Thursday, September 06, 2007

Flies and Sugar

fliesMy mother used to tell me "you can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar." Sometimes she substituted "honey" for "sugar," but vinegar always stood firm. As a child I never wondered about the meaning, I just wondered what in the world my mother was doing TRYING to attract *flies*! As I grew older and became interested in making more friends in school, I realized that if I smiled, offered a helping hand, or witheld a verbal or physical "zing" in response to to any offense, I (at the very least) earned polite avoidance from would-be bullies or ill-tempered classmates. Thankfully, I managed to go above and beyond the bare minimum response and made some amazing friends who vibrantly color my school memories from Barrow, Delta Junction, Fairbanks, and beyond to this day.

As a teacher I've followed the Golden Rule even when it wasn't the easiest decision to make, nor my first reaction. I've remained patient, bitten my tongue, and politely steered when necessary. I've taken the time to listen, even if the subject was off-topic, or was a tool of avoidance on the parents' part. Behaving this way has been my investment in my students, their families, my colleagues, and my job. Extra time and patience in the beginning makes it more efficient later on. Parents don't jump to conclusions, don't knee-jerk react, and colleagues don't feel they are working in a hostile environment. Relationship building doesn't necessarily mean we like eachother, but it does mean we choose to get along and follow an acceptable set of social rules. Parents might think my teacher dresses are a little hokey at times (hey, five year olds LOVE turkey and Pilgrim dresses in November!), but they know their children are safe and eager to learn with me.

After my job as teacher has ended, I've gone on to enjoy friendships outside of school with former parents as well, staying in touch, bending an ear, sending cards, going for coffee... which is when I've been able to shift my persona and responsibilities from professional teacher to sincere friend. As a side note, I'm a little quirky in that regard: I don't believe in "crossing the line" during the school year. I don't attend Tupperware, Longaberger or even Pampered Chef parties, nor do I go out to dinner or visit my students' homes until I'm DONE being "the teacher." Mutual respect of privacy is a good thing, though as a kindergarten teacher, there's not much about a child's home life that I don't know about after the first two weeks of school. (Parents, remember there is a "pretend" or "house" center in my classroom. Just as you see replays of "me" each evening as your child plays in his/her room, I see replays of YOU daily!)

As a mother, I have enjoyed the professional courtesy given to me by my friends and colleagues with whom I've worked. I've known which teachers have the most complimentary teaching style for my childrens' personalities and interests, I have had the inside scoop on school activities, programs and policies, and I've been privy to the "real" bottom line educational information that falls under Teacher-ese headings such as "curriculum," "standards/benchmarks," "assessments," "percentiles," "sub-groups," "schema," "cognition," "literacy," and "advanced placement." I get *details* and am not merely told if my children are "doing well in school" and thanked for my support.

After defining, setting, and following my own personal and professional standards, I will admit to enjoying coming in under the radar when we move somewhere new and I'm visiting my childrens' schools for the first time. I watch and listen as teachers and support staff help register students, give tours of the building, and explain the rules and school policies. I'm very pleased when I hear a common-speak that flows between Teacher-ese and the language of parents and families. It shows me that other teachers, school staffs, and administrators (districts?) have made that investment in their students and families (or are building upon it) that I make each year with my own class. It usually doesn't take too long after talking with a teacher or school administrator before I'm discovered however, and then the sharing of the inside scoop begins. My poor kids roll their eyes, ask if they can look for their lockers and seek out the band room as I talk, teacher to teacher, with my new partners in education. Borrowing from Martha, it's been "a good thing."

Our family attended our daughter's mandatory volleyball meeting earlier this evening. Following the school's initial punitive and reactionary tone from the first week of school, the coaches and presenters continued by showing all parents in attendance a twenty minute video required by the district. Various school and sports representatives made it very clear via video that they expected us, the parents, to "be better spectators and parents" by not "ridiculing or intimidating another team or its fans," understanding that "holding a ticket to a school event is not a license to assault others verbally or to be otherwise obnoxious," and not yelling at our childrens' coaches. Just more proof of how things have changed since I was in school. My parents would have never embarassed themselves, me, or my teammates by behaving horribly, and none of my coaches yelled at or berated me to try to get some desired response. My friends didn't boo, but they did cheer louder for my team than the other, and we all shook hands and went out of our way to either be good hosts or good guests when road trips took place. Alaska may be a very large state, but it's a very small community. You either know someone personally, or you know someone who knows someone from each town, village, city or borough. Being nice... "sugar..." matters.

Yes, I understand that this school's and district's tone has been set by whatever happened before our family arrived here, but my "sugar/vinegar" alarm has been going off for almost three weeks now, and I'm becoming depressed by the thought that there is a very good chance it will not cease in the next nine months.

Closing comments from this evening included a promise from the coach that she'd make sure volleyball was fun for the girls this year because NEXT YEAR with "that other coach" was going to be "rough." WHAT?!?!?! She also asked that we NOT call the principal or athletic director for the school district until we had talked to her first. Fair enough, but her reasoning was this: if we need to know why she "yelled at" our children during practice or during games, it would be more appropriate to ask her directly than to go and complain to others.

I understand the flies and sugar. Now I'm wondering what kind of eighth grade volleyball requires yelling, verbal reprimands, and possibly public humiliation as coaching techniques.

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