Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reflections on My Last Open School

Open School evening and afternoon passed without any over-the-top melodrama and no unreasonable complaints. Other than a few encores from parents I've heard from already, whose antics I've written about in the last few entries, there really were no unpleasant confrontations at all. This was a relief, obviously, as was the fact that the parent I wrote about in Silly Season did not show up at all. One parent complained bitterly about the fact that I put the homework online and require the students to get it even if they don't have easy or convenient access to a computer, then the very next parent who came in had high praise and appreciation for the exact same practice. Any confrontations I have with parents from here on out will have to be by appointment.

I really used to enjoy open school. I won't go so far as to say I've come to dread it, but there's almost always one or two whack jobs who manage to ruin the whole experience. Here's what I wrote at this time last year, when I thought I would only have one more Open School to deal with. The last two were busy, but generally uneventful. There are a few things I've noticed, however, that I wanted to put down.

One is that it helps tremendously to have a principal who "gets it." With all due respect to the first high school principal I worked under, who was an excellent administrator but interacted less directly with teachers because the school was so large, I think my current principal may be the best in the city. Certainly the best I've seen since I left that first high school in 2001. She is more than willing to hold students, and parents, accountable and does not automatically assume that the teacher is wrong, like some principals I've encountered. She does not accept wild accusations against teachers at face value and does not bend over backwards to appease unreasonable people, like some principals I've encountered. While some principals are ultimately concerned only with making parents happy, her primary concern is getting at the truth, and the reality of the situation. "Your problem is not with my teachers," she said to one parent last year. "Your problem is your kid not doing her work." This approach is certainly better for teachers, parents and students in the long run. What's more, knowing this makes it easier for me to be more frank and honest with parents, and avoid some of the silly, patronizing games we sometimes have to play.

Another is thing I noticed is that students seem to feel a great deal more comfortable and confident lying to their parents than they have in years past. At least three parents told me specifically that when they had received correspondence from me informing them of either the child's misbehavior or academic failure, their children told them that I was lying. Fortunately, at least for now, more parents are willing to believe me than the children in these situations. I doubt that this behavior by students is anything new; I just found it curious that it came up so often. And, of course, there is a correlation between parents who act as enablers and dishonest, self-serving behavior by children.

The only truly negative experience to come out of Open School this year actually happened after everyone had gone home on Friday. After meeting with a student and her mother during conferences, at which the student hemmed and hawed and evaded and equivocated and sat completely silent when her mother asked her to explain the evidence I showed her of the child's non-performance, it was time to actually grade the child's notebook. Long story short, much of it was copied from another student, an Honors student who sits in the same seat in a different class period. The latter told me a few weeks ago that her notebook had gone missing, but it turned up shortly thereafter. Apparently the former actually took the latter's notebook out of the room and brought it home to copy it.

The amazing thing about this is that it's not the least bit surprising, but it still makes me so angry every time I see it happen. It never takes long before at least one student, and usually more, reveals him/herself to be a liar, cheater and/or thief. And kids wonder why I never give them the benefit of the doubt.

All in all, I'm glad Open School passed without incident. 2½ more months and I'm done.

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