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Role Reversal

November 22, 1987

Two years ago, Sharon Hatch wrote an open letter to the educators of her children. In it, she expressed the admittedly emotional concerns of a parent, sending for the first time, a teen-ager into the maw of an American high school. Since that letter, reprinted at the bottom of this page, another child has spent his first year in high school and Hatch has finished the credentialing process at San Diego State University. She is now one of those educators, and as such, would like to answer the parent in her who wrote that first letter.

November 22, 1987

Dear Parent,

I have read with interest your letter outlining your fears concerning your child's presence in our high school. I would like to assure you that I share your feelings and respect your right to expect the public school system to honor them. May I answer your letter by sharing some of my concerns as a teacher?

Every September, thousands of parents just like you deliver to our doorstep, thousands of their offspring, in various stages of development. Some of these children come from homes like yours, where great care has been taken to ensure that they are respectful, cooperative individuals in the classroom. Some come from homes where no particular values have been established, and the children are "free" to make their own choices.

Some come from abusive homes hardly better than the streets and some come, yes, literally from the streets. They are white, black, brown, red, yellow, and all combinations of the above. They are benevolent, belligerent, kind, cruel, lovely, lazy, intelligent, illiterate. You get the picture.

On the first day of class, I am faced with five classes of at least 30 students each from all of these categories and hundreds that I haven't even mentioned. Somehow, I must find a way to focus their multiple attentions on a single subject, which may or may not be of interest to them, and which may or may not be in their native language.

You are concerned about my undermining your belief system. I would never intentionally that. Considering the vast array of opportunities for me to do so unintentionally, however, I am surprised that it doesn't happen more often than it does.

Did you know for instance that it is considered a sign of disrespect to look directly into the eyes of a Laotian? Neither did I until I was apprised of it by the parent of a student who thought his teacher had no respect for him.

The content of the materials I teach might not always be in accordance with my personal beliefs. Nevertheless, I must teach it in as unbiased a fashion as possible, realizing all along that whatever I teach will eventually offend someone. In this area, I also respect your concern for your child, and I wish more parents shared it. May I list a few things which you may already be doing, but which would really make both of our jobs much easier?

1. Teach your child to respect authority and to express disagreements respectfully.

2. Be aware of the books your child is using at school. Read them yourself if necessary.

3. Go to the back-to-school-night at your child's school. I feel lucky if I see even half of the parents of my students.

4. Check to see whether your child is turning in homework on time, completed and with a name on it. Don't wait until the report cards come out.

5. Unless it is an economic necessity, don't allow your child to have an after-school job. 6. Listen to your child with your eyes as well as with your ears. They shouldn't have to tell me that they are pregnant, on drugs, or being abused by another family member or friend.

7. Be consistent in your discipline as well as in your love. Even teen-agers need secure boundaries.

8. Finally, I truly appreciate a parent's support and I need it. I teach, because--of all the other things I could have chosen to do--teaching was my first love. I am here because I love your kids and because I want to impart knowledge. I'm here because I want to be. Help me want to stay.

October 5, 1985

Dear Educator,

This September, I delivered to your doorstep a project now in his 14th year of development, the oldest of my three children. He's tall for his age. He may appear at times to be much more mature than he actually is.

I cried as I watched his square young shoulders disappear into the crowd of people making their way to class. I thought that there would never be a day more difficult than the day I took him to kindergarten. I was wrong.

Nine years ago, he was a little brown-eyed boy with a look of unashamed wonder on his face as he entered the world of education. I saw him that way and so did the staff of his school. Little ones are usually perceived as just that. They are fragile beginners, and for a time we try to protect them.

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