by Risa Green
A friend of mine confided in me recently that her son’s teacher is a yeller. However, she didn’t find this out from her son. Instead, another mom in the class called her to ask if her son had ever mentioned that the teacher yelled, because this other mom’s kid complained about it a lot. So my friend probed a little bit with her son – do you like your teacher? Do the other kids like her? Does she ever get upset with you guys? – and her son disclosed that yes, sometimes his teacher did lose her temper, but only when the kids in class weren’t listening.
It turns out that the other mom, the one who called my friend, had asked around to some other moms too, and they all confirmed that their kids were saying the same thing. And this other mom was really upset about it. She felt that something should be done, that she should have a talk with the teacher, or maybe the principal should, because she didn’t like that her son was being yelled at, and she felt that it was affecting his otherwise positive attitude towards school. But my friend had a different take. Her feeling was that this is life. That sometimes, you’re going to have to deal with teachers or bosses or classmates or co-workers who you don’t like, and you have to learn to just suck it up and get through it, because mommy isn’t always going to be able to jump in and fix it for you. She wasn’t interested in talking to the teacher or complaining to the administration. She felt that it was a life lesson, and a great opportunity to talk to her kids about how there are all sorts of personalities you encounter, and you’re not always going to like them.
My kids don’t go to the same school as hers, so I don’t know the teacher or the exact circumstances. But the conversation gave me pause. I see both sides, and it made me wonder, if my kids had a teacher who yelled a lot, which camp would I be in? And, to take it one step further, is it even fair of us as parents to expect teachers not to yell? I yell at my kids all the time, and they’re my kids, who I love and adore and would give my life for. But they also drive me crazy when they don’t listen to me, and while I generally try to stay calm, sometimes raising my voice is the only way to get their attention. And yes, I marvel at how just by sing-songing the words “Bump-ba-da-dump-bump,” my daughter’s teacher can get twenty-three eight year-olds engrossed in various conversations to stop what they’re doing and collectively sing back, “bump bump,” as if they’re all sleeper spies who’ve been hypnotized by the CIA, but come on. I don’t know a mother out there who’s spent half an hour volunteering in a classroom and hasn’t left wondering how the hell those poor teachers do what they do all day without losing it.
But anyway, back to the point. If my kid did have a teacher who was a yeller, what would I do? Would I be a typical helicopter parent and go in with guns blazing, demanding that an end be brought to the situation, or would I, like my friend, lay low and use it as a teachable moment?
I had an incident with my daughter this year where we were reviewing her multiplication facts, and I was trying to show her a trick for how to figure out the nine tables: if you’re trying to multiply nine times eight, you first multiply ten times eight, and then subtract eight to get the answer. We did a few more examples, but then she stopped me and said that actually, she didn’t really get it. I remember being so impressed by that, and I told her that I was glad she said something, because it would have been really easy to just pretend that she understood instead of asking me to show her again. She responded by saying, yeah, at school they’re teaching us that we have to advocate for ourselves. And it occurred to me as I was thinking about how I would deal with a yeller, that maybe there was, in fact, another alternative. Because while I do agree with my friend that I won’t always be available to fight my kids’ battles for them, I don’t necessarily agree that the battles don’t need to be fought. You may not always like your teachers or your bosses or your classmates or your co-workers, but if they’re treating you badly, you don’t just have to sit there and take it. If my daughter was regularly getting yelled at by a teacher, or anyone else, for that matter, and it was making her uncomfortable, as tempting as it would be to raise hell and complain about it, I wouldn’t do it, because I wouldn’t be doing her any good. Instead, I think I’d tell her just what she said to me: Go advocate for yourself. It’s the best life lesson I can think of.