One time at a parent-teacher conference, I was pretty mean
to the sixth-grade teacher for something very ironic: she was a lousy speller.
Every note she sent home had spelling errors in it. She habitually circled
words as "wrong" on our child's papers when in fact, they were spelled right. Or she would leave misspelled words in place
Now, I spell for a living. Helping our kids spell well is
highly important to me. But I'm afraid I was so disappointed in her spelling
instruction that I came off as hypercritical to this poor teacher, even
mentioning the generous salary and benefits we were providing for her, and
couldn't we expect better quality spelling instruction for what we were paying?
OK, say it: I got
angry, and tactlessly went off on her.
She turned bright red, looked like she was going to cry, said
that she was fully aware that she was a lousy speller, but that she was working
Seeing her hurt reaction, I cringed.
I might have been right . . . but I sure wasn't being kind.
I hurriedly apologized, the
conference ended, and I rushed into the rainy October night to start my car.
Inexplicably, classical music blared out of the car radio. It sounded like a
Bach fugue, at three times normal speed and volume:
It was so fast and so loud! It was
It felt like the violin bows were
magically jabbing out of the radio and stabbing me in the eye!
I punched at the buttons wildly to
get it to stop. Finally, it fell silent.
I sat in the dark car, with the
windshield wipers beating a gentle rhythm, sank my head onto my clenched hands
on the steering wheel, and cried.
As irritating as that music had
sounded to me, I had sounded to that teacher.
With kindness and empathy, I could
have gotten my point across and made some suggestions for spelling instruction
that might have encouraged her and made things better for the kids. Instead, I
was just loud and sharp, like those imaginary violin bows.
Instead of being constructive, I'd
hit major sour notes.
So I learned something that night. Since
then, I've been strictly Mrs. Positive with teachers. When I see an academic
shortcoming, I quietly supplement at home, and voila! Problem solved. Teachers'
A relationship between a parent and
an educator should be a lot like playing the violin: you run the bow over the
strings, back and forth, not too hard, not too soft, and with a little effort
on both ends, you can get into rhythms and patterns so you can make beautiful
music together, as friends, not adversaries.
You know what? There's no misspelling in music . . . or in