A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mea culpa--I'm so sorry school is interfering with your child's life.

I recently got the most charming email from a parent, asking me to postpone a test in one of my college credit classes (which has been on the class schedule since the first day of school) because his son is in the orchestra for the school musical. And BTW, this parent sent me the email the day before the test was scheduled. This person noted that his son had chosen to be involved in this project, and of course he should take responsibility for his choices and make sure he can handle them, but, and I quote, "isn't it really a teacher's job to encourage students to be involved in activities outside of school?" He concluded with the suggestion that if I couldn't move the test, perhaps I could shorten it. The parent also stated that he had talked this over with other parents, and they agreed. So he was sort of carrying the standard, if you will, for a groundswell of opinion.

Kind of like Pickett's Charge.

Now frankly, I think the first part of his initial statement actually answered his own question, but he still decided to push on with the email, so I responded.

Being a prudent person who doesn't just shoot her mouth off without counting to ten in several languages, I gently responded to this parent's email with a firm answer in the negative accompanied by my reasons why. But here's what I really would have liked to say:

Dear Mr. J. L. Seagull,

I am so sorry for any distress that the scheduling of the test caused you, although your son has not said a word to me himself. The test has already had to be rescheduled once due to a school closing for inclement weather, and it is impossible to reschedule it again barring another Act of Nature. I would love to consider moving the test simply to accomodate your son, but I need some help accomplishing this scheduling deviation, since in the last three weeks your son has handed me eight (and this is no exaggeration) permission slips for field trips or activities which will necessitate your son missing my class over the next six weeks. Today he handed me yet another one, as I was pondering your emailed request.

He is going on a three-day band trip to Indiana, two track meets, one student government symposium, one trip to an amusement park allegedly to do physics experiments while riding roller coasters (upon my honor!), one trip to a Mexican restaurant with his Spanish class, one to a yearbook convention, one to schedule appointments at a blood drive, and one to excuse him from class to assist with Special Olympics. The one he gave me today was to go to a local museum. Some of these are worthy causes, and others are just inane wastes of instructional time. Nonetheless, I can see no time to reschedule the examination during a class period long enough to complete the test when your son will actually be here except for the date upon which it is already scheduled, which is why it is scheduled for that date.

Further, as a teacher yourself in our district, you doubtless understand that I have other students to consider besides just your son and the four other students taking part in the school play. These other students also have numerous other activities and field trips scheduled from now until the end of the school. Moreover, as you are also aware, the standardized tests required under NCLB will begin soon, and we are not to give any tests nor homework during the testing days.

Nonetheless, the problem here is beyond the disregard for my instructional time and my professional judgement which is evinced. The real problem here is that you and your son are unable to prioritize. You have allowed him to be severely overscheduled, and now you want me to enable and facilitate your error.

Additionally, while I find being in the orchestra for a school musical to be a fun activity to do, having done it myself, I am going to disagree with you about one other contention. It is actually not my JOB to encourage your son to participate in the school play, any more than it is the job of the drama teacher to encourage your son to do well in my class-- indeed, if that was the case, we would not be having this discussion.

I am employed as a history teacher, not as an activities coordinator. It is my job to prepare your son for not only this assessment, but to prepare your son as much as I can for the advanced placement test-- a job which frankly is made nearly impossible by the amount of instructional time he is going to be missing in the next few weeks. I wonder if you plan to write to the College Board to demand that they move and/or shorten the AP exam, since it will occur four days after his trip to Indiana? If so, please cc to me your email and the response of the College Board to your request, as I am curious as to the outcome of such a gambit.

Since we are on the subject of jobs, here is a key point thus far overlooked, although crucial, nay vital: it is YOUR job and the job of your son as a burgeoning adult to take on only as many activities as he can comfortably handle. As a student with high aspirations for college, he needs to learn this lesson now. Your son chose to take my class, and yet, of all his activities, he has shown the least dedication to this class in terms of priorities.

Finally, respectfully, I must say that the day I make decisions as to the scheduling of assessments or any other regular instructional activity subject to parental consensus is the day I look forward to you giving me veto power over the quantity, quality, and timing of your son's activities.

Ms. Cornelius

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At 4/6/07, 6:56 PM, Blogger Kristie Walker said...


At 4/6/07, 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Now that we know what you WANTED to say... will you share what you actually did reply to this moron?

At 4/6/07, 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, for too many kids, school is little more than a bus terminal through which they occasionally pass between their many far-more-important-than-classes activities.

At 4/7/07, 10:09 AM, Blogger graycie said...

Masterful! I love the way you begin so gently and let the acid seep out slowly until the end is a searing indictment of the parent's idiocy.

