Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not on My Watch

Warning: Rant ahead.

Let me say upfront that teachers have my utmost respect and admiration. They have one of the hardest jobs in the world, and are way underpaid for it. Most go into education for the love of the students, hoping to mold the young minds of the future.

I had some fantastic and influential teachers in my day, and I owe them much. (I just found one of my best high school teachers, now retired, on Facebook. I wanted to send her a big long letter about how awesome she was.)

Today, I count my lucky starts I didn't get a doozee of a teacher like the one I'm going to rant about.

Here's the problem: My son hates his English class. Nay, he abhors it.

With a passion.

Almost every time I pick him up from the junior high, he has a horror story to tell. Worse, he gets totally confused with what the teacher is trying to teach, and he hates the assignments.

He dreads going.

To English class.

MY son?!

Put aside for a moment the fact that reading and writing are my life. Look at who he is and explain to me how this makes any sense:
  • Last year he was in the Creative Writing class.

  • This year he's in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing class.

  • He's been an active member of the Fantasy Writers Club for two years.

  • This year, he's the club "emperor" and teaches a writing lesson there every week.

  • He loves the play-writing unit he's in the middle of in his Advanced Drama class.

  • Many, many nights I check on him before going to bed and find him up, reading a good book he just can't put down.
And he hates his English class? What the?!

At the beginning of the year when he complained about the teacher, I nodded and sympathized but insisted he needed to stick it out. You won't always have teachers you love, you know. It'll be okay.

But now he's had her for seven months, and I'm changing my tune. As far as I'm concerned, this woman has no business being in education and giving the entire field a bad name.

Mama Bear is coming out.

This is way beyond, "I really don't like my teacher."

My son hates English.

It must take a superpower for a teacher to take a kid who lives for reading and writing and make him hate the subject.

She can make a fun topic like mythology feel like lead (jealous gods and battles . . . really?!). She reads to the class aloud, but she's so monotone it's hard to listen to or follow, let alone enjoy. He has a hard time knowing if he'd like a book without her negative influence on it. When she explains a grammar concept, it's convoluted. And she's a grouch, to boot.

I can't count how many times he's expressed confusion with a grammar rule she spent the entire period lecturing on (like that is the best way to keep kids interested). I explain it in a simple way (in about thirty seconds), and he has a light bulb go off over his head. "Oh! That makes sense. I get it."

It's great I can explain concepts in a way he understands (in that sense, good it's not his math teacher), but isn't that her job?! I end up gritting my teeth all the time, because Mrs. What's-her-name should be doing this herself, and in a way that won't make him hate the subject.

The other day, his English horror story of the day showcased her incompetence to the point that it had me laughing with tears in my eyes. The topic of the day: show-not-tell. This is something my son knows well. He's heard me lecture on it, he's read about it, and he's taught it at Fantasy Writer's Club.

His teacher had an exercise where she put up a "telling" sentence on the board and supposedly demonstrated how to make it "show" instead.

The kicker: her final sentence didn't show.

My son was exasperated. "That isn't show-not-tell! That's still telling!"

And he was right.

He has reached the point of thinking that taking English is stupid and useless. (He knows more about writing than she does, for Pete's sake!) I worry because he can't see the value of learning grammar. This from a kid who is a WRITER. HELLO?!!!

His teacher has nearly ruined him in several areas of English, and it's all I can do to white-knuckle it through the last part of the school year.

Next year, assuming she hasn't retired (we can all hope), if he's assigned to her class again, I will insist he gets transferred. She will not be allowed to influence him again.

Not on my watch.

Today's tour stops:
I Blog about Nothing
Views from Hobbit Hole


Sandra said...

Mantra for this weeks- 8 more weeks, 8 more weeks, 8 more weeks.

(well, 9 if you count spring break)

Kaylynn said...

I think you can rant about this type of teacher. I read a wonderful book called, "In the Middle" She teaches English by having the students write, write and write! She also teacher Reading classes where she takes it a a book club type of approach. So keep ranting!

LisAway said...

Sheesh. I really don't get why some people teach the subjects they do. Or teach at all.

