• Fri, Nov 16 2012

SAHM No More: My Son’s Teacher Called Me Out On Not ‘Communicating’ Better About Homework

SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.

The email I received went a little something like this:

Dear Ms. Iversen,

Perhaps it is time for you to start communicating better with you son. He has not handed in his homework assignments for the last two weeks and is putting himself in jeopardy of failing. As his teacher, I can only do so much. It is really up to you to make sure that he is doing his work. Might I suggest looking in his backpack at night and sitting down and talking with him about his day? That might help.

Sincerely,
Mr. Science-Teacher-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless

The effect that this email had on me came in stages: denial that this science teacher even knew what he was talking about—maybe he had confused my son with someone else; instinctive and nearly blinding fury that my parenting commitment had been questioned; wounded self-doubt about my skills as a mother; steely resolve to figure out what was going on with my son’s academic progress; and, finally, a mixture of all those emotions as I sat there, looking at my computer screen, wondering, what am I doing wrong?

My older son started middle school this past September. He went from a neighborhood school with 58 kids in his grade to a large school with over 300 kids in his grade, none of whom he knew well, most of whom he didn’t know at all. And although he had always been an excellent student and had been placed in an advanced-track program, I worried that my son would get overwhelmed by all the changes that were going on, both academically, and at home. Because of my new working hours, my son comes home from school and has to start—and hopefully finish—his homework before I return from my job. I thought I was staying on top of it though, checking his bag each night—okay, most nights—and consistently going over his completed homework. After his first month of school, I hadn’t seen much in the way of science assignments.

But it kept slipping my mind to look into the situation. After all, my son was diligently working every day and he had never had a problem keeping track of things like this before. What could possibly be going wrong? As it turned out, lots of things. I was the one who contacted the science teacher finally, asking why I hadn’t seen any assignments. And the email that I got back—paraphrased above—was as startling as if I looked in the mirror and saw that someone had drawn a big red F on my forehead.

You can reach this post's author, Kristin Iversen, on twitter.
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  • KatieLady

    thank you — its hard to be a mom- sahm or wm- its a tough job. and with school requirements what they are these days ( and most of the grunt work having to be done at home on their own) kids are getting bum educations in public schools- most of them anyhow. i am SURE there are some good PS’s out there… but most are barely keeping their standards above the proverbial water so as not to be taken over by a BARELY functioning govt.

    anyhow, :)

  • Justme

    I think the teacher’s wording definitely could have been better, but his message seemed to be on point.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with “you’re a working mom and neglecting your child” because I have kids from ALL sorts of family structures that do well as well as fall behind.

    I email (or call) parents all the time regarding successive late assignments, a failure on a test or any behavioral issues. Not because I want to make the parent feel bad but because whatever I’m saying to the child in class is obviously not working and I need some help on the other end of things to get the student to where he or she needs to be. And then there are the times where the parent informs me of major life changes (like in your case) or issues going on at home which can give me a greater understanding of the student and how to reach out and help.

    Most teachers really do want to work with the parents to help the student be successful and are not in the business of “calling you out” as a bad parent.

    • LiteBrite

      Agreed and no matter what the tone of the e-mails were, I think the fact that they
      opened up a much needed dialogue between her and her son is the main point that she should focus on.

  • alainnanam

    The teacher’s wording could have been better, because he did come off slightly condescending in the email. That aside, you have to remember that this man does spend a considerable amount of time with your son each week and has probably gotten to know him at least a little bit by this point in the school year. A teacher’s opinion can be quite valuable in that they are able to offer objective opinions and advice about kids that isn’t clouded by the parental “oh they’re my sweet baby angel” outlook. This teacher clearly cares about your son and wants him to succeed or he wouldn’t have emailed you about his progress.

  • Me

    wow…I think the teacher’s approach was complete bs. Instead of assuming, he should have asked, then from there, figure out (with all 3 of you present) how you can work together. I’m sure the teacher’s intentions were well intended, but still sucks that it made you doubt yourself and your son.