(My Spring Break only started today, so have not yet mellowed in preparation for the end-of-the-year push. Can you tell?)

At 4/7/07, 11:33 AM, Blogger La Maestra said...

Fantastic! :-D

Although I must defend my hubby, a physics teacher who takes his kids to the roller coaster physics day. He does give them assignments (that often involve extra tools like stopwatches and accelerometers) and expects them to complete the assignments and hand them in when they return. The kids are always shocked to find out that he's serious, but then they are really learning something. I always thought it was neat. And I get to chaperone this year!

At 4/7/07, 2:20 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You're so much more diplomatic than I am. I get stuff like that all the time (but from students, never parents), and my response is always to pull out the syllabus, point to the sentence in bold near the top of the page, and have the student read it. It says, "No exams will be rescheduled, save for documented deaths in the immediate family."

At 4/7/07, 4:37 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks, mrs. w and mrschili.

Actually, I basically said much of the same thing, just without the sarcasm that could them be forwarded to the school board. I did include the bit about commitment to my class, but gently stated it.

And la maestra, I wouldn't mind the physics day so much, if it didn't take practically every kid out of my class mere days before our AP exam-- and if I thought they actually learned something.

And mike, that is sadly true.

graycie, thanks! Breathe deeply. It will soak in about three days before you have to go back.

RWP: I do that too. And how lucky you are-- some of my friends who teach college courses have told me they ARE getting emails like this from these helicopter parents.

Somehow I'm supposed to be sensitive to every other thing going on in school, but I never see any reciprocity. I'll be honest-- were I teaching physics, I would make the roler coaster thing something they could do on their own time for extra credit. Just as I would never take kids out of school to go see a movie on history-- I try extremely hard to respect other people's instructional time.

And, finally, what does Mexican food have to do with Spanish class, since most of the Mexican food around here is as far from Mexico, let alone Spain, as possible? Midwesterners have NO IDEA what Mexican food should taste like.

At 4/7/07, 7:39 PM, Blogger Christine said...

I've longed to send many different versions of that letter. :)

I will tell you that I learned the hard way as soon as a parent says, "I've been speaking to other parents and they agree..." I stop listening. If they believed their position was strong on its face they wouldn't be looking for back up.

At 4/7/07, 8:06 PM, Blogger Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

There are many cool and groovy aspects to teaching at the college level, but I will have to say that most of the time, the coolest and grooviest of all is the fact that I am prohibited by LAW from discussing my students with anyone, including their parents.

And yes, parents do call me, and it's almost always a request to retake an exam, reschedule an exam, or ask for a list of all the quizzes and homework Junior missed because "we all went to Alabama to a family wedding."

I love telling them that I am unable to discuss any of my students with anyone.

Am I an unreasonable hardnose? Probably, but my nose wasn't this hard until it had been hammered by parents for 26 years in the public schools.

My advice? Get out while you can. GET OUT!!!!!

At 4/7/07, 8:39 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

Great, great letter. I'd have written something simpler out of laziness, but that was perfect.

At 4/8/07, 5:51 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

What a great letter! I want to be you when I grow up!
And isn't it always the same kids who miss for this leadership conference and that state History Day and that Math Bee?

At 4/9/07, 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you. It is always the kids who can't afford to miss school whose parents pull them out for a vacation. (Of course, these are the same parents who complain because teachers get "so much time off".)

The only thing I disagree with is this statement: It is actually not my JOB to encourage your son to participate in the school play, any more than it is the job of the drama teacher to encourage your son to do well in my class-- indeed, if that was the case, we would not be having this discussion. At my HS for every extracurricular we were involved in we had to sign the "I will die for my school" form. (My name, not theirs) It stipulated that you had to be passing 75% of your classes to continue. As far as I am concerned, that drama coach (or the band director) should be encouraging that student to take the test and do well. My drama coach always did.

At 4/10/07, 8:27 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

You go girl!

At 4/11/07, 1:39 PM, Blogger Ms Characterized said...

Oh man, I woulda paid more than a dollar to have this be the one you sent out. Simply brilliant. I think that this one actually would have been all right to fire off. But then, I'm on your side of the desk.

Great post.

At 2/1/08, 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this post via the Carnival of Ed. I am catching up on carnivals, so sorry if this comes so seemingly late. An excellent post. It certainly represents the type of note I would have loved to send certain parents back when I was teaching high school. I taught at a school where parents overscheduling their kids and expecting the laxity your parent expected was pretty much the norm. Actually, one of those parents was the school's athletic director. So you, see it gets around. Thanks for sharing it.


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