When I was a kid, I was intimidated by anyone I registered as an adult, which means pretty much anyone over 5 foot 6. Now that I’m a fully-formed adult at a hulking 5 foot 9, I’m only intimidated by select people of varying height.
Naturally, I mention all of this because I finally had to talk to parents.
I usually teach college English, but this Summer I took a job working with high school students participating in an advanced program taking place at my school. I get to teach the young ones how to write, so my students dwell in a paradoxical state of hating me because of the work I have them do and liking me because what student wouldn’t love to be taught by a fountain of bad puns and adorable cat pictures.
Recently, there was an incident with a student that ended with me threatening to fill out an intimidating disciplinary form and the student threatening to call her mother. I have never had an experience even remotely comparable to this in my college classes, so I was a little taken aback. No college student ever told me they’d call their parents to tattle on me. That’s not something I’ve had to mentally prep myself for, and apparently, mental preparation was required because that whole interaction felt so strange.
On one hand, I’m not even remotely intimidated by this child or their undoubtedly angry mother. On the other, I love my job, and the thought of someone deliberately gunning me down for my work is–more than anything–disappointing. I don’t know if she ever called her mother, but the day after was the day of my students’ big presentations, which all their parents came to, which was called “Parent Day,” which ended up being a little stressful.
I had no idea what this student’s parents looked like, no idea if they even came, and a vague sense of unease and fear because apparently, I’m not so old that the idea of an enraged mother doesn’t rattle me a little. I was alone in crowds of students and parents, unable to leave because I had to grade my kids’ performance and unable to hide because I was an adult surrounded by teenagers. I was her prey, and every parent that came to talk to me could have been the Mad Mother.
A pair of proud-looking adults broke free from the crowd of teens, making a beeline for me. Were they the ones? Would berating me for their child’s decisions be some sort of bonding activity for them? How many machetes could they be hiding among them?
They didn’t eviscerate me. Instead, they talked about their child, who was one of mine. He was doing very well. They thanked me, which was strange because it was the student that was doing well. They also asked me about his presentation, which was strange because I wasn’t the student. They asked me when they could go, which was even stranger because these were adults with jobs that gave them real money, and they were asking my permission. I told them the kids could leave at 3, and they left at 3.
I was alone, still afraid I was being stalked by a hunting parent or legal guardian. I kept imagining I saw a tired face and sandals darting between presenting students and teary-eyed parents. I trusted nobody. Every parent that came up to me could be the mother out for my blood, but none of them were. Parents asked me questions about their kids–weird, when they could just ask the kids–and questions about the program, and it felt strange to see how much they cared.
The mother never came for me. My irrational fear of an adult was never realized. I was never scolded for the student’s actions. Instead, every parent was nice, concerned, and really weird to talk to. I’m not used to seeing someone else invested in my students’ success, and I’m also not used to subtly defending how much work I give out. The parent/teacher relationship is strange, somewhat intimidating, and a lot like going back to a bar to retrieve your credit card the night after a bender: yes, I regret some of what I’ve done, but you can’t exactly stop me now that it’s over.