My son used to love school. Now, he says it’s a prison.
It’s #WorldTeacherDay on social media, where we’re supposed to celebrate teachers who changed our lives.
Excuse me while I laugh my ass off.
James was a model student, a sponge. He worshiped his teachers, tried very hard to please them, follow the rules, sit quietly, only speak when spoken to, stay in a straight line, blah blah blah.
Somewhere in the middle of middle school, things began to change. He kept most of the drama to himself, being a typical teenaged boy. He also didn’t want to burden me, believing he could handle it on his own. For the most part, he did very well.
He should’ve been given a Medal of Valor for the bullshit he’s been put through.
He is his father’s son. The kid doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’ll take so much before he pushes back. He’s had to do this so many times, in order to survive and make it to the next grade, not to mention shield his friends from humorless drones on the hallway monitoring warpath, etc. — with the administration, teachers, and classmates.
Unfortunately, he’s no match for government bureaucracy. Nobody (sane) is.
In hindsight, he’s admitted that his second grade teacher hated him, his fourth grade teacher didn’t have much use for him either. I was in those classes a lot, volunteering with paperwork and at holiday parties and field trips. I found the second grade teacher to be a bit of a cold fucking bitch. The fourth grade teacher wasn’t that much better.
His fifth grade teacher really enjoyed having my son in her class, however. Then, something must’ve happened to her, because I heard from other kids in middle school that she turned into another raving bitch. She even allegedly got into a nasty verbal fight with one of the middle schoolers when she transferred over as the librarian.
My son just looked sad. Like he knew it would happen, inevitably. Everybody gets swallowed up by the system.
His middle school years were a nightmare, a testing ground, a veritable Lord of the Flies. These were the years that revealed who had the stamina to withstand the bullshit, and who would crack (understandably). Fortunately, my son is a survivor; that came from me.
He clashed with every other staff member or teacher. Most of them treated the students like a case number, or they so obviously favored certain ones over others. My son never figured out what the criteria was. He gave up trying. He wasn’t particularly favored, let’s just say. Maybe he spoke up for himself too much, maybe his parents weren’t rich, privileged, and powerful enough in this rich, privileged town.
His band teachers were blowhards, half the time the students ran the overcrowded, much neglected classes. His 6th grade Math teacher (and beloved counselor, no lie) hated him on sight, I saw that for myself. Same with the Science teacher in 7th grade, who acted like a total dick.
I didn’t have great teachers growing up, but none of them were as bad as this fucked-up group, and from a supposedly high-rated school. So, WTF?
My son’s grades reflected the disparity in the teachers’ ability to deal with every student fairly. He’s not a dumb kid, either. Yet, he still earned every A and B.
But you have to be better than just book smart. You have to be street smart, able to channel a Narcissist’s skill in exploiting people’s weaknesses and appealing to their strengths. I hate to say this, but a lot depends on a kid’s ability to navigate a world of dysfunctional to his/her own advantage.
My son learned real quick to sublimate his strong personality to get along, as distasteful as it was to him, when to pick his battles. Or else.
He learned the hard way what happens to kids who refuse to tow the line. I personally know of a handful of very good, smart kids who turned. They became drug dealers, they dropped out, they transferred to another school in hopes the teachers there were better (in one instance, they were).
The high school my son goes to now suffers from a terrible reputation for drug abuse, bullying, cyber-bullying, elitism, and suicide. It’s well-deserved, too.
If my son thought middle school was hell, high school was 10 times worse.
His first year was a trial by fire. One of his teachers wrote him up for being tardy in the first quarter when he was just using the restroom first thing. She let her students grab the pass near her desk. At the time, he said her back was to him and she didn’t see. So, naturally, she assumed he was late to class. When I explained what he said to me, she didn’t give a shit, James was late, but a good kid, don’t worry about it.
Then, she wrote him up for a referral for cheating, a warning, claiming that she had to because of the rules. He was so shook up that he didn’t think to defend himself. He just sat there while she sternly explained what he did and what she was about to do. If I hadn’t intervened and insisted on a meeting with her and the administration the following week, I don’t think he’d ever have been able to give his side of the story.
