Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wrong email address a "teachable moment"?

A few weeks ago I got an email from what seemed to be a mother of a high school aged girl.  The mother sent me an email thinking that I was her daughters teacher  Ms. Ashton.  I thought the note was a little provocative and aggressive so I decided to write back as the teacher to see what this "helicopter mom's" response would be.  Below is the exchange so you can make up your own mind....(I changed the name of the student to Crystal Hodkins for dramatic effect and to protect the innocent?)

Subject: Crystal Hodgkins

Dear Ms. Ashton,
I am a bit concerned and a little perplexed about Crystal's grade in your class. Can you give me a little insight into why she does not understand the material you are presenting to the class? She is an honors student, and this is neither an honors class nor an AP class, yet she is failing tests. I am truly baffled. I am aware this is an advanced class, but this class does not count for college credit, it is an elective. I am presuming you don’t expect the students to already have mastered the concept of philosophy before taking the class. They are there to learn it.

She is considering dropping the class because she is doing poorly. I am hopeful that you would desire for your students to be successful under your instruction so, can you give me an idea of how she can be successful?

Any insight you can give me would be appreciated.
Thank you fro your time,
Barbara Hodgkins

After reading this, discussing briefly with Amie over the weekend I responded after drinking four beers with the below.  (Amie did some light copy editing so my lack of grammar skills that any teacher should have wouldn't give me away).  I point this out only to implicate her in this debacle and having had the ability to stop me if I was way out of line.

Subject: RE: Crystal Hodgkins

Mrs. Hodgkins,

I appreciate your interest and ongoing support for Crystal's education, unfortunately it's not the norm for parents to be so active and overbearing with regard to child's education. On that note, I must point out a few things in response to your email:

1. Yes - Crystal is here to learn philosophy, and as you point out, is in an advanced but not an AP class,
2. Your interest in finding a way to help Crystal both digest and understand the content is the goal and commendable.

Those two points made, I must insist that we do the following.

Please have Crystal actually attempt to read and think about the material. This isn't a memorization course and her ability to internalize, relate to, and navigate through the ambiguous concepts is part of the learning process. She seems to want to memorize facts and regurgitate them with little thought about their meaning.

Second, I want to address the conflicting message this email conveys. While you do generally seem interested in Crystal's development, the email you sent seems a tad condescending and antagonistic. Suggesting she drop the course because of some failure on my or the courses part seems misdirected. I am all giving Crystal what she needs to learn, but simultaneously worry that your intervention here is a systemic pattern that may inhibit her growth on the path to full adulthood. She needs to learn to solve her own problems in life and you, sadly, won't be around forever to get her out of a jam. This is all a part of her journey, not yours.

I'd suggest you two sit down, discuss this and any other topic Crystal needs to address, and have her (not you) come up with a plan of action. I'll assist as I can, but Crystal needs to find her own way forward.

With utmost respect for you and Crystal,

Ms. Ashton

After sending I must admit that I felt some guilt for meddling in the life of this mother and more importantly the teacher.  Had my "joke" gone to far?  Had I done the mother a favor by telling her how it is?  Had I done the teacher a favor by getting the mother off her back?

Feeling this guilt I sent this email thread to a friend who is a teacher, MA.   Referencing my guilty feeling I informed her that I thought I should write back and inform the mother that she got the wrong person and that I am not only not her daughters teacher but some jackass living in another country that failed philosophy myself?  She informed me to let sleeping dogs lie, so I did.

Mrs. Hodgkin's did respond to me briefly.  I'll save the content of that email for another post as you help me decide if I'm evil or not.  At some point in the not too distant future I imagine the parent teacher conference where Mrs. Hodgkins and the real Ms. Ashton will meet face to face to discuss the grade and future of Crystal.

Ms. Ashton will be oblivious to this email thread and if a fight ensues it will undoubtedly be my fault.  If and when that email comes, you'll all be the second to know.

With some level of guilt,


*who was a poor student, is not a parent and is full time soap box spewer of things he knows nothing about.

No comments: