always know what they are talking about. Sometimes, we have to set them straight. By that same token, we must be willing to eat crow once in a while if we ourselves are wrong.

I should have a whole recipe book for how to cook crow. Just sayin’.

I told you a while back I’ve been on the receiving end of school bashing ever since I started teaching.  

Comments like “What do you teachers need another day off of school for?” and “Do you know what bothers me about that school?”  I listen, interject my piece, and move on. I hold grudges once in a while if the comment was particularly upsetting. Then I get over it. 

I forgive but I don’t forget in order to protect myself. You gotta watch what you say to some folks.

Not long ago, I was in a conversation. I wasn’t really supposed to be in the conversation, but the parents griping knew I was there and as their loud talking would attest to, they obviously wanted my opinion.

It seems that a parent was upset because he’d been reprimanded a couple of times when dropping off his child at school. At one point, he was told not to drop his child off at the stop sign. This is clearly a no-no, spoken about on websites, in handbooks and at school orientations. It may have been inscribed in a stone tablet.  

You are supposed to drop your child off just like any other parent.  Sorry you are running late.  Sorry you are inconvenienced.  Sorry you feel the rules don’t apply to you.  

That same parent was honked off because he had used the circular driveway in front of our school to drop off his kid.  Also a no-no.  He was reprimanded for that as well. 

You are supposed to drive around the school and drop your child off in front of the building without using the circular driveway.  This driveway is usually blocked in the mornings and afternoons anyway, but people will try to use it regardless. It is for visitor parking and a few staff spaces only.  Not safe to use it for dropping off.  

Now, this person in question wasn’t present for the conversation, but the people discussing it said this guy was pretty upset.  How dare school officials tell him not to drop kids off at the stop sign or use the circular drive. How dare they!  He was a taxpayer.

As you may have guessed, he has plans to run for school board.

As I said, they obviously wanted me in the debate.  So, I decided to speak up.  I told them about the rule and why it was there. I told them, as a parent, I too thought driving around that building to drop off my kid was a pain, but neither I nor the administrators nor any staff member at the school designed the building. We all have to follow the rule.  

Furthermore, we had instructions to tell parents if they weren’t following the rules, regardless of occupation, community standing, or the fact they are a (insert ancient Monroe County name) “from home.”

Then I went in for the kill.  After working at that school and driving into that parking lot numerous times over the years, I can tell you I’ve watched a few close calls with kids. Everyone has been pretty good about watching, but kids who are dropped off down by the football field or by the stop sign have a good chance of not knowing how or when to cross the street. Being let off in the middle of the road, especially by an older sibling who drives, is just plain dangerous.

That’s why the rules are in place – to protect your kid. There’d be hell to pay if something happened to a child during drop-offs or pick-up. Do you know how stressful those times can be for our school staff? 

Believe it or not, a couple of the people talking actually said “You are right.  I never thought of it that way.”

I said, “I’ve made folks mad saying this, but our job is not to make things easier for parents. I think some parents expect that.”

It was a good natured, non-adversarial debate.  For a change, all of the people involved were actually mature adults who didn’t feel threatened or feel like lashing out for a differing opinion.

That sort of thing is becoming rare, indeed.

Another person mentioned people taking vacations in the middle of the school year or a couple of days before a holiday.  Their main beef was that teachers were unwilling to send a bunch of work on vacations. Parents wanted all the work they’d miss with directions. They didn’t want their child to fall behind.

Here I go again. I started by saying teachers and staff understand that work places don’t always give summer vacation time off  and sometimes missing school is necessary. I also said I knew darned good and well that school was not taken as seriously as it used to be and people see nothing wrong with pulling their kids out.

But, by golly, they want teachers to send work on vacations and any time a kid misses school.

When I was at the elementary building, our school improvement team made a written statement that we would not send any work on vacations. It was agreed upon by teachers at the school, although a few still sent work anyway.  

We had good reasons.   Teachers often write lesson plans for a week, sometimes two. Rarely do any of us stick to those plans verbatim. We have interruptions, we get off on tangents due to the interest level of our students, or we have to slow down and reteach something the group isn’t grasping. If we send everything we intended to cover with the vacationing child, he or she is just going to be completing a bunch of papers and reading, on his/her own, and missing the instruction time at school.  

Are we then supposed to grade them, hold them accountable for tests, and basically pretend they are at school?

The alternative is this: go on vacation. When your child comes back, we will go over what they have missed, one on one, and be right there if they have questions. We can instruct in-person, get them back on track and only have them make up the important things they’ve missed.  

The extras: maybe some practice work or even some of the things we do for fun are not necessary. We can go at a pace that won’t stress the kid out.  

Same goes for sick days. Don’t worry about makeup work unless the teacher contacts you. It’s much easier and better for your child if he/she catches up when they return from a vacation or when they are back in fighting shape after an illness.

The reason for not sending work isn’t that teachers “don’t want to do all the work.” It’s a lot of work, regardless. Furthermore, after doing all that work to get the homework together, we might end up not getting what we need. I’ve sent work numerous times, only to have it returned to school incomplete or not even started.

I think parents feel guilty if they don’t request homework. We used to have a recorded message that said “If you’d like to request homework…” 

Sometimes, the person in the office would ask parents, “Would you like homework sent home?” when the parent called in to report an absence.  Parents worry they will be judged or that their child will fail if they don’t request it.  

The time has come for that to stop. No one is judging. You aren’t a bad parent if you don’t request homework. We will catch your child up. Your child will not fail.  

I think I’d be lying if I didn’t admit many of us do ask the question, “Could you take your vacation when school is out?” We aren’t bad people with nasty, black hearts. But we do wonder. 

After a good long conversation, the parents in the discussion seemed grateful to hear from me. They didn’t seem upset. They thanked me.  

Frankly, I was somewhat surprised. What happened next floored me as well.

“Are you going to write a column about this? If so, just don’t use my real name.” 

I couldn’t believe they asked me, but I said I’d be discreet.  

“You should write a column about this. Some parents will be grateful to know this information,” said the nameless person.

Well there you go. I have once again protected the innocent.

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