Way back in the days of old, when I was kid, this was surely a night to be dreaded. Even though it only happened two or three times during the school year, I can clearly remember sitting at home by myself wondering what sordid details my teachers were passing on to my parents. Was I an unintelligent oaf who was destined to spend a life in and out of the criminal justice system? Was I one of those so-called juvenile delinquents who wreaked havoc on the classroom and everything else that was held sacred? Was I the disrespectful class clown who couldn’t be tamed because if that was the case, my father would make damn sure that discipline would be meted out swiftly and surely. Was I too stupid, too shy, too loud or, for that matter, too anything for me to fit in with my fellow classmates? Yes, those were the types of questions I pondered for what seemed like hours when it came time for the parent teacher conference.
It might help to delve into a little history about how things got to be that way. Then again, it might not. Suffice to say that my parents didn’t have a lot of success with my older brother when he was growing up and they probably figured that some type of change was in order. They were in their mid forties when they made a bold move and converted both themselves and me to Catholicism. I was probably five or six. That was just about when they decided it was time for me to undergo another type of transformation and undergo circumcision. That’s probably another story for another time but talk about your doubleheader!
Now, I don’t know if they didn’t trust the then much maligned public school system in New York City and wanted to send me to a private school or if they thought that they had a budding genius in the form of yours truly on their hands and they wanted to get me the best education that money could buy. Either way, they were in for a disappointment.
I vaguely remember the conversion process. It entailed counseling a couple of nights a week on what it meant to be a “good Catholic”. After the sessions were over, my mom and I would walk home and my father would go out for beers with the local priest. As I look back on it all, I think he bribed our way in because up until the day he died, he never saw the inside of a church again. Apparently, being a “good Catholic” at the time meant paying your tuition on time and dropping an envelope stuffed with cash off at the rectory every once in while.
And so it was that I came to be educated by the nuns and the brothers and the few lay teachers who were either members of or addicted to the Catholic Church. In retrospect, nothing ever seemed enough for them. One’s conduct always seemed to be lacking and homework assignments were most often incomplete. I don’t think I’m speaking only for myself when I say that either. All of my friends felt pretty much the way I did when it came to our feelings about most of our teachers. There always seemed to be an air of suspicion, betrayal and distrust hanging about them like some dark cloud waiting to empty itself on whoever happened to be passing by. This is what usually happened in parent teacher conferences and there was usually some type of hell to pay or at least a stay in purgatory to be endured when they got home and reported the results.
Times sure have changed since then. Sure, we send Anna to a private school but it’s non-denominational and up to now, she seems to have thrived in their environment. I’ve grown wise enough over the years to know that that situation can turn on a dime so I keep my fingers crossed and hope that her evolution into a teenager won’t bring on a host of dramatic changes when it comes to matters of education.
I went to a parent teacher conference last night for Anna and beforehand I chided her about what her teachers might have say about her. In a way, I imagine teachers don’t really look forward to these evenings. Nobody like to be the bearer of bad news and I’m sure some parents are of the mind that their little darlings can do no wrong no matter who is doing the telling. She assured me that there would be no surprises and she was right. After reviewing her progress reports with her teachers we got to talking about kids in general. Not just mine, but instead, all of them. While no specific names were mentioned or instances recalled, there seemed to be common bond about how they teachers looked upon their students.
We talked about progress instead of disappointment, about knowledge instead of stupidity, about diversity instead of conformity, about laughter and the joy of learning rather than regimen and routine, about self respect instead of insults and probably, most importantly, about hope instead of despair.
No wonder she wasn’t worried like I was when I was kid her age. While I think my teachers did a decent enough of job of making us pound the books and recite lessons verbatim, they didn’t encourage a whole lot of freedom and independent thought. I think the most telling thing that I came away with last night was that back in my day, the teachers thought that they were the ones that knew everything and what they said was gospel. The teachers at Anna’s school gave me the impression that they are still learning each and everyday.
If you ask me, that’s a pretty good lesson to impart…