Keep in mind that my son never had any cheating accusation lodged against him in the entire history of his attending school. He also maintained a straight-A average as a freshman, zero problems with his other teachers.
The incident in question involved two other students copying off his homework assignment, due that day. He surmised that he’d gone to use the restroom while one of them swiped his homework to copy off. The other student simply asked, and he handed his paper over, thinking the kid was only looking it over to make sure he understood how the assignment was done. This was a practice they were encouraged to follow throughout elementary and middle school, btw.
At the meeting, we were told that if it was just the one student swiping his paper, James would’ve been fine. But he willingly handed over his work to another student. That meant he was enabling the cheating. It didn’t matter if he swore up and down that he was sharing his homework just to show his friend how to do it.
Think about that for a minute.
It didn’t matter what my son said in his defense. He was guilty, period. Zero tolerance.
My husband and I asked what would happen if classmates took our son’s work without his permission. How the hell is he supposed to protect himself then? He can’t control the behavior of others.
We were advised to have him insist that they do their own work and see the teacher with any questions. Furthermore, he is to keep his work on his person, even when going to the restroom. Sounds like a prison, doesn’t it?
All of this was in the teacher’s syllabus, which we didn’t have time to memorize…you know, what with our own jobs, appointments, and other obligations. (We get a syllabus from every class, averaging three to four pages in length, going over every detail from the amount of hiccups allowed to bathroom breaks — only half kidding.)
My son told me later that he went around and asked a few other foreign language teachers what their process was, if they had a problem with sharing assignments. They did not. Just this one, apparently.
That’s just a sample from his freshman year.
This year, it’s even more unimaginable, if that’s possible.
He isn’t sure if it’s just the one teacher or a new school policy, but there are only four days of absences allowed per trimester, before he has to go to the teacher for make-up work. If a teacher announces that there will be a Fri. test on Wed., and he’s sick on Thurs., he still has to take the test the next day. There is no one-day grace period.
There is no grace.
Cue the epidemic.
I’ve seen kids vomiting on the lawn moments before entering the hallowed gates of learning. Kids sounding like they needed an iron lung.
But by all means, let’s not miss one minute of school, lest we force the unionized teachers into working past their allotted minimum wage.
A kid like mine with asthma could land in the ER.
Forget staying home with a cold or flu, or anything. Forget making doctor’s or dentist’s appointments until after 2:30 p.m. during the week. Make sure nobody in your immediate and extended family drops dead; we can’t afford the mourning. Pray to G-d your kid doesn’t break any bones or suffers a serious concussion, or heaven forbid, much worse. Forget a life Monday through Friday, because school is a modern-day internment camp — except the lives they destroy and the spirits they kill are from the inside out.
My son barely has time to eat his lunch. I used to get 40 minutes, not including the second recess (yes, high school) in the late 1970s. My son gets 30, after getting through a long line that takes 10.
He can’t keep snacks in his locker because the school scheduled his classes in such a way that he literally has to race from one to another across campus.
He’s in a pilot honors Math class where the teacher doesn’t seem to know what the fuck she’s doing and the kids are so miserable and lost that more than a few have broken down with tears of frustration. This Math class is effectively killing his enjoyment of the only subject in school he ever gave a damn about, the only subject he feels he’s really good at.
His sophomore Spanish teacher won’t call on him when he raises his hand, so now he’s got a “C” for the participation part of the class. The first week, this teacher rapid-fire rattled off whatever the fuck it was in Spanish without stopping to explain shit, so the kids were totally in over their heads.
These are the bright spots. The other classes are boring af. At least they offered the students a chance to sleep.
Recently, they had to watch a suicide prevention video, which my son said was a total joke. I can only imagine the sanitized, after school special that shit show turned out to be.
When my son gets home after school, he heads straight into his bedroom to sleep. His only outlet is weekend soccer, video games, and the Friday Night Lights of Varsity football, where he gets to socialize with his friends.
So, you’ll forgive me if I don’t celebrate #WorldTeacherDay or #NationalTeacherAppreciation.
I’ll bake my scratch pumpkin bread and chocolate chunk cookies for the more deserving, like my son’s soccer teammates after their matches, and friends who’ve stepped up whenever I’ve needed them.