All teachers have at some point in their career been on the receiving end of an irate parent. It might have come via a phone call, an epic email or a face to face discussion. It is one of the most challenging scenarios a teacher can face and I’ve had my share. There is one however which sticks out above all. It was in my first year of teaching and I was working in large school in a low socio-economic area. The school was a great place to work and I connected with so many students, families and staff during my time there. We had our fair share of tough kids who lived tough lives. One particular student stood out above the rest and boy was he hard work. He made me earn every inch of his respect and I worked my tail off (within reason) to build a strong rapport with him but only after learning a valuable lesson.
Early in the first term of my first year, there was a school competition that his name had been drawn out as a winner. My duty was to inform his grade teacher that he had won the prize. I entered the class and spoke with his teacher who said that there was no way that he should be allowed to receive the prize due to his behaviour on that particular day. I said that it was her call and left it at that. The very next day I was standing out the front of the school when a rather rough looking man approached me. He asked if I was Mr. Brophy and when I said he yes, he started swearing at me. He told me that he had gotten out of jail yesterday and that the incident was the first story his son had shared with him. To say I was ill equipped to handle the situation would be an understatement but I kept both ears opened, my mouth shut and one eye on his clenched fist. I managed to diffuse the situation and was very lucky to have my assistant principal also come to my rescue. The incident really rattled me and I really had no idea why I was the target of his rage.
Upon further investigation, I found out that the student had overheard part of the conversation that I had had with his grade teacher and jumped to the wrong conclusion. I kept going over the incident in my head and instead of beating myself up about it, it served to inspire me. At this point, I had avoided building a rapport with this student due to his reputation. I believed him to just be a rotten kid. The incident gave me an insight into the home life that this kid must endure and I was inspired to try and make his school life a little more enjoyable. I went out of my way to catch him in the yard, to find the positive feedback in class and to learn more about his interests. When I left the school two years later, this student cried and told me that I was the best teacher that he had ever had. I choked back the tears as well. Considering our rocky start, we had built a really strong rapport and as a result his behaviour improved out of sight. With a strong rapport, I could also pull him into line easier if his behaviour was off. The incident taught me that relationships are the key to teaching and learning and that you have to make the effort to find out who your students are and to earn their respect. I found inspiration in the most unusual of situations and it has served me well through my teaching career. Have your ever had an incident that shaped the way that you teach or interact with students, parents or staff? I would love to hear from you.
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