Category: Teachers and Parents

A Teacher’s Word

I don’t remember her name. I don’t even remember what she looked like. All I remember is that I was feeling alone, ugly, and abandoned during my sophomore year when school pictures arrived. As my homeroom teacher gave me the pictures she said, “I don’t think I have ever seen such a good school picture. You are so photogenic.”

I don’t remember her name. I don’t even remember what she looked like, but I vividly remember what I looked like and I remember how she made me feel. I was wearing a blue sweater, my hair, though in the midst of the 80s, was flat and feathered, parted in the middle, and my face had little makeup.

Throughout high school, like most adolescents, I felt ugly and out of style. My family didn’t spend money on trendy clothes or salons and excessive hair products. I didn’t even know how to make my hair Eighties Tall, so the Seventies Feather was the best I could do. On that day, however, neither my hair style nor my clothes mattered. For the first time since childhood, I considered the idea that I might be pretty.

To this day, that moment is the prettiest I believe I have ever felt.

All of this reminiscing was brought about due to a class discussion I had with one of my classes this week. They made me wonder if we teachers realize the long-lasting impact of our words.

High school teachers, in particular, have an amazing opportunity to spread positivity into the psyche of the students they teach. I am 44 years old and I still remember what my homeroom teacher said about my class picture.

Likewise, I’ve never forgotten a hurtful comment that was made by my 9th grade English teacher just a year before sophomore pictures were made. I was having some difficulty with Romeo and Juliet, but I was so excited to be reading it. Perhaps I was overzealous because I remember asking a lot of questions during class. One day I went to my teacher to see if she would recommend that I be moved out of the Tech Prep classes and into the CP class track because I wanted to be prepared for college. This well-meaning teacher told me that I wasn’t “college material.” She was only trying to help direct my path. She knew my dad wanted me to be a secretary and she knew that I had difficulty understanding the foreign concepts (and language) of Shakespeare and other literature that we had studied. She told me that I was a very “literal thinker” and would find the abstract nature of the college classroom too challenging.

I didn’t go to Winthrop to become a teacher for 10 years after that. Even today, after earning a bachelor’s degree, a masters in Education, teaching at York Tech, and beginning another graduate program, I sometimes wonder if I have fooled someone and that maybe I am not college material after all.

I know there is no logic to that way of thinking, and I never stay in that thought pattern for very long, but after I have conversations with my students like the one I had this week, I want to try to fix the problem. I want to get a huge megaphone and shot from the top of the earth for all to hear: “Our subject matter may not matter to our students as it does to us, but the words we use with them sometimes mean more than we can comprehend. Speak truthfully, but speak kindly, and remember that students will grow up and change a lot after they leave the high school classroom. Don’t stymie their growth with callous words.”

I’ll never be able to thank my sophomore homeroom teacher, nor will I ever show my freshman English teacher how wrong she was, but I hope that I can remind teachers everywhere of the importance of their words, because teacher, believe it or not, your words matter.


Preparing a Child For College – More than Academics

2021 Update: I wrote this blog back in 2014, but wanted to revisit it because while much has changed since then, one thing remains the same: we have got to do better for our kids…and by “better,” I mean we have to teach them respect, responsibility, and personal accountability while still teaching them empathy, compassion, and concern for others.

Original Post: 2014

I recently saw a report on CNN (also covered in The Washington Post) stating that most Americans believe the American Dream is dead, or at least out of reach. Few believe that today’s generation will have a better life than the generation before it.  Instead, the belief now is that where a person is born in terms of socioeconomic status is where they will stay.  For me, there is little wonder regarding why statistics show this belief to be true.

My Back Story

Neither of my parents had a college education.  My father was a hard-working man in a blue-collar job who provided well for his family.  My mother was a stay at home mom who provided well for the family too.  

Neither of my parents accepted failure as an option and both encouraged my brother and me to work hard for what we wanted.  I don’t remember either of them attending many school functions or parent/teacher conferences, but I do remember that excellence in education was expected. 

They often said they couldn’t make me study, but they could make sure that I brought home every book from every class so they could make me stay in my room with no phone or TV and only those books until I brought my grades up.

They wanted more for me than they, themselves had.

While they encouraged excellence in education, my daddy, at the time, didn’t believe in putting money into a four-year college education.  To him, a degree was a degree.  I believe part of his reluctance to consider a four-year college education for me was because it meant my moving out of his house and being free to “party,” as he had seen so many others do; however, he did believe in a college degree. 

