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Parental Fail of the Week

I had the good fortune today to speak to the mother of one of my all-time most useless students, an altogether pointless creature we'll call "E." "E" hasn't turned in any homework or assignments in over a year (he was a student of mine last year as well), wastes entire class periods writing a sentence on a piece of looseleaf, crumpling up said looseleaf, and then writing the same sentence over again, and concocting excuses as though he was paid to create them. The excuses for his lack of work range from "I didn't have a pencil," to, "I was sick for a week," to, "Everyone in my family was abducted by Somali pirates." Over the last year and a half he has failed every major subject for every marking period. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to be promoted to 8th grade, but, hey, holdover rates make Bloomberg look bad, and thus, was in fact pushed along. Every time someone says that "social promotion" in the NYC Dept. of Education is a myth, I chuckle, then punch them repeatedly in the neck.

In any case, yesterday, one of my colleagues took away "E's" Sidekick mobile phone. Yes, cell phones and other electronic gadgets are prohibited in NYC schools, but little things like rules, policies, and laws don't mean a hill of beans to today's parents – if their darling little pantswetter wants his iPod, then damn the man, he's going to be allowed to bring in his iPod. As soon as his mother found out that her son's electronic distraction was confiscated, she roared up to the school with an axe to grind. Understand, dear readers, that "E's" mother has never visited the school for any reason, despite the fact that she has been called in numerous times by teachers and administrators to discuss her son's educational failings. Not once.

Here's the conversation that I, another of my colleagues, and the mother had concerning the incident. Please keep in mind that I was five minutes late to the meeting, and as such, missed the opening salvo:

Mom: I don't understand why y'all had to take away E's phone – other students have their phones in school too! (Note – this is a common, albeit retarded argument that every parent attempts to make – why are you singling out my kid when others are just as rotten?)

Me: Are you the parent of those kids too?

Mom: No.

Me: Then don't worry about them. Worry about "E." He was playing with his phone in class, and hence, he had it taken away. If we didn't see it, then nothing would have happened.

Mom: But he's not the only one!

Me: You used that argument already; sing a different tune.

Mom: Y'all are just picking on him. It's always "E," no one else gets in trouble!

Colleague: No one is picking on your son – he broke the rules, we took away his phone. We do it all the time, trust me, he's not the only one.

Me: And even if he was the only one, you should be a lot more concerned about his classroom performance than his cell phone. You realize that he is failing, right?

Mom: I don't know why, "E" tells me he does all of his work!

Me: And yet, he actually doesn't. He still owes me assignments from last year. He's failing. We sent you a progress report a month ago where it clearly states the amount of work he is missing.

Mom: I didn't get no progress report.

Me: Well, we sent them out. Just like we do every year – it's not like this is a new procedure or something. (Note, progress reports are sent out one month before the end of the semester).

Colleague: What I find interesting is that we have sent home four separate notices for you to come pick up your son's report card from last semester, and you ignored all of them, and yet here you are today, 12 hours after we took away his cell phone.

Mom: I don't understand.

Me: What Mrs. My Colleague is saying is that it seems that you place a lot of importance on a cell phone, but not very much importance on your son's education. You know, considering that he has been failing everything for the past year and a half and all.

Mom: I'm sorry, my English is not so great. I don't understand.

Colleague: (God love her) Your English was pretty good when you came in here yelling at me for taking away his phone!

Mom: (Actually starts rambling in Spanish, despite the fact that she had been conversing with us in English for the past five minutes)

Me: (Looking quizzically at my colleague) Seriously? I speak Spanish, you know. I understood every word you just said. (I really don't speak Spanish, but I know enough of it after 9 years in the Bronx to know that she just repeated back in Spanish everything she had already said in English)

Mom: Oh.

Me: Yeah. So, anyway, to sum up, your son doesn't do any work in class, he doesn't do any work at home, and he's failing every subject. He is not going to go to high school. And, apparently, he plays with his phone in class, which is not allowed.

Colleague: And he was late to my class every day this week!

Mom: But it's not only him! Why are you picking on him!?

Me: You know what, we're done here. It's obviously a genetic problem.

The mother storms off down the stairs. My colleague (god love her) waits until she is out of earshot and then goes off on the greatest rant I have ever heard in my life:

"Motherfucker thinks she can come up in here and play me for a fool – Bitch, this is America, speak English when I'm talking to you – Next time I see that motherfucking phone I'm going to throw it out the motherfucking window!"

It took me at least ten minutes to stop laughing.

Epilogue: During class today, "E" spent two straight periods (close to 90 minutes) writing a grand total of three sentences of a five-paragraph essay assignment. He got out of his seat six times to sharpen his pencil, talked about video games with another waste of carbon next to him, and threw a bunch of crumpled up paper (presumably his work) at a girl sitting in an adjacent group.

Now, I'm sure you're all asking yourself, "Why, if he failed every class for two years, was he promoted?" Or perhaps you're saying to yourself, "Maybe the child doesn't understand the work, and maybe that's why he is doing so poorly." Here's my answer to both: "E" was able to be promoted simply because he keeps passing the NY State ELA and Math tests. That's all. That's all the DOE cares about – not if a student is actively engaged in the educational process, not if he learns and assimilates pertinent skills that will someday make him a useful, contributing member of society – only if he manages to pass two, 90-minute tests. Tests that a blind, mentally challenged ferret would have no trouble passing. And if you think that's just me exaggerating, consider this: On the written portion of the test, if a student writes anything – and I mean even a single vertical line – the test graders are not allowed to give him a zero. I've graded the NYS ELA tests five times, and every single time I get into arguments with the supervisors because I flat out refuse to follow the NYS grading policy, something I'll cover in more detail in the near future.

