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Teacher to Parent - Only 10% of life is what happens to us; 90% is how we deal with it

Jody Stallings headshot

Stallings

Q: The teacher told my 9th grade son that he hadn’t submitted his assignment. My son insisted he did, but the teacher didn’t believe him and said he would have to redo it. My son argued and told her this was “bullcrap” (not the nicest word, but he was understandably upset). The teacher sent him to the principal for that, which is ridiculous to me. If the teacher hadn’t lost his assignment, he never would have had to argue with her and possibly lose his temper. I also think it’s insane that he has to do the paper again. How could the teacher have better handled this?

It looks to me like the teacher handled it just fine. Your son, on the other hand, acted in a totally inappropriate way. It won’t be the last time he mismanages such situations if you continue to aid and abet his churlish behavior.

First of all, the teacher’s actions seem sufficiently fair. If she really believed he didn’t submit the assignment, she would have every right to give him a zero and let that be the end of it. Instead she permitted him to redo it, which is precisely the remedy that would have occurred had she actually lost his work.

Perhaps that seems unfair, but what would be the alternative? She could, I suppose, exempt him from the assignment. But she couldn’t just give him a hundred on it. That wouldn’t be fair to the others.

In fact, redoing what gets lost — no matter who loses it — is a basic (and annoying) fact of life. If I send this article to my editor and she loses it, I’ll have to write another one. Of course today we’re likely to have copies to keep us from doing the work twice, so you might consider turning this into a learning experience for your son: take pictures or save copies of the work until it’s all graded.

But I have another question: why do you doubt the teacher when she says your son never turned in the work? Teachers can lose things, of course, but it happens a lot less than students forgetting to hand in an assignment. And doesn’t the student in this conflict have a stronger motive to deceive than the teacher?

Sadly, people sometimes say things that aren’t true in order to get out of trouble. This is particularly the case with teenagers (especially when it comes to bad grades). The tendency is magnified when they have a high expectation of “getting away with it.”

This is why a healthy dose of skepticism is justified when teens tell versions of events that don’t add up. You don’t want them to grow up believing that lying makes things better. Besides, it’s important for children to know that parents and teachers are allies. When kids see that they can put a wedge in the relationship and turn things to their benefit, they will.

My friends and I would have been masters of the art of manipulation if we didn’t have parents who almost never believed us when we said the teacher was wrong and we were right. By not siding with us (rightfully), we learned not to waste our time on deception.

But had I genuinely been right about something and the teacher wrong, my father would have told me to handle it maturely, to speak to the teacher after class and calmly tell her the truth. If she chose to believe me, good, and if she didn’t, well, that’s the way life goes sometimes, so learn from it.

If I had handled it the way your son did, with disrespectful language and a belligerent attitude, I wouldn’t have been able to drive a car or go on a date for about a month, and it wouldn’t have been because of any quarantine.

That’s because my father knew it was more important for me to learn how to cope with small, personal injustices than to try to fix them all by force or respond to them disrespectfully.

Only 10% of life is what happens to us; 90% is how we deal with it. Your child will face a half dozen little injustices every week for the rest of his life. He needs to learn to manage them with grace, respect, and self-control. If he insists on behaving like a spoiled brat whenever they occur, he risks becoming a friendless, unhappy adult.

What have you done in this situation to help him avoid such a future?

That question should be your main consideration. When it becomes so, your son will start to transform into a much stronger and more mature individual.

That’s a lot more important than having to redo his homework.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.

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