Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Teacher Troubles

I thought we were going to make it all the way through this school year without any of these, but I thought wrong.

I've written about this Industrial Ed teacher before; he's the one who is intimidated by me--the one who had the kids entering their finished projects in a competition in order to earn their grades. I asked a serious question about it and made the poor man stammer. I didn't even object, I just asked a question. He dropped the competitions after that so I either scared him to death or I wasn't the only parent with a problem with it. (Thanks Dennis for illuminating me on the fact that this is common in engineering school. I think you quite accidently helped me understand the guy).

Jeremiah took the man again this year for Advanced Engineering and Design above my objections, but he really wanted the class the man is teaching. The kid loves working with his hands and while I don't know that he's quite engineer material, he's definitely got a gift for electronics.

Over the last few months, Jeremiah has had a few complaints about the man, that he's taken to snapping and snarling and the kids with little provocation, that he's accused them of things they weren't doing and complaining about them and to them.

I know first hand that working with teenagers is hard (I have some horror stories about staffing a camp that maybe I'll get into another time). They can be rude and snotty and sneaky and lazy and a lots of other concentrated human vices. But I also know they're not that way all the time--not even half the time if you handle them properly.

As a substitute teacher, I've come into classrooms being run by burned out teachers more than once and they are easy to spot. They complain about how badly behaved all the kids are and the work they leave for the kids demonstrates a total lack of interest in whether the kids get it or not. Their students are usually emensely relieved to see me coming--beyond the normal "Hey it's the cool sub!".

This man has all the earmarks of a teacher on the edge and he needs to get out. But since Jeremiah's grades have been consistently all As we've let it slide.

Jeremiah's been talking excitedly for weeks about an independent project he and two other boys were working on (Each of the teams in the class was working on something different). He called it a syringe robot and explained how when it was finished it was supposed to pick up an egg and move it without breaking it. He'd designed it with the help of the teacher and his teammates. I knew he was close to having it completed and that he couldn't wait to show it to us.

Yesterday Jeremiah came in the door with the unfinished syringe robot in his hands. I've not seen him this upset about anything in some time. He put it on the table and told us the teacher wouldn't let his team finish it. They had completed everything except putting in the syringes and tubing. When they went to the teacher yesterday to ask for them, the man looked around the classrom for a minute or two, couldn't find them, and then turned and said, "No. Forget it. You guys have fooled around with this project for too long. You'll work on 3D modeling for the rest of your time here."

Jeremiah said he was too shocked to argue. He acknowledged that it had taken them longer than some of the others, but it wasn't because they'd been fooling around. "We're just not as skilled as some of the guys are." That's actually a pretty huge admission for my perfectionistic, must be the best at everything son. I also know one of the boys he's working with very well. This is the only class the kid cares about.

And I know my own kid. While he's mouthy at home, he's never ever rude to teachers (He'd better not be!) and when he sets out to do something, he does his best. This is why he's on the high honor roll this year and is the darling of his Advanced English Comp teacher as well as his Spanish teacher and why he'll be playing lead guitar for the school's show band next year. He's rated as a "good kid" by all.

So if he tells me he's been wronged by a teacher, I'm inclined to believe him. I've seen it one other time with one other teacher and fortunately the school fired her at the end of the year because they had so many complaints about her.

My husband and I discussed it with him. He's eighteen and if he'd rather handle this himself, we'd be happy to let him do so. "No. This time, I'd like some help," he said. We asked him what he wanted from the conversation. "All we want is to finish the project," was his reply. This is apparently not about the grade--this year, they're graded on a daily basis, not at the completion of the project.

This time I'm going to let his Dad handle it. I don't know that I could stay nice and I'd hate to make a grown man cry.


debby said...

I get mad at stuff like this. When I get mad I cry. I hate that about myself.

jeanie said...

Ooooh - the man sounds like he is on the edge - which everyone can feel for him about, but not when he is taking a few teenagers (including your son) with him.

Good luck.

Mary Paddock said...

Gary wound up conferencing with the teacher over the phone yesterday. I could hear the man from where I was sitting. The more they conversed, the faster the man talked. He assured my husband that his problem wasn't with Jeremiah, but the boys he was working with. According to him, Jeremiah was doing all the work. He said Jeremiah could bring the project back and finish it if he wanted to.

Jeremiah swears the other boys were doing their parts and he still didn't feel the teacher was being fair, but he was relieved that he would be able to finish his project. Since he's inclined to pass the buck in situations like this, the fact that he's not pointing fingers at the other two tells me the teacher was having an especially bad moment and those three boys were simply there.

Debby--It depends on the kind of mad I am. That helpless inarticulate mad that's accompanied by hurt feelings makes me cry too. But this kind of mad makes me want to distance myself from the situation for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Hi Jeanie--we vacillate between being irritated by the man and feeling sympathy. I suspect he's an engineer who just happens to be a teacher as opposed to the other way around. I also suspect he's an introvert out of water, which would explain his nervousness with parents. Still, I think he atleast needs a break.

Dennis Bryant said...

I defended the guy before, but not th is time. There is nothing worse than throwing cold water on a kid's creativity. He knows that whether he is an engineer or teacher first.