    • Ellie

      I agree with this. The tone of that email was completely snotty and condescending. How about speaking like a grownup, instead of being so passive-agressively snarky? I think that would made this situation a lot better.

    • ipsedixit010

      Well, she said she was paraphrasing, so I’m sure she reiterated it in a way that she viewed it (as an affront to her) rather than accurately.

    • Justme

      Good point.

    • Ellie

      Ah, you’re right – I missed that bit. I thought she was quoting.

    • lea

      I don’t know, without knowing the content of the email the teacher was replying to, it’s hard to judge his tone. I think it’d be pretty jacked off if I were a teacher and had a student’s parent contact me about a lack of homework (which could be taken as a criticism of my teaching), especially without even discussing it with their child first.

    • Jen

      I’m sorry she doubted herself, middle schoolers by their very nature aren’t that great at communicating or turning in homework. However, I find it odd that when she finally noticed she wasn’t seeing much homework she emailed the teacher and didn’t ask her kid (from her post, she may have simply omitted that). But ultimately no matter how poorly the teacher’s email was worded, he was correct. The communication between the poster and her son wasn’t where it should be. Lesson learned. It’s not the teacher’s fault her kid wasn’t turning in homework and it wasn’t the teacher’s fault that she wasn’t asking her kid why.

    • Justme

      The first question she asked should have been directed at her son – where are your science assignments and how are you doing in that class? If the answer was not satisfactory or if she needed more clarification the email that was sent to the teacher should have been phrased as “this is what my son is telling me and I just wanted to see if he is passing along the correct information.” Not putting blame on either party but instead casting out a net to see what kinds of info she can gather up in order to get a clearer picture of what is going on with her child’s science education.

  • AP

    I think the teacher’s completely out of line, if only because your son is in middle school. Part of middle school is learning how to be responsible for oneself, and if your son is not completing his homework, it is HIS fault, not anyone else’s.

    Obviously, I think parents should work to ensure that their child is getting a quality education. But if an older student is not fulfilling his responsibility to complete his assignment, he should face consequences for his poor choices. His homework is his responsibility, not his mother’s.

    • Justme

      But the first year of middle school can be very difficult for kids and most parents would like to be informed of their child’s struggles in class. Yes, he might have worded it poorly but the mother still needed to know the situation so that she can help her son learn time management skills.

  • Lilac

    Maybe perhaps take your son out of the fast track classes? Those tend to be the hardest with the most homework and some children just are not cut out for the extra pressure.

  • K.

    Any chance that your initial contact with the teacher could have been construed as a challenge? Did you, for example, suggest in your email that perhaps, maybe, your son dropped the ball, or did you just question the teacher about where the assignments were? I ask simply because without some admission or realization that perhaps it was your son to blame, it can come off like you suspected the teacher wasn’t doing his job. Maybe that’s why he responded the way he did.

    I’m not trying to defend or excuse his attitude so much as trying to explain it. I taught MS myself and while I think the tone of his email was unnecessary, you might try to understand that perhaps he had talked to your child independently, given him warnings, and/or basically put him on notice. I mean, I hate to say it, but kids–especially Jr. High kids–say and do the darndest things, and one of them is “forgetting” to tell mom and dad when they get pulled aside in class or receive a ‘D’ on their latest quiz. Trust me, the number of times that I have called mom and dad over a kid that I’ve been reprimanding since Day One only to have the parent be completely bewildered…too many to count. Add in the fact that in many cases, if a teacher fails a student for perfectly legitimate reasons, like not turning in homework and so on, s/he will oftentimes have to have a long talk with an angry parent who feels blindsided they weren’t aware of the problem ahead of time, even though technically, it’s not really the parents’ responsibility anymore–it’s the student’s. This is especially true when working with parents of kids who are in gifted/fast-track programs and aren’t used to seeing low grades.

