Parent-Teacher Wars

By , Armidale, Australia
In a few months, my daughter graduates from Penn State University, and I cannot believe how fast these four years flew. Neither can she, and she is having a tough time coming to grips with the fact that Penn State says she has to leave. I am not sure what happens in Happy Valley (the nickname for where Penn State dwells) - well, that’s not true. I am not stupid. I have a pretty good idea what happens in Happy Valley, but I am always amazed how no one wants to leave there. But alas, she will leave because as her father and I pointed out, “We both did college in four years, and you will too.”

We always knew she would do well in school no matter where she went. I say this because not all her teachers throughout the years shared the same opinion. Don’t get me wrong, intelligence was not the issue, but her ability to never shut up was. We sent her to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. For my husband and me, this was an easy decision as we went through Catholic school as well. We even went to Catholic college. We don’t count college because our school was pretty liberal. We had coed dorms before they were the norm. Coming from an all-girl prep, I thought “Wow, guys live with us, this is pretty damn cool.” My very Italian father failed to share my enthusiasm and left me at college with these parting words, “Don’t even look at those boys!” His words stayed with me as long as it took him to drive out of the parking lot.

Growing up in and around New York City, our Catholic schools were not as rigid as the schools we sent our daughter to in the Philly area, and we learned this early on in her school career. My daughter was always a talker and she truly had her own opinions. We never discouraged her from speaking her mind. So, throughout my daughter’s years in school, we would always get these notes that had this similar theme “Coleen is a bright student, but she talks too much and offers too many opinions.” And the notes were always signed, “Yours in Christ, Sister so-and-so or Mrs. So-and-So”. Even as the letters grew more heated and there were threats of detentions and suspension, and we knew that we were headed for yet another parent-teacher conference, the letters still ended with “Yours in Christ”. I always wondered if God had a good laugh over this. Here was this poor teacher ranting in the body of the letter about how my kid is making her life a living hell, but she still wanted us to know that Christ still loved us even if we could not control our kid.

In reality, we were the parents from hell. We would say to her, “Be respectful, but speak your mind. God gave you opinions, use them.” Actually, in the middle school years, we hit a spurt where the teachers loved her spunk and tried to emphasize its value. These years were a welcome break for us as it meant no strategy planning for parent-teacher nights.

During the years when we got the “Yours in Christ” notes, we would get to the parent-teacher nights as early as possible and try to be the first parents in. The teachers always had more patience then, and we didn’t get yelled at as much. If we got there behind other parents, especially the goody-two-shoes kids’ parents, we were in trouble.

I hated being behind those parents. Frankly, I just hated those smug parents and their freaky robotic kids. They came out of those conferences glowing and everyone knew that their kids were the smartest and the quietest. They would go into the classroom, and we could all hear through the open door how wonderful little Johnny or Susie was doing. When it was our turn, we would walk in and the teacher would slam the door behind us. At this point, I think the privacy issue was dead. The slammed door was a clear indication that we were getting reamed out, and our kid was not getting picked to be the Virgin Mary in the Nativity play.

I will admit we had many a family quarrel over Coleen keeping her mouth shut. But by the time she graduated high school, her spirit that won out, and we were thankful for that. Her father did lose his hair and I did go from a size four to a size 10 during those years, but what the hell, they gave her a diploma. She may have talked and voiced her opinion way too much, but that was the extent of trouble we encountered with her. I never got called to bail her out of jail, which a few of those goody-two-shoes parents cannot say. She seemed to possess a natural common sense that told her when she needed to be smart.

Now, that she is graduating from Penn State, I am going to send announcements to all those devout teachers who thought she was a spawn of Satan. This is how the letter will go: To all the teachers who told us our daughter would never make it to college because of her big mouth, I just want you to know that she is not only graduating but she got job offers to boot, and the number one reason why companies courted her: her personality and people skills. Who saw that coming? Yours in Christ, the Cavanaghs.





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