Thursday, November 09, 2006

getting it off my chest

In this, what I laughingly call my teaching career I've had many a run in with a parent. It goes part and parcel with the territory of being an educator unfortunately. I've had a few dodgy moments in my time. When I was in the classroom there was the parent who came in shouting and abusing me while I was in the middle of a lesson, then the one who picked a fight with me in the school playground about which class her child was going to end up in next year, then the one who complained that her child wasn't doing well academically but refused to do any of the comprehensive homework plan I painstakingly made up for her and who could forget, my favourite - the one who stood outside the classroom just staring through the window for a few hours...every so often tapping on the glass and freaking out the children (and me) - until I had to get her 'removed'. In 5 years, that's not bad as a track record - in fact it's pretty good. You'd hear worse over morning tea in any staffroom any day of the week. No wonder teachers are among the most highly stressed of all workers.

Since taking on the art role however I've missed this crucial part of the teaching cycle - the parent involvement thing. Parents don't really care about what goes on in subjects that aren't Maths and English - so as the art teacher I fare pretty well in the 'stressed about parents' category. Whenever I see a parent these days they're always complimenting me on the wonderful art work or letting me know how much their child lives for art each week. What can I say? It's been a plethora of warm and fuzzys. That is, until today.

Today while standing on my tip toes (damn short genes) pinning up the kids' Pop Art inspired pieces of work up while trying not to fall over myself, one parent comes up and strikes up a conversation that I knew wasn't going to go well from her opening line.

Do you realise that when you don't put up a piece of artwork by every child at least once that it's a blow to their self esteem? You have no idea how damaging that is to a child.

Uh, excuse me? I think I stood there on my tip toes and arms raised in *artwork pinning up pose* with my mouth just hanging open not knowing what to say. What can you say to that anyway? My classroom and art room have always been one cheer away from a pep rally in terms of building up self esteem. I felt the pain of being not good enough one too many times as a child to not rectify that for other children as best I could as a teacher. I thought I was doing an okay job of it too. I'm thinking about this while the parent is now going on and on about how there are certain children (her child) whose artwork rarely goes up while other children have had their work up countless times (she named names) and why can't I rotate the work more often and give everyone a go in the limelight? While the prinicple for everyone being equal in having their work up is all well and good - it isn't going to work in the real world.

Hey, lady - how about this for an explanation? You child, although a talented artist is unable to produce anything that even resembles a finished piece of artwork. I don't put up pieces of work based on perceived talent - I put it up based on results and based on the amount of hard work someone puts in. If a kid is going to put in 150% on a piece of artwork and they truly tried their best then it's going up - end of story. Why would I spend my time following up on a piece of work in my time that should have been completed in the alloted time? I'm very clear about the work timeline - I give the children an outline of what I expect at the beginning - if they finish early then I'm okay with it. If they don't finish and they don't want to do their piece for homework then they know from the beginning that it ain't going up. Quite frankly with 4000 pieces of artwork coming through my art room in a year your child can only have as much time as I can allow - that is the same amount of time as any other kid has. How's that for fair?

Furthermore, I have a limited amount of space to use for our corridor galleries and a school to represent by the artwork I choose. We have parents, children, visitors, politicians and prospective parents coming through this school all the time - why would I put something up that looks anywhere close to being unfinished when I have over 400 pieces of other finished work to choose from? Guess what? All your children have been represented in the gallery anyway so stop trying to disguise your obvious jealousy of another child's talent and so called 'fame' by being a martyr for the unspoken masses of children who never get to have their piece of artwork up. I'm not buying it. Hey, say you find something better to do with your time than sitting around counting and keeping notes on who does and doesn't have their artwork up. Honestly how boring.

Not only do I not get enough time to rotate boards as much as I would like, I don't get enough time to do them for each piece of work we produce. This would be my after school and my before school and my weekend that I spend sorting through work, mounting it, presenting it, creating a display and putting it up here just like I'm doing now. Maybe I do need to create a database of all the children's work I see and display while I'm sorting through that big 4000, but until someone shouts me a secretary I can't quite see that happening. Say, since you've already taken note of it, maybe you can do that job for me?

But I didn't say this. I stood there nearly in tears and feeling like I was the worst teacher in the world. But there you go, finally my clean slate of art room run in with parents cherry has been broken
Go me.

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