Help! A Parent Complained After Running Into Me at the Bar

My principal: “Let’s talk about this when I get back.” 😳

Illustration of teacher at a bar

Dear We Are Teachers,

Confession time. While inebriated at a bar on a night out on holiday break, I saw the parent of one of my students. She seemed super excited to see me. Caught up in holiday frivolity, I asked someone in her group to take a picture of us and had her hold my leg. When I remembered what happened the next day, I could have died of embarrassment, but that pales in comparison to what happened next. My principal forwarded me the parent’s complaint that, to be fair, said exactly what happened. She attached the photo and added, “You may want to talk to your teachers before your next break about decorum in the community.” My principal’s note to me on the forwarded email: “Let’s talk about this when we get back.” Am I about to get fired?    

—HOLDing my breath … and leg

Dear H.M.B.A.L.,

I doubt your principal will fire you. You didn’t post the picture. This wasn’t on school hours. You legally visited an establishment known for both alcohol and frivolity. (Unless you teach at a private school, in which case they can fire you for whatever they want.) At the very worst, I could see the argument that a parent felt pressured to hold your leg, a sentence I can’t type without laughing.

Also, what an earth-shatteringly boring parent. “Decorum”? Someone’s been watching too much of The Crown. If we’re going to be held to Supreme Court Justice standards in our private lives, we’re going to need Supreme Court Justice pay.

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If your principal was really mad, you’d have a different email. Actually, you wouldn’t have an email. They would have called you. Or sent the dreaded “Call me ASAP” email. Certainly they wouldn’t rely on a teacher checking email over break for an emergency.

To me, this email says, “I actually have to craft a response to this nonsense because my emails are public record, but I cannot be bothered to deal with this on break.” I suspect your principal will call you in when you get back to 1) laugh at your situation, 2) joke about the parent’s seriousness, 3) recommend an apology, and 4) ask you to maybe go easy on the leg-holding in the future.

Dear We Are Teachers,

It’s my first year teaching at a new high school, but my 10th year of teaching overall. At this school, students are obsessed with performance. Every time I put grades in the grade book, I have at least five emails within 20 minutes from students asking when they can retake the exam to get as close to a 100 as possible. I don’t feel like I’m doing real teaching anymore—just designing and redesigning exams so everyone can have an A. What can I do about this?

—this isn’t learning

Dear T.I.L.,

Firstly, what’s your school’s policy on retaking tests? It sounds like you need to talk to someone with administrative power about establishing some boundaries. For your sake and your students’.

Here’s what I’d discuss with an administrator and eventually with your department:

  • Baseline eligibility for a retake, e.g., below a 70, 85, whatever.
  • A possible limit on the increase in score, e.g., they can make up to an 90.
  • Alternative forms for retakes. Can it be in essay form? Can they correct their mistakes on the exam based on feedback? This way, you don’t have to create a new exam every time.

Getting an administrator’s stamp of approval will keep criticism at bay. Certainly it’s important to allow new demonstrations of learning. Still, it doesn’t need to be at the expense of turning schools into perfectionist factories. There’s more to teaching than grades.

Dear We Are Teachers,

My self-contained 3rd graders have gone rogue when it comes to PBIS. They don’t care about the rewards. They repeatedly point out the loopholes (it rewards “bad” students who occasionally make a good choice over students who consistently choose the right thing). It came to a head this week when our principal announced that the two classes with the most tickets would participate in a “snowball” fight in January in front of the school, and my class booed. How am I supposed to create buy-in with kids who outright refuse?

—PBIS AVERSE

Dear P.B.I.S.A.,

First: LOL.

Your students aren’t alone in thinking PBIS is flawed. Here’s what you do: Have your students write their own rules.

Seriously. How do we create a fair system? What kind of rules promote positive ethics? What (realistic) rewards would motivate them? This is a picture-perfect activity for gifted kids. Real-world. Higher-order thinking. Creativity.

Although my gifted teacher heart is filled with affection by their righteous anger, it would be good to have a chat with them about the booing bit. When you have a few spare minutes, tell them you have some thoughts to run by them. Ask if every system works for everyone. Ask them if it’s good to show respect for a system even if it doesn’t work for you. Instead of lecturing them, let them come to the conclusion themselves.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at askweareteachers@weareteachers.com.

Dear We Are Teachers,

After an observation, my AP told me that I am way too timid and meek with my students, and that this is partly why they walk all over me. He said I needed to “develop a more commanding presence with my body language.” Is this a fair criticism? And if so, how do I do it?

—My body is fluent in “Pushover”
Is it OK to be a teacher at a bar? Is it OK to put limits on retakes? Is it OK that your 3rd graders have gone rogue? Let's chat.