Other than the incident during my first year of teaching, I had never doubted my decision to teach in Canada except about four years ago when I had another interesting incident happened in my class.
We teachers always have different strategies as rewards in the classroom. Teachers use all kinds of incentives in the classroom depending on different circumstances, the individual classroom management style and routine in the class. Some are internal rewards such as verbal recognition, leadership opportunities, or a pat on the shoulder. Often, we use external incentives such as a sticker, a certificate or a small treat to reward students on special occasion. I don’t like to use the same external rewards because when the teacher uses external rewards too often and too frequently, they would become an expectation by many. I believe any reward should be for some extraordinary acts or to recognize special performances; for example, when students perform their personal best with evident improvement or personal excellence beyond expectation.
Anyway, four years ago when I taught a grade two class, I had a candy jar filled with different kinds of treats in my room. I didn’t usually put the jar on my desk but students know that the jar was where I kept my treats. Once a while, when my students least expected, I would reward them for their impressive performance or the behavior they had shown me. The occasional rewards with candy certainly worked wonder for that group of students.
One hot summer day, our classroom had reached that unbearable temperature that we all had to retreat from our add-on porta-pad classroom to a cool location in the school concrete building. You see, we don’t have any air-conditioner in the school. We can not close the school unless the room temperature had reached 45 degrees Celsius which is the maximum temperature for health and safety concern (It’s really stupid but that is the regulation. As far as I am concerned, when it is over the 40 degrees C, the children’s bodies are literally "cooking". Their brains can’t really function properly.)
Our porta-pad classroom was like a steel-box microwave oven in the hot summer afternoon sun. I finally took my class out to the end of the hallway where we could sit on the smooth concrete cement floor to work. The hallway was on the other side of the concrete wall, which was sheltered from the sun then. It was also peace and quiet there away from the other classes. The polished concrete floor was just smooth, cool and comfy. Before the recess bell, I gave out freezies (frozen ice in a plastic tube) to my students for their outstanding cooperation under that kind of heat.
On their way out for their recess, a group of 4 girls apparently sneaked into the classroom and took some candy from my candy jar. One girl came to tell me because she refused to join them. It turned out that, BB, one of the quietest girls in my class was the instigator who had coerced some of her friends to sneak into the room to open the candy jar and took some candy out for her and her friends. Who would have thought that a quiet girl like BB would do such a thing? She did not go into the room at all. She got the other girls to do the dirty work for her.
Disbelief was one thing but the most important thing was how to teach BB the right from wrong. I told the group of girls that I would have given them a candy if they had asked me, but it was not acceptable to steal from the classroom. (Considering I just gave all of them a freezie as a treat, it really bugged me to find out that they wanted more by stealing from me!) So, after my talk with all the girls, I sent all of them to the office to see the principal. I talked to the principal privately before I sent them. It was only a small amount of candy but I thought they ought to learn a lesson about stealing and that was why I would like the principal to talk to them.
Afterwards, I told BB that I had to leave a note in her agenda to inform her mother about the incident. I did write a short note to her mother explaining about the whole incident. The candy might be a small thing, but the behavior was not acceptable. BB’s teenage brother had trouble with the law and was put in jail because of his conviction of break and entry. The mother already had a hard time dealing with his problems. BB was an average student but she was really a sweetheart in my class. I was more shocked than anything else really when I found out. I had no doubt that BB had learned a lesson and would never make the same mistake again. I thought I had got everything solved.
The next day, BB came back to school and was quiet as usual. I asked her if her mother had read the agenda and understood what happened. She nodded as she always did. There was no note replied nor any signature signed in the agenda, so I started to wonder if BB actually showed my note to her mother. Anyway, her mother showed up after school that afternoon unannounced. She stopped me in the hallway and started to raise her voice to question me about the incident. I was happy to see her and immediately invited her to go back to my room or to the office so we could sit down to talk. She then started to raise her voice!