I remember MANY times he said, “Carol, I don’t care if you have a degree in shoveling shit, you’d better get a degree.”  I imagine he had been passed over for jobs to men he thought couldn’t even shovel said “shit,” and he didn’t want to see that happen to me.  He also knew that women had a harder time earning equal pay in the workforce and felt that a degree would put me on a more even playing field. His main goal for me was never marriage; he wasn’t against it, but he always wanted me to be able to support myself. (A gift I have passed on to my own children.)

Supporting myself started with my paying for whatever degree I could afford. My daddy didn’t believe in paying for my college education because he felt the bigger lesson was in my paying for it myself.  He felt that if I didn’t find a way to pay for it I wouldn’t appreciate it. 

Today I smile as he helps my oldest daughter who now lives on campus herself.  Daddy didn’t understand back then the difference between a two and a four-year degree, or the education that campus living itself provides, but what he did understand was that education would open doors for me that were closed to him.

A Different Generation’s Opinion of School

For my parents, education was about much more than school. 

I was their child, their responsibility and it was no teacher’s job to teach me the values they held dear, and they owed it to me to teach me about money. My academic education was the teacher’s job; my character education was theirs. 

I had to be educated in the value of hard work, in the importance of being honest, and in the necessity of helping others. I had to understand that respect was to be earned as well as given and that nothing in life worth having comes free.  I didn’t learn any of that at school.  I learned those things at home and in church. 

On the few occasions that I did get in trouble at school, double jeopardy was not a concept I knew.  “Double trouble” was more the norm at my house.  I knew that if I gave my teacher any grief or broke any school rules I was going to get into more trouble at home than any punishment the teacher or principal could dish out – and paddling was still legal then.

The idea of a teacher or principal, or any authority, for that matter, having to earn my respect was a concept that I was never taught, and one that I do not understand today. When they said respect was to be earned and given, they meant that I was to respect myself and require that respect from others, but I was to give respect to those in authority.

Is There A Problem We Can Fix in Education?

Today people wonder what’s wrong with public education.  I wonder why the problem isn’t obvious.  Not too long ago two students were caught cheating.  Both students are good kids, but they made a bad decision. While disappointing, and definitely not encouraged, high school is the place to make mistakes like this because students still have the safety net of parents, teachers, and administrators who are there to guide them.  Had this happened in college, or the workplace, there would have been no safety net, no lesson learned, only consequences.

Unlike when I was in school, the policy for cheating today is a zero on the assignment.  Additional discipline is considered double jeopardy. 

While receiving a zero would have killed me – if Mom and Dad didn’t kill me first –  many students today could not care less about a zero; they have too many opportunities to bring the grade up.  By not having to pay for their error in judgement in a more effective manner, like, perhaps, using lunch detention to re-do the assignments with the highest possible grade being a 70, that school told those students that cheating is no bigger deal than if they had simply not done the assignment. The result is the same: a zero.

How Does This Decision Impact The American Dream?

The issue with the death of the American Dream comes down to what the kids are taught – both at school and at home.  As my daddy started saying to me when he was in his 40s, “Carol, I have lived half of my life.” He knew that at some point, what I accomplished would be solely up to me, and he was going to do his best to make sure I was prepared. Even if his ways were sometimes too harsh, he knew how the world and the American Dream worked.

One of the students must have parents like I had as this student may not see the light of day this calendar year.  The other though, well, I’m not sure that any consequence other than the zero was felt. 

The latter situation is sad because as a society we can’t prepare students for college, or the workplace or begin to help them realize the American Dream, unless we help them gain the tools that built the American Dream:  a good work ethic, integrity, and a willingness to earn the things they want.

Until we can help our students gain these tools, we can’t blame them for not being able to achieve more than we did — and the responsibility to teach these things is as much of a partnership between parents, the school, and the community today as it was thirty years ago.

The Decisions Teachers Make

I wonder if parents ever ponder why teachers make the decisions they do.  I know they question their child’s teacher’s decisions all the time, but I wonder if they ever stop to ask why the teacher made a certain decision.  Few, if any people know a child the way a parent or guardian knows that child – as a child.  However, only teachers know children as students in a classroom.

I’m a parent myself and I face this all of the time.  A teacher decides to move my child away from the front or refuses to let my child re-take a test.  Why should my child be moved?  Why can’t she re-take the test?  The way I want it to happen is what’s in my child’s best interest…and I should know.  I’m her mother.  As a teacher, however, I realize that the classroom is full of variables that I have no way of seeing, and one of those variables is how my child responds to those variables on a day to day basis.

Parental involvement is the absolute best way to make sure students do well in school.  With a partnership between parents and teachers there are few ways that students can fail, but this needs to be a partnership.  Yes, parents know their children best, but teachers know their students best.