I remember my junior year of high school when I got my schedule and saw that I had Mrs. Webber for Spanish again I seriously cried. I LOVED Spanish and she was the slowest, strangest, sharp witted, but meanest teacher.

My senior year I wanted to take whatever the most advanced class you can get to in Spanish is, and she was the teacher. I wanted to take it so badly that I didn't care if it had to be with her. When she found out I was going to sign up for it, she took me aside after class and told me that I shouldn't. She said, "We both know that Spanish isn't for you." or something like that. And I was good at Spanish. (not to brag, but I was. accent, grammar etc.)

I realized if she didn't want me in her class badly enough to try to talk me out of it, I probably wouldn't be comfortable there. So I didn't take it.

I admit I was a tad sassy to her, but only when she made unkind statements to or about students in the class. She made a few very flattering comments about how quick or clever I was, but I think those are the reasons she didn't want me around. I made her uncomfortable or something? I don't know. It was very weird. (and it totally sounds like I'm bragging in this waaaay too long comment. Sorry about that.)

Mostly I just hope your son survives and comes out unscathed. Maybe next year his teacher will be a real winner. I hope so.

Carolyn V. said...

Oh my gosh! I just went through this with my daughter. She would get sick so she wouldn't have to go to school, she became depressed, and started getting bad grades in class.

I almost made her stay in the class because, let's face it, it's almost summer.

I talked to the principal who had been seeing the same things I had (and she had numeral complaints from other parents). So I pulled my daughter out and put her in a new class. It's like day and night.

Some people either fall out of love with the profession, or are just incompetent to teach. This teacher is not coming back to our school next year (and yes, I do feel bad for her, but she really shouldn't be teaching).

You might want to talk to the principal, see if your son is willing to change this late into the year. You never know, It may help out another child in the long run.

Jenny P. said...

way to rant, mamma bear!!

I hate incompetent teachers. It's most frustrating.

Hope you can make it through till the end... just think how much worse it is for the kids who's parents don't know enough to undo all the nonsense she teaches...

at least you're armed with the knowledge you need!

Annette Lyon said...

Carolyn, I just might do that. It's a brand new term, so switching wouldn't be too much of a transition. Thanks for the advice!

Cynthia said...

Move him out now. There are some poor teachers out there. There are some really amazing ones too. You don't sound like the type that's going to complain at the drop of the hat, you've tried the stick it out thing and it isn't working.

I am terrible with punctuation (I'm sure you've noticed my constant rule breaking). It's an ADD thing. I hated the niggling, boring rules of grammar so I didn't learn them. I generally write in concise sentences because it keeps the punctuation simple and I'm less likely to mess it up.

Your boy does not want to end up with that monkey on his back, trust me! Then again, the writing I've done for work is usually more about conveying information than 'showing' so my bosses have always loved my condensed style. Still, that won't work for a creative writer.

I think moving him now would send a subtle message to the teacher. Teaching and public speaking are their own talents- not everyone who has a grasp of English can convey that knowledge in an interesting way.

Annette Lyon said...

Thanks, Cynthia! I really appreciate your insight and support. I have a feeling I'll be calling the principal very soon.

Brooke said...

I have realized that I am my childs best advocate. If your son hates english and wouldn't mind changing, change him! Even if it is in the middle of the year. Who cares? You want your child to love english, not be turned off by it because of a dumb teacher. It sounds like others have given you this advice, too. Go for it! Your son is way more important than any teachers feelings.

Lara Neves said...

I don't have any advice that hasn't already been given, but as a student who had her love of history ruined by a horrid teacher, I say make sure that he isn't in that teacher's class ever again.

Most teachers are so good, but every so often we get a dud. It's very sad, really.

Jo said...

Good thing the year is almost over. And the best blessing for your boy? His supportive mom! Without you, he might be turned off forever. Parents are the most important piece to successful education. Go mama bear!

Kristina P. said...

I agree about giving feedback to the principal, with very specific examples and concerns. If they hear from enough parents, maybe they will have no choice but to do something.

Laura said...