Basically, the mother did not think it was a big deal for BB to take candy from the jar. She claimed that BB did not do it anyway. It was the other girls who took the candy for her. The mother told me that if I did not want BB to take the candy, then I should have kept my candy jar hidden, not on my desk. She claimed when the jar was in the open, of course, children would get to it. She could not understand why BB was sent to the office for a few candies from the jar. I tried very hard to explain to her that BB was the instigator who told the other girls to get the candy for her. The jar had a tight lid. She might not be the one to touch the lid but she was the one who told one girl to open the lid for her. She was the one who told another girl to take more for the other girls.
Somehow, some people claim their right to everything. (Note 1) Just because something is left in the open, it does not mean that anyone has the right to take it. I often use the same analogy to explain to my students. All the things in the department stores are displayed in the open but that doesn’t mean that anyone is welcome to take the merchandise home without paying for it.
Anyway, at that point of the conversation with the mother, I realized that it was really useless to explain to this parent my point was not about the missing candy but about the character development of her child. BB needs to learn a lesson from the consequence of her behavior. I could care less about losing a handful of candy! I care more about the sweet little girl following the wrong foot step of her teenage brother!
I continued to invite this mother to follow me to the office. I tried very hard to calm her down but she started to tell me that I was a bad teacher. She claimed BB had a wonderful Grade One teacher the year before. Miss So and So taught her so well and she was a good teacher, and I was the bad one according to her. Then she asked me, “Ms. JJJ, do you have children?” I replied, “No. I don’t have children of my own. But, I have taught many children.”(I probably had dealt with more children than she could imagine.) She continued, “You don’t know how to teach children, Ms.JJJ, because you do no have kids. You don’t know children. You are a bad teacher.” At that point, I knew it was totally useless to continue the conversation with her. I told her that it was almost the end of the school year. If she was not happy with my teaching, she should have told me earlier on or informed the principal about her concern regarding my teaching performance. I told her that she was more than welcome to talk to the principal. After that, I swiftly bid her adieu.
I was surprisingly cool and calm when I talked to her until the very end. I walked away fuming! Yes, I don’t have children of my own. Is it a crime for a teacher not to have children of her own? So, I am unfit to be a teacher in her eyes because I am childless! What kind of nonsense is that! I walked away with a heavy load in my heart and ready to explode. (You can imagine all cuss words that I have ever heard in my entire life were reviewed in my head at that moment. Hahaha….)
After that idiotic encounter, I desperately needed to unload my anger and frustration. The principal was busy so I quickly walked into the behavior Teaching Assistant’s office where she was still busy dealing all the paper work for the behavioral problems. I sat down in front of her and did one thing that I had never done before- I crashed and cried my heart out.
I have never cried for a hard day of work but that day. I was a bad teacher and I just totally lost it! Why should I be ridiculed as a bad teacher for not having any children? When the conversation gets to that point, what was the point for me to educate this child about right and wrong? She was obviously getting two contradicting messages from home and school. Unfortunately, people sometimes do imply that only people with children could understand children or how to raise children. What a load of nonsense! I have seen too many parents who are lacking parenting skills and sometimes unfit to be parents. Someone once told me, “One needs to pass a test to drive a car, but any idiot could become a parent.” It is quite a cynical comment but sadly, that is the truth.
I did not quit after a hard cry. As I am older and wiser, I have come to my realization that I may not have children of my own but there are tons of children out there in desperate needs of attention and love. I happen to have abundant love to give. After a tearful day like the day I was blacklisted by that parent as a bad teacher, I reassured myself that I would be wanted sometime somewhere by someone who would appreciate my full attention to their children’s education.
Note 1: Once a child took a cell phone from a teacher’s desk, the parent argued that the teacher should not have left the cell phone there to tempt the child to take the phone. (I will write about this story one day.)
Post Note: Thank Goodness, I had supportive principal and colleague to comfort me and offer me their shoulders for a big cry after this horrid day. It is easy to forgive but very difficult to forget. Any incident like that is kept in my heart as a warning to better myself continuously. I’d better leave no excuse for any parent to claim that I am unfit to be a teacher because I have no kids.