A friend who teaches at another school was in a bit of a hurry when I bumped into him on Sunday.
“You administrative types, you forget what it’s like. I’m correcting papers, and grading exams, and writing comments for every student, and for all of my advisees and for half the tennis team. I don’t know about you, but I spent my Fathers Day searching for euphemisms.
You see, the problem is that you can’t say what you want to say because you don’t want to go to court. (But) If they injected us all with truth serum, oh these comments would just about write themselves. The words would fly off the keyboard!”
Talking to parents about their kids can require a certain degree of sensitivity. Michael Thompson believes that teachers need to always “claim the child,” and while I like the idea of “teacher as advocate,” I also applaud those with the ability to be both blue velvet and blue steel, depending on the boy and his particular situation. Sometimes we are called to comfort the afflicted and at other times to afflict the comfortable.
A couple of years ago, one of my sons, a boy who will never play the first violin in anyone’s orchestra, was desperate to go on the band trip to Chicago. He practiced frequently and with great volume. I often encouraged him by saying, “Can you make that racket somewhere else?”
When he didn’t see his name of the list of those invited to Chicago, he approached his music teacher and asked if he might reconsider this decision. The veteran instructor gave him a blank look and simply asked, “Are we really having this conversation?”
My son laughed over this at dinner that night. While he was disappointed to miss out on the trip to the Windy City, the teacher’s “tell it like it is” response was refreshingly honest. “I think I got a taste of reality today.”
On a related point, you might enjoy David McCullough’s “You’re Not Special” graduation speech at Wellesley High School.
One gem from McCullough: “You’re not special. You’re not exceptional. Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing 7th grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mr. Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your paternal caped crusader swoops in to save you, you are not special.”