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Close to Home: I hate all of my students equally

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Although I’ve been a high school English teacher for more than 30 years, it’s only been in the last seven or so that I’ve been openly accused of hating children.

Sure, there were always disgruntled students who would grab their C- essay from my desk and grumble to their buddies, “Teacher hates me.”

It’s a convenient way to save face among friends — and who can blame them? After all, they’re teenagers, and no one would expect them to announce: “Well, it’s obvious I should’ve spent more than 20 minutes on that five-page paper.”

What’s disconcerting is the number of parents who have come to believe that teachers hate their children. It’s become common for teacher-parent phone conversations to culminate with a parent lowering her voice, and saying, “Don’t let Anna know I told you this, but she’s convinced you hate her.”

I’m never quite sure what to say in response.

Should I reply, “There are plenty of kids I’m fond of, and they have low grades too”? Should I say, “I don’t want Anna thinking I hate her. Let me raise her grade right away”? Or perhaps I should tell the truth: “I hate all of my students equally.”

Seriously, what I’d really like to ask is this: When did a grade become a measure of affection rather than performance?

While it’s one thing for a kid to grouse about his teachers and claim, “The teacher’s out to get me, man,” it’s astonishing that parents would believe this.

This summer, a parent emailed me her son’s above-average SAT scores in an attempt to argue the D+ he’d earned in my English class must’ve been due to my bias. From the looks of things, the teachers in his trig class (F) and chemistry class (F) must’ve really hated the kid, too.

While I acknowledge that the irrationality of the “my teacher hates me” argument shouldn’t give my colleagues or me a moment’s pause, it does. Imagine, being accused of hatred and bias at your workplace.

When I asked my husband, a certified public accountant, if he’s ever been accused of hating a client, he couldn’t even fathom it. “I owe more in taxes this year than last —you must hate me.”

Yes, it’s ridiculous to imagine other professionals offering professional advice and assessment and being met with defensive “You must hate me!” retorts. It is, however, quite plausible to imagine a grumpy child shouting, “Why do you hate me?” at his parents when they ask him to take out the trash for the third time.

Anyone who is a parent knows they’ll hear at least one “I hate you” or “You hate me” hurled across a messy teenager’s room or a pile of unwashed dishes.

But, as parents, we’ve learned better than to believe everything our children say in frustration and anger, beginning with their 2-year-old tantrums.

Why should their rants about their school teachers be any different?

As we prepare to begin a new semester, I implore parents to let their children’s teachers do their job. Let them modify and correct behavior; let them offer authentic evaluation and assessment.

And when your child returns home with a story about being singled out for talking during a math test or receiving a low grade on an essay because the teacher didn’t like his thesis, please remember your child’s teacher became a teacher because she likes kids. She opted to teach high school math because she enjoys interacting with 150-plus teenagers a day.

If she didn’t, she’d be doing your taxes rather than teaching your kid.

Lynette Williamson teaches rhetoric and English at Analy High School where she also coaches the debate team. She lives in Monte Rio.

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