    If it helps, though, MS is 75% about learning to show up on time, turn in your work, know where to go, etc. etc. I guarantee that your son is not the only one who is having the said problem, AND I promise that your teacher (if he’s anything like myself and 90% of the MS teachers I know) isn’t judging you as a parent. We know parents are busy and we also know that kids don’t usually do a lot of sharing with their parents when they’re thirteen and fourteen. It’s not a blame-game; it’s simply that your kid needs some extra help getting his ducks in a row and since we teachers can’t go home with students at the end of the day and crack the whip, we’ve got to write home and ask for some help there. If students are going to fail, then we want them to fail for real reasons; we don’t want students to fail on the basis of boneheadedness.

    But WE can’t tell your kid he’s a bonehead for not turning in assignments. YOU need to do that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    Sounds to me that you and teacher need to actually talk – best in person but at leas on the phone where you can hear voice inflection. E-mails allow for way to much misunderstanding. The e-mail from the teacher did sound snotty and, as a middle school teacher he should know that this transition from the lower grades is tough on a lot of students. However, maybe his mistook your communication? Set up a phone call – that well you’ll either work it out or discover that this guy is a total jerk. Either way you stop wondering.

  • Katie

    As a teacher, I’m under the dark threat that every single word I use with a parent can be misunderstood and used against me. My planning time is severely limited, and every moment on spend on one thing is a moment I take away from another thing. As a preschool teacher, I have 16 students, and finding the time to communicate with parents is hard. As a middle school teacher, he probably has around 100 students. Finding time to communicate with those parents has to be hell. Wording suffers when time is crunched. Making a phone call also takes more time, even more if the number is long-distance, as I have to have the office place the call for me. It’s a pain, but we do it, though sometimes not as tactfully as we think we are.

    As a teacher (I’ve taught other grades as well), my first thought if a student is not turning something in is that their parents aren’t checking their bookbag. For young children, they forget about things or lose them. For older kids, they may be purposely not showing their parents things. That doesn’t make it true, but it’s a lot better thought than “This parent is just ignoring everything I send home!”

    Anyhow, I’d like to say kudos for your parenting and your response. You do check your child’s bag, you do check that he’s doing his homework, and you responded to the teacher calmly and with understanding. All types of parenting are challenging, and teachers appreciate that, and your willingness to try to improve. That’s all any teacher wants from a parent.

  • Middleschoolteacher

    Wow, is that seriously the email that the teacher sent? He may be right or he may be wrong, but that is super rude and antagonistic. It’s really not hard to express the same concerns in a polite, we’re-in-this-together tone.

    • Catnipkitty

      I was going to say the same thing. I’m also a newly single mom, newly working (and out of the sahm-world), and with a son just starting middle school (and another in 3rd grade). To say I’m overwhelmed at times (okay, most often) is an understatement. If I got a note like that from a teacher I would be crushed. Luckily, my kids’ teachers have all been pretty cool.

      However, I would probably have replied…passively aggressively, yes…apologizing and mentioning the many transitions in our family, with the hopes the teacher would feel like a butt head lol.

    • Justme

      Nope. It’s seriously not the email the teacher sent. The writer states that she “paraphrased” the teacher’s correspondence, which most likely has been tainted with a bit of her own frustrations.

  • To Celebrate Women

    I was in the exact same boat as your son at the same age. Stopped doing work, kind of “dropped out”. Middle school was overwhelming and scary and I couldn’t handle it. It turned out to be a major depressive episode, but everyone put it down to teenage rebellion, so no one caught it until I was in college and had suffered for years. Please get your son examined, at the very least, by a family doctor if not a psychiatrist – even if you don’t think that’s the case, there really could be something lurking underneath that is more than just slacking or a bad mood.

    • To Celebrate Women

      Added to say that from your post I don’t think your son is a slacker – that’s just what they labelled me – but the rest of the comment still stands. It might not just be adjustment.

  • Amanda

    I think the teacher could have addressed this in a much more considerate, sensitive way, but to be honest, it does sound like there was a communication problem between you and your son, which is why you weren’t aware he was struggling. This doesn’t make you a bad mom, a failure, negligent, or self-absorbed – it makes you a human being. It’s fine! Sounds like you and your son needed a reason to touch base with each other and the teacher’s email, though a little insensitive, was the necessary catalyst. Keep up the good work!