Did you recently send your younglings off to school? Congratulations on another milestone on the road to college debt! But during these first weeks of the new school year, you may have to answer a few uncomfortable questions about the various teachers, administrators, "lunch ladies," or P.E. instructors who did something idiotic or insane, already.
What are you supposed to do about the deficiencies of your children's new authority figures?
The important thing is to keep your response from coming back to haunt you. Your children are probably very clever. (Not like the others, right?) And as clever children haphazardly raised by intelligent adults, your youngsters are hyper-aware of all the dummies out there. School is full of them, and staffers are generally the worst. At least the troublesome kids can be hauled down to the pediatrician to set up a lifelong crippling addiction to amphetamines. Staffers are there forever. Most of them are even unionized.
So don't even bother trying to get rid of a terrible teacher. Honestly, the terrible teacher is as important to real education as the occasional good teacher. How many good bosses or co-workers or popes or presidents or senators or neighborhood mafia dons or in-laws do you encounter in real life? Almost none. Even Hogwarts is plagued by awful teachers, and that's a magical school.
When you teach your kid to delicately deal with a dumb teacher or dullard administrator or obviously brain-damaged P.E. coach who spends his entire salary on nutritional supplements, you're teaching your kid to succeed in the world we have, and this is basically a Buddhist principle.
Fine, you say, but my little boy is crying and my little girl is going through the knives drawer and I have to do some parenting here.
Fine? Is that how you talk? That's so hostile. Relax, step outside to take care of the stress, if necessary, or pour a glass of wine, maybe put on some Mazzy Star. Remember that your child probably only has to deal with this particular adult staffer for this one school year—maybe less, if the teacher blows a gasket and takes a leave of absence, who knows? Just make sure your kid isn't the problem. Because while the child moves onward to other teachers and other classrooms, you will have to deal with this school for as long as you live in this place, maybe through the primary school careers of several kids, if you have a lot of kids. (Or until you get rich enough to afford private, which is just not very likely, sorry. You're doing well enough, aren't you?)
The meanest weasel of a teacher has an uncanny ability to be promoted to administration, and the dimwit who tells your second grader that birds aren't dinosaurs because the dimwit went to college in Texas 40 years ago, well you can count on that teacher still being there when your second grader has her own kids—which will hopefully not happen until she's out of grad school.
Has everyone calmed down? Excellent. Now tell your child that you really do understand, because you have to deal with terrible adults every single day, and that the smartest response is to buck up and remember that school is not about people, and it's certainly not about acquiring knowledge. It's about test scores. If your kids don't stab anyone, and if they do well enough on the constant local and state and federal tests, the meanest or dumbest teacher in the world can't do much but be grumpy.
And then you must make your child swear on a stack of money that he or she will never, ever tell the teacher that you share your child's opinion. The very last thing you want to do is go to war with a teacher, school, district, or basically any bureaucracy you're compelled to deal with.
Illustration by Jim Cooke. Join us for more "Back To School" tips tomorrow or whenever.