Every September, from the time I was 8 until I was 17 (I skipped 1st grade and half of 2nd immigrating from the USSR), my mother would ask me, “This year, how about you don’t try teaching the teachers how to teach?”
Unluckily for her, every September, I declined her advice. As a result, I spent a good chunk of my education either sitting in the hallway outside class, charged with thinking about my behavior, or next to my parents, as they were called in by teacher after teacher to discuss my behavior.
Because my behavior was… not good.
If I thought a teacher was wrong, I had no reservations about telling them so, be it a history instructor tearfully recounting being one of the soldiers who liberated Auschwitz (Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets; he may have misspoken and meant Buchenwald, which was liberated by American forces, or he may have been full of it), an English teacher who insisted that “Pygmalion’s” Eliza ended up with Higgins rather than Freddie, despite my unearthing an essay where George Bernard Shaw himself claimed the opposite, or a creative writing teacher who believed there was only one way to write creatively–her way. (For the latter, my mother wasn’t enough. I had to bring in the big guns–my father–when said teacher tried giving me a “C” for my final grade, despite my having gotten an “A” on every assignment. After a chat with him, she was forced to give me the “A” I deserved, but retaliated with an “F” in behavior, which kept me out of the Honor Society.)
At the time, I never gave much thought to what it was like for my parents to constantly be dealing with my never-ending academic disasters. The sheer time that it stole from their jobs, their responsibilities at home, and their limited leisure hours, not to mention the emotional toll it must have taken.
Twenty-five years later, I am now a parent of three kids. And I understand completely. Because, with the first day of school looming, I have three very different reasons to dread the coming academic year.
With my 7-year-old daughter, my fear can be summarized in one word: lice. We’ve had lice twice already, and while my daughter was an amazing trouper, sitting still for hours while my husband and I combed nits out of her hair (yes, I know there are services who’ll do it for you, but considering how cheap I am, do you think I’d ever pay someone to do what I can for free?), it is a less-than-pleasant experience. When my daughter was born, knowing what I’d be in for with her Black/Jewish hair, I vowed to keep it short and easy to manage. My daughter, however, had other ideas. She begged to grow it long and, finally, I agreed. On the condition that she had to let me detangle it–no whining or crying. She’s kept her part of the bargain, and now I have to keep mine. I’m forbidding her from wearing it loose at school, braiding it every morning. But still, nothing strikes terror into my heart more than the words “lice check tomorrow.”
With my 15-year-old, the rising high school sophomore, it’s the complaining I’m not looking forward to. So. Much. Complaining.
If he’s not complaining about the teacher instructing him not to use pretentious SAT words like “attain,” he’s complaining about the one ordering him, “Don’t think, just tell me what’s in the book,” or the one chastising him for answering that Mali is a land-locked country in West Africa right after the teacher had explained that no one knows where Mali is. (Yes, yes, yes, I can’t imagine where he gets all of the above from). My husband swore that our son’s finally being able to take AP classes should cut down on his complaining. But AP classes won’t stop the problem of the cafeteria, where, despite my son having papers that list him as being allergic to dairy, peanuts, chocolate, and eggs, he is still forced to take foods containing those products. “Just throw it away,” the cafeteria ladies tell him, “like everybody else.” He does but, because I have instilled in my children a neurotic repulsion to food being wasted, he comes home and complains to me about it. Now he packs his own lunch at home. And complains about it. Every. Single. Morning.
Finally, there’s my fifth grader. I’ve written before about what a horrible year he had in third grade. Fourth grade was a bit better, because I went counterintuitive with my solution. My son was taking hours to do his homework, crying that it was too difficult, insisting he didn’t understand it, throwing tantrums. The logical response would have been to, like so many people I know, hire a tutor, speak to his teachers about the clearly excessive work level, and/or cut back on his after-school activities. Instead, I upped his after-school, but told him he couldn’t go unless his homework was completed–correctly. Suddenly, all that reading and writing that he just couldn’t figure out before was knocked out in under 30 minutes.
Lest you think I’m in the clear, there is still the issue of my son having made a mortal enemy in kindergarten. And of this blood feud continuing into middle school. I spent most of third grade on the phone with his teacher about one altercation or another. The two boys were separated into different classes in fourth grade, which gave me a little break (though there was still recess for them to cross paths, and cross paths they did). Will they be placed together again in fifth grade?
I live in terror of finding out.
And to my mother…. Um…. Sorry for everything?