It is frightening for a teacher to telephone a parent. I remember my first call to a parent as a new junior high teacher in West Jordan. I reasoned that most parents supported the school because that was the case in my home, where we lived under the edict that "if you get in trouble at school, you are in more trouble at home." But then, my dad was a teacher, and you would expect him to feel that way.
The problem was that what I was going to say to these particular parents wasn't going to be pleasant. These parents needed to know that their son and I couldn't go on meeting this way; he was disruptive in class to the point of monopolizing my time. I was beginning to dislike the kid.It would only be natural for the parents to be defensive, thinking my complaint would reflect on them. They would like to think they had taught their child better; I assumed they had.
Maybe they would blame me, and maybe I was the problem. Maybe they would tell me they didn't have any problems at home so I must be doing something wrong at school.
I made the call. After the short conversation was over, it occurred to me that, although we were polite and agreeable, we hadn't really decided anything. I had left behind a sweaty telephone receiver and no plan. Now I could worry about what would happen next.
The next morning, the father was waiting for me in the principal's office and wanted to see me before I went to my first class.
The coveralls and straw hat established the parent as a farmer. Why had I pictured him as some sort of businessman?
"I plan to attend class with my boy this morning. I've arranged for someone to help with chores every morning this week, if necessary, so that I can attend school. I'm not angry with him or with you. This is something I just want to resolve."
Halfway through the class I realized that maybe I was on the spot and not the boy. The boy was getting concerned help from Dad and I was getting a bit nervous as a new teacher performing with another adult in the room.
But the one classroom visit solved the problem.
I remember the second time I called the home of an intractable student. The next day, an attorney friend of the family called me back. This problem would not be resolved in one visit - or ever.
It occurred to me, after this call, that, since it is impossible to predict which parents will be helpful, maybe the only safe strategy for a teacher is to make no calls to homes.
Now, as a parent, the call has come to me. Mrs. Stevens at the middle school called on a Saturday. She was calling on her own time.
"Your son has been prepared all week. The first and second drafts of his personal narrative were good. He made the corrections I suggested and even typed the second draft. The problem is that he didn't turn in the final draft. I was disappointed because he was doing so well.
"I won't give him full credit for late work since it wouldn't be fair to those who got the assignment done on time. I will let him do something to make it up if I get the assignment on Monday. I'll meet him at the school if he needs to get in and get his paper."
The new middle-school student had just forgotten, seemed happy that teacher and parents cared and carried his assignment to the teacher's home on Saturday night.
Thanks, Christy Stevens at the Ephraim Middle School. I now feel like voting yes in a school bond election, paying my property taxes with less cynicism and accepting an avoided PTA assignment. You really know how to hit a father where it helps.
I don't know what we pay you but it isn't enough.
Dr. Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College.