I decided to become a secondary education teacher, i.e. middle grade through high school, because I realized that the teacher alone makes or breaks a subject for kids. The classes I hated had nothing to do with the subject, and everything to do with how it was taught, and vice versa. I thought English was fairly useless a lot when I was a kid. We never once talked about how to write a book. Just rules and something fascinating like "The Scarlet Letter" which I don't know what teenage kid would love to read. So I became a science teacher. Of course, science rocks. That was a subject that is so cool and I could make anyone like it, and I did. Gang members, pregnant teens, kids on probation, you name it, they loved science.
Bottom line... It's not what you teach, it's how.

And... just for the record, I have since repented of my English hating ways and have learned to relish grammar and creative writing to the point of passion. Your son is going to be fine!

Heatherlyn said...

That teacher sounds awful!!!!

Anonymous said...

My twins just went through this kind of situation too but it got so out of hand that we left the school altogether. Now they're in a new school with a fabulous principal, a wonderful new teacher, and an environment where they aren't scared anymore.

Switching hard and you really wonder if you're doing the right thing or taking the easy way out. However, when it came to my twins education, I had to do it because I didn't want them to hate learning.

That said, you've got to do what's best for your son and your family. Only you, your hubby, & your son can decide that. I know you'll do the best thing for your family.

p.s. Glad to see I'm not the only mommy with "bear" claws. =]

Anonymous said...

Looks like she only got the vocabulary acquisition model in her curriculum class, and didn't get the memo that that particular model is supposed to be inserted into another model and not last longer than 15 minutes. :D

And while she sounds like a horrible teacher, I can sympathize...I'm preparing two lesson plans for government right now and I have no idea how to spice them up so students don't fall asleep. Teaching--especially on the secondary level--is HARD.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Way to go mama bear! The power of a teacher to influence his or her students is simply remarkable. I'll fight in the same way if anyone ever messes with my kids love of learning like that.

CB said...

There are some really BAD teachers out there. It is true. They may do away with teacher tenure in our state which would be a good thing! I am tired or bad teachers being able to use that to keep their jobs.

I remember my brother having a bad journalism teacher in H.S. My mom fought the teacher and the school on his behalf to no avail.

My brother ended up becoming one of the top Journalists in the country for a major newspaper - awards, etc...

Good thing one teacher can't ruin a kids life especially when the kid has a mama bear, but it is SO DANG FRUSTRATING!!

Jami said...

Arg! There are so many good teachers, but a bad one can taint a subject so thoroughly that it's tempting to toss it out forever and never touch it again. Chemistry is that way for me. Math would be too, but I've had a couple of really great teachers reintroduce me to the joys of mathematics. I hope your son gets a magnificent teacher next year!

Brittany Marie said...

Can you pull him out of that class now?

Anonymous said...

I hear you, Annette! My son is the top student in his math class in Jr. High, but he tells me that his teacher screams at him if he doesn't understand something. I said, "Did anyone else in the class understand it?" He said no. Good thing my sister is a college math teacher--and we can call her.


Wonder Woman said...

At first I thought this was just a cruel irony for you. This is horrible!! I hope she hasn't ruined English for your son. It doesn't sound that way. I would also request a transfer if he gets her again next year.

I finished Tower of Strength last night!!! I love it. I love that she's not a perfect heroine. Her stubborness and independance make complete sense. It was great, and now I understand why that was such an appropriate title.

Melanie Jacobson said...

Oh, man, this just makes the middle school English teacher inside of me grit my teeth. There are on balance so many good to great teachers out there outweighing the bad ones, but the bad ones are like millstones dragging us all down! I completely understand how he feels, though, and how you feel, too. The good news is that in the same way one teacher can suck the life right out of class, a good one can reinvigorate it. He's got five years of English left and his love of language plus a couple of good teachers (which he is bound to get) will turn this whole thing around.

And p.s., pulling him out is probably a good idea.

Rebecca Irvine said...

What's sad is that other students in that class will also learn to "hate English", not realizing it is a poor teacher they hate and not really English. That could impact them for the rest of their education. They will start other English classes with the ingrained thought of "I hate English." Sad, huh? Thanks heaven you can help your son get past it.

Rachel Sue said...

I am so sorry. I had a teacher similar to this. She knew her english and grammar, but she HATED teenagers and computers. Not a great combo. I hope he makes it through. If there is any way to switch him, do it. It will be worth it for both your sakes.