Suffice it to say, that regardless what "E," and thousands of students like him, do in class, he is guaranteed to graduate so long as he can score a little better than a 55% on a test.

NYC DOE– Celebrating Mediocrity for close to a Decade.


Brooklyn said…
Very funny post! I found your site threw, where I enjoy your reviews like many others. I want to thank you for taking your time to bring some amusment to some peoples lives.
W. J. Smalley said…
My only (humble) request is that you write more often.
Anonymous said…
Your blog is fascinating and very well-written. Please write more regularly. I take it that you've assessed whether 'E' can actually write at all - some children are good at disguising that fact (as are a few rich authors I could mention).
Anonymous said…
Since Fox's Livefyre won't keep this post, I'll repeat it here...

Professor "Raconteur" Valannin, I just checked out your blog, "The Pantheon Outcast," and randomly picked one of your "Vociferations Au Courant"... "Parental Fail of the Week" from Jan 7, 2010. Your last statement to "E's" mother, "You know what, we're done here. It's obviously a genetic problem.", deeply troubled me. I can only hope "E's" parents had you in front of the school board for that extremely unprofessional and racist comment. I'm convinced that, while you're very well educated, you are devoid of compassion, humility, and... dare I say it?...humanity. you need to find another job. This country doesn't need "teachers" like you.... burned out, alcoholic (you are a dipsomaniac) pedagogues that listlessly drone on behind their desks and who've lost the desire to truly teach and have a profound effect on young people. Since your profile says you're an "Outcast" and considering the volume and content of your rants, I'd wager you're unmarried and childless. If I'm correct, I see that as a blessing you haven't procreated... one less mind for you to warp. I also noticed the link "... Challenges to My Omnipotence" on your page. Don't you think it's hypocritical to state you're omnipotent yet you're a devout atheist, or are you just confused? I think you have a god complex. Finally, I'm also not surprised on your profile you're proud to be an iconoclast and a blackguard. I'll simply call you an azzhole as well as a d1ck and be done with it... that's "pen_dejo" and "pen_ga" in Spanish. Oh, and you have a wonderful day. - CaptRenault
Valannin said…
Thank you for your ludicrously obsessive stalking, as well as the brilliantly crafted analysis of yours truly. I think I'll reprint your comment on the main page; shall I credit you as "Stark Raving Idiot from Fox Nation" or "Obsessive Fan"? The first one is sort of redundant, isn't it?

Also I have this really nifty java applet on my website that pinpoints the location of every commenter, as well as their IP address and associated open ports.

Make sure your firewall is up to date. You'll be shocked, shocked.

Anonymous said…
Sir, I wish to apologize for my rude, offensive behavior yesterday. Serveral of my comments were way below the belt, most ESPECIALLY the "procreation" one. We say hate the sin and not the sinner, but what did I end up doing?... hating the sinner (I hope you can admit your last comment to "E's" mother was very innapropriate; it's what sent me over the edge in anger). I had another in a continuing series of long and painful arguments with my daughter last night until 6AM this morning; she is both a liberal and a strict atheist as well. We've been arguing like this ever since Obama's 2008 election. After much soul searching this morning, I've realized two things. First, I need to let go of this anger I feel towards liberals, but please understand I sincerely believe our country has been divided by Obama and the left in every possible way and the secular progressive movement will ultimately destroy us from within. Thus, I must let go completely and pray God takes care of it all... and if there is no God, well I hope our luck as a country is in. Only the next 50 or so years will tell. Secondly, arguing with someone who's of such disparate views and firmly held beliefs is ultimately non-productive and only serves to increase my blood pressure. Lord knows I've tried to change my daughter's mind on many subjects, but to no avail. I love her deeply and would lay down my life for her and I pray our relationship will not be damaged irreparably. So, most worthy knight, I vow to lay down my lance for good and will not joust with you or anyone else going forward... and just try to be happy with my life. Again, my sincere and profuse apologies to you... mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I am truly ashamed for my public comments to you and to others on Fox; they were certainly not very Christian. I pray this whole episode is a cathartic one for me.

Oh, and thank you for being a teacher. I have a deep passion for teaching and an abiding respect for those that heed the call. I was an Air Force technical instructor in my last duty assignment. My neighbor is a local junior hish school teacher and she voices quite forcefully many of your same frustrations with poor students she must pass along in the system. Please keep up the good fight and make sure the good ones the best you have to offer. God help and watch over the bad ones. Please feel free to post this apology wherever you wish.

Anonymous said…
I just want to make sure you know my apology was sincere and heartfelt; I am truly ashamed of the things I said and hope you accept. On a lighter note and as another olive branch I extend to you, I'm wondering if you've ever seen the movie Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford and a young Sidney Poitier? (I'm an avid cinephile as you may have guessed from my screen name and avatar) Some of the dialog is a bit dated but the content itself is timeless, touching on the still ever present issues of illiteracy and juvenile delinquency. Also, it's right down your alley as Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) is a teacher new to a tough NYC inner city boys school and he's struggling to connect with his class full of juvenile delinquents. I'm sure as a new teacher you were a wide-eyed Dadier because I truly believe all new teachers are Dadiers. Teaching is indeed a calling... one of the most honorable of professions. Forgive the following assumption; if it's untrue I apologize upfront. I'm afraid over the years the inadequancies of the NYC school system and being forced to push poor students and juvenile delinquents through eventually wore you down. Thus, you became a disillusioned, disenchanted Jim Murdock (Louis Calhern). If I'm right, I hope you can find the strength to become Dadier again. All kids need Dadiers, especially the bad ones. Without good parenting or some other mentors, you're the only port in their stormy lives.


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