When Teachers Can’t Teach

I suffer from S.A. No, not Stupidity Aversion (although I have that too), but terrible Separation Anxiety when it comes to my kids. When my older son (Sonny) started kindergarten, I nearly tied myself up in knots.

In the beginning, I sat in the back of his classroom, helping his wonderfully patient teacher any way I could. She was on to me, but being wise, always assigned little tasks to keep me busy.

I gradually moved to a spot outside the room where I stood, glued to the window, watching my little guy add up numbers, splatter paint all over his clothes, and install Windows ’95 on the class computer (he always was technically inclined).

Finally, I moved a few feet away to the nearest bench and eventually made it out into the parking lot. This took about three years.

From kindergarten through second grade, Sonny had excellent teachers. Then came Mrs. Patton. Prim, proper, mature and seemingly stern, she appeared the model teacher. Parents of older children told me that Sonny was lucky to have her. I made it a habit to drop into the classroom at random intervals. I wanted to see this marvelous educator in action.

One early afternoon, I happened upon Sonny’s classmate, Ben, wandering around, unsupervised, on the playground during class hours. I mentioned this to Mrs. Patton whom I found carefully applying lipstick at her desk while the class giggled, whispered and passed notes.

“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Patton responded, startled. “I can’t keep track of them all!”

I suppose twelve students could be burdensome.

And then there were the bookshelves. Some teachers grew gardens with their students. Mrs. P. grew dust. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, classic literature all maimed by thick, wheeze-inducing dust. Mrs. Patton didn’t believe in books; she believed in the Franklin electronic dictionary. When Mary wanted to know how to spell curious (i.e., desiring knowledge), the Franklin dictionary gave her curios (i.e., unusual object of art). I learned that Mrs. P. couldn’t spell on the third grade level; she couldn’t correct her students. I wasn’t happy. A stuper (yes, short again for an inconceivably stupid person) was posing as a teacher.

The final straw occurred when I picked up a tearful Sonny after school; he informed me that he’d been punched in the stomach by another child. He added that Mrs. Patton had told him, “See what happens!” He asked me what she’d meant. Sonny is a cerebral, thoughtful, cautious young man, not prone to violence. Unlike me. I briefly considered finding the kid and/or his mom and demonstrating what I’d learned while watching Bruce Lee movies. Instead, I marched up to Mrs. Patton and asked her what happened.

“Why, I thought the school called you,” a bewildered Mrs. P informed me.

It’s not easy to look stupidity in the eyes and attempt to make sense. It’s like watching a dog walk backward on its hind legs. It’s not done well. You’re surprised it’s done at all.

There were other incidents, such as “the auto harp is more important than math” lecture, and the “wait for the medication to kick-in” episode, but those would take too long to discuss here. It wasn’t any one act that lowered the intellectually impoverished Mrs. P to stuper level. It was a series of stupid blunders.

I approached a few parents who still insisted Mrs. P was the best. She’d been teaching for ten years. Needless to say, they’d never seen her in action. Then I heard,

“Psssst! Over here!” a woman tossed her head up, either doing a fine imitation of a spirited stallion or attempting to get me to move closer to her. I moved closer.

Then she whispered, “Mrs. Patton is no good. My son Ray had her. When he was in her class, he kept getting up and leaving. Going to the Computer Lab or Art Room. Mrs. P. said Ray had psychological problems and should be tested. I spent over a thousand dollars having my poor son analyzed. It ended up he was fine. She was the one who should have been tested.”

I went to the Head of the School whom I happened to greatly admire. I began to tell her about Mrs. P. and she said,

“I know. I’ve been watching her. This is her last year.”

Mrs. Patton went on to teach at a neighboring private school where I heard the parents, including a good friend of mine, gave her rave reviews. When I told my friend that Mrs. P. was a counterfeit human, she regarded me in disbelief. Some people need to learn for themselves.

I can be an extremist when it comes to my children (just ask them). I needed to know that the person they spent almost ten months of the year with, for at least seven hours every weekday was exercising vigilant intelligence. The only way to know was to observe periodically, in person. With younger children especially, it’s important to make parental presence and involvement known. There are stupers out there who underestimate the intelligence of kids…and overestimate their own.

“If you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” -George Orwell

Don’t stop thinking!



5 Responses to “When Teachers Can’t Teach”

  1. Jayne says:

    Wow… well done for paying attention and listening to your kid, then acting on your concerns. Sounds like you’re a great mom.

  2. Anna says:

    I always liked knowing what was going on in the classroom when my kids were young. Now they’re in high school, and it gets worse! You’d think they’d need more intelligence to deal with high school kids, but it’s not so. There are a few good teachers out there.

    Note: you commented on my Alzheimer’s Walk post. After you left I edited to say I was going to donate the $ I’m getting paid for writing the post to the first person that sent me a link to their fund raising page. Since I hadn’t said that yet, and you commented first, I wanted to be sure you have the chance.

  3. dawn says:

    Great post! When I put my daughter on the school bus for the first time, I cried like a baby 🙁
    She’s 17 now, and trust me, the stupid teachers never disappear – in fact, I think most of them work in high schools!

  4. writer chick says:

    Hey Keli,
    I really admire your vigilance on this issue. Thank goodness she moved to a different school – although now those children have the same problem.

    Your kids are lucky to have a mom who is so interested in their lives and well being – many parents leave it to the school or analyst or whomever.

    You go girl.


  5. Theresa111 says:

    Wow…I almost added 10 and 0 as 100. Just kidding.
    This was a great story. Glad you actually did something instead of sitting back and taking it, as most parents would have done. You’ve got backbone. 🙂

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