May 1, 2016
So often during the Middle School Years, kids are seeking acceptance, self worth, and yes, even their own identities. It is helpful for teachers to remember this when confronted with raging parents, marionette administrators, or the un-truth tellers themselves. It is also helpful to remember that truth is subjective and its extraction, a dance.
“She won’t teach my daughter!”
I was sitting across from my student, Marta** and her mother, who was raging.
“Marta said you refused to teach her! She said you even used those words, ‘I refuse to teach you!’ How unprofessional! I don’t care if you don’t like her or she makes you mad! My daughter deaserves her education and you can’t refuse to teach her! She was sooo upset last night, and I wanna know…”
I’m stalling for time here, allowing Mom to blow off some steam. I’m trying to pinpoint in my memory just exactly when I refused to teach Marta…ahh, yes. I had told Marta the previous day that I refused to teach her; but, that’s not the whole truth. As soon as I pinpointed the incident, I came back to the present and Mom was still accusing me of things untoward. I love righteous indignation. And both Marta and her mom had such self-satisfied smiles showing. I almost hated to see them fade.
“Excuse me,” I said to Mom. Then I turned my full attention to Marta. “Marta,” I asked, “What is the bathroom policy in my classroom?”
Before she could answer, Mom interrupts, “What does that have to do with anything?”
In my haste to get to the whole truth, I ignore the question and turn once again to Marta, “Marta, would you please tell your mother the bathroom policy for my classroom?”
“Yeah, well, we raise our hand and ask if we can go to the bathroom.”
“Okay. And then what?”
“If you say yes, then we sign out and go!” she says with pride at being able to answer such simple questions.
“And how often do I say ‘Yes, you can go?'”
“Almost all the time,” Marta answers. She turns to Mom, “Ms. Kunzmann always lets us go to the bathroom!” She’s picking up steam now, “And we hafta sign all the way out. The date, our first and last name, and the time we leave and the time we come back”
“That’s right. And what happens if you forget to sign all the way out?”
“We can’t go to the bathroom anymore?” she answers with some doubt.
“Yes,” I answer. “But only for the next week. And is there anything else your mom should know about my bathroom policy?”
“Ummmm, I dunno.”
“Okay,” I prompt her. “What about the part when you’re in the bathroom and I’m still instructing the class?”
“Oh yeah,” Marta remembers. “And you won’t repeat anything when we get back.”
“That’s right,” I exclaim and I address Mom. “You see, some of my students take advantage of my seemingly loose bathroom policy. In fact, some of my students leave class every day to go to the bathroom. Some days there is a steady stream of students from my classroom to the bathroom and back. Because of this, I have repeatedly told my students that I will not repeat whatever they miss while in the bathroom. It is each student’s responsibility to ask a peer for any information they might have missed.”
I could see Marta squirming uncomfortably as I addressed her mom, because now the whole truth will be revealed.
“The other day when Marta came back from the bathroom, I had finished my instruction and the students were working on their assignment. Marta sees this and asks me what she is supposed to be doing. I told her to ask one of her peers, she knows the rules. At this point, Marta becomes quite upset at me for not telling her the assignment. Right, Marta?” And I look right at her. But she won’t look at me.
I go on to explain that I had added up the amount of time Marta had been out of my classroom in the past two weeks: 32 minutes. If I have just three students from each of my four classes go to the bathroom every day, and believe me, I have far more, I would be repeating every. single lesson, every, single day. I refuse.
Finally, I am explaining to Marta’s mom that what I had said to Marta was, “I cannot repeat my lesson over and over again for those individuals who use the restroom during my class. Heck, just Marta alone would have me repeating 32 minutes worth of instruction every two weeks! So yes, I did tell Marta that I refuse to teach her while she is in the bathroom. I don’t think that is unreasonable.”
Middle school students are still trying to figure out who they are and what path they should take. Unfortunately, this middle-school-soul-searching often requires dramatics (theirs, not mine). “I refuse to teach you!” is certainly more dramatic than, “I refuse to teach you while you are in the bathroom.” And, “I refuse to teach you!” is a much better attention-grabber. While, “I refuse to teach you while you are in the bathroom,” is, well, sensible; something middle school students rarely have an occasion to practice.
And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
**Names have been changed