Let’s Not

I knew I was in trouble when the principal needed to talk with me regarding a parent complaint. The parent said I used the word crap in class often. The parent also said that I told students to memorize PEMDAS as Please Excuse My Dumb Ass Sister.

I admitted to my principal that I said crap enough times. And the PEMDAS thing… Well, it was really a ha-ha joke that my high school students from the previous year taught me, and I never actually wrote out the word Ass, I just wrote down A__, so technically my clever middle schoolers deciphered that on their own.

The parent found me in my classroom after school shortly after. She brought up the aforementioned, and I apologized. Profusely. I was genuinely sorry that she found the word crap offensive. I told her that I then realized it was unprofessional and would not utter the word again in class. I promised I would apologize to all my students the next day.

But then she had more to say, Mrs. Nguyen, we’re a Christian family, and we raise our children to be… 

The rest of her words — I don’t recall exactly — were condemning. She could have just punched me in the face. The effect felt the same. I looked over to the other side of my classroom where my own three children — then ages 8, 9, and 12 — were doing their homework. Our eyes met. My kids attended the same school.

I apologized to my students the next day.

Then after school I went to my principal’s office because what the parent had said to me in front of my children continued to anger me. She had projected her Christianity on me in front of my kids as if I were amoral and indecent for saying crap. I told my principal what happened and concluded with — and I remember my words verbatim because I was really upset — “If she ever comes back and speaks to me like that again, I will tell her exactly what I think, and then you’d have to fucking fire me.”

*****

Maybe it was the very ugly custody battle I went through that has made me crazy protective of my three kids and my role as a parent. You don’t get to judge me from a distance. You don’t get to judge me based on what 4-letter words I say. You certainly don’t get to judge me through a religious lens.

I’m pretty much this crazy protective when it comes to my students and my role as a teacher.

We talk about the bad policies crafted by people in thick-carpet land, so let’s not have those policies trickle down into our classroom and adversely affect our students’ learning or their love of learning. Let’s not follow that textbook that we hate — so what if the school had adopted it. Just because we inadvertently bought spoiled food does not mean we should consume it. We talk about spending too much time reviewing for tests, so let’s stop reviewing for the goddamn tests.

Let’s not believe for one second that we don’t have a voice.

Let’s smile and nod and gather up all the handouts in our next meaningless PD, then throw them out when we get back into our classroom and do a Math Munch or 3-Act lesson.

I go batshit crazy when I hear of teachers doing things that they know are not good for their students. Why are we doing it then?

I’m afraid I know the answer to this already: We don’t want to lose our job.

But. But. Did we not get into teaching because we love teaching and our subject matter and most of all we love our students? How can we justify implementing poor pedagogy and delivering contrived content to the young people whom we promised to give our best and be their advocates? Why are we wasting their time?

We — classroom teachers — make a direct impact on our students’ learning. This impact is not unlike that of a parent-child relationship. And for some students, we are the missing guardian in their life. They depend on us to make the right decisions when administrators and policy makers do not. They depend on us to be the voice that they don’t always have. They trust us to work toward fixing a broken system instead of being a part of it. We would do all this and more as a parent. We should do all this and more as a teacher.

I’ve always needed a job, an income. I don’t have the luxury of shooting my mouth off and doing whatever I fancy in the classroom. I shared the opening story because it happened in my first year of teaching at Mesa and I was well aware of my probationary status. But when a parent crosses the line, or when an administrator/mandate goes too far or does too little, I need to speak up. It’s not bravery or arrogance, it’s duty.

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