Erin said...

Man, that's really awful! When a kid has such a passion for something, and one horrible teacher can turn that around for him, it's definitely not fair! Ugh. Good luck!

Sandra said...

Me again, Annette. From the administration side of schools, we spend so much time on the "at risk" students- those that are behavior problems or have attendance issues, or are intentional non-learners- that we don't always pick up on those students that have this type of problem. Unless someone brings it to our attention, that is.

Now is the best time to contact the school and get him moved to a different teacher. I wouldn't wait because next week is half way to midterm, so if you are going to move him, do it now. And tell them why.

We have an English teacher in our school that has been told that if more students asked to check out of her class, then her class will be cancelled and she won't be asked back next year. We have students wanting to leave her class but she won't sign the necessary paper work and the parents won't come in and protest so by law our hands are tied- for this year.

Little GrumpyAngel said...

I'm with you on this. An Art teacher ruined Art for my son, he the grandson and nephew of graphic artists and architects. He who won regional art contests! He now hates Art and I didn't act on it while it was happening. I feel regretful, so yes, I support you on this Mama Bear :-)

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

Ranting's all well and good, but why not take him out now? If I felt that strongly, I'd risk a little bureaucratic wrath to move him to another class, or keep him home that hour.

Have you talked to the principal? I don't understand the grim acceptance. Who's in charge here? If the teacher is failing him . . . what about you?

I'd think we're living in some sort of totalitarian state from your resignation.

Annette Lyon said...

Jane, At first the resignation was just that it's so close to the end of the year that we tough it out.

But this morning I went ahead and e-mailed the principal. He hasn't responded yet, but I'm going to pester him until I'm heard and my son is OUT of that class.

Elisa said...

I have had the same exact experience this year with my oldest... I pulled her out and put her in with a new teacher. She was behind, but we worked with her and her grades have SOARED! I would say talk with the principal, and pull your boy out. Who cares if there is only 8 weeks left? 8 weeks can be an eternity for a kid when you're in a craptastic class.

You go Mama Bear!

Jillybean said...

We have been amazingly lucky, ALL of our kid's teachers have been fabulous! I admire them and I'm so grateful for what they have taught our kids.......

Except one.

I feel that my child missed out on an entire year of education due to this teacher. I finally complained to the principal about something she did that was completely out of line. I must have got her in trouble, because after that, the situation went from bad to worse. Due to certain circumstances, we were didn't have the option of transferring to a different teacher.
How I wish we'd had options!
The next year the teacher was marvelous, but it took most of the year to undo the damage done by the other teacher.

When I was a Senior in HS my AP English teacher told me (in front of the whole class) that my idea was stupid, then she said that the whole class would sit there and wait until I came up with a better idea.
I transferred out of her class the next day.

On a lighter note, my WV is laverne.
Laverne: Shirley's roommate.

Carina said...

This is why we need to end tenure for secondary school teachers. Said by the wife of a secondary school teacher.

This is unacceptable behavior in a teacher and you do not need to stand for it in any form.

AND if your child is being SCREAMED at for not understanding a concept, it's time to get the principal involved, like, yesterday.

Summer said...

Wow! Sounds EXACTLY like my 7th grade English teacher (Mrs. Jensen, grrr). English has always been my favorite school subject, but not that year. Her grammar lectures were so awful, so confusing and so frustrating I actually faild the class. My best subject.

Thankfully it didn't taint me for life.

That Girl said...

Been there, done that. And then some. (On the student end - luckily not on the parent end ... YET!)

Fight for your son. And all the other kids who are being ruined over an awesome subject.

Heather of the EO said...

You're a good mama!

LeeAnn said...

7th grade. Germany-born English teacher that talked with a lisping German accent, boring as ________. I hear him. You're a good mom!

To anonymous, keep looking for ways to spice up the government unit. Very exciting subject especially right now!

Karlene said...

One of my kids had a first grade teacher--the grade where you start learning how to spell--that had several handmade posters around the room--with MISSPELLED words on them. Aargh!

That year, I volunteered to help grade the spelling tests.


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