My Open Letter to be Better

Driving home the other day from the gym I saw a care center bus that said “Kids-R-Kids” and couldn’t help to feel a bit perturbed. What was troublesome is that we often discount children’s behaviors as “just being kids” without needed corrective action. Sometimes these behaviors can be shrugged off, while others need extraordinary attention.

Take for instance my 14 year old son. Most of his behavior and actions are that of a typical teenage boy. The awkward time between being a child and merging into young adulthood. Other actions of his are truly boneheaded behavior and need not to be berated, but asked his thought process. Some instances require asking him to break down his actions so that he can tell us what we perceive so he understands how he can self-correct or learn.

So imagine my surprise when his school called me the other day to inform me that he was screwing around on the bus. His actions caused the driver to be distracted. While not questionable that G can screw around, I could not see him purposefully distracting the bus driver. While not necessarily his actions that upset me, more the context of the call. With my perplexed state I decided to write a letter to his school, but I am still debating on sending. I would hate to be “that” parent. Here is my open letter to school, on how we can do better by and for our kids.

As Grant Herring’s mother I wanted to address the very short telephone call and the discussion we did not have regarding Grant’s alleged behavior on December 19, 2017 and his punishment which took place on January 12, 2018. I assume blame for not delving further into the situation, however, I was caught off guard during my work day and seemed as though the final decision had been made before even discussing the situation with the parent.
I can understand and respect our educators goals in raising and shaping young minds, especially those of volatile young teenagers and tweens who are coming into a stage in life that many often neglect or shrug off as “the teen years.” I can also understand and respect certain punishments that are doled out, they would seem to befit the offense of the child in an effort to thwart further poor conduct.
However, in the case of Grant I have to say that the punishment to be suspended for a day from the bus was more of a “pass the buck” punishment. You see, the punishment was mine to bear in that I had to rearrange my personal and professional life to ensure my son arrived to school on time. So I in turn was punished for being late to work, punished for leaving early to pick up my son, and I am failing to see where Grant may have taken this punishment as his own? I would like to take the opportunity to offer my feedback as a parent.
While I am not in the industry or profession of education, I do like to consider myself an educator of sorts. I am educating my child, my young people I chose to bring into this life, on how to be a self-sufficient, decent, human being. I am educating my children on how to be prepared for adulthood with life skills. Skills as simple as proper communications, respecting boundaries, and understanding the importance of other individuals, both inclusive and exclusive of diversity. I am educating them that for each action has a reaction, for each action a consequence. Each reaction, action and consequence belongs to them as individuals and they must own the outcome.
In Grant’s case, I think we missed the boat to really offer a teachable moment for him to understand the gravity of Mr. Walker’s position in transportation, to own his improper behavior and conduct that impacted Mr. Walker. In that moment, we could have shared how a distraction to Mr. Walker’s attention to the road could negatively impact their safety. Albeit Grant is a brilliant young man and understands the theory and concept of Mr. Walker’s position; as educators, we could have offered another form of punishment that carries a greater life skill than “someone else will handle it for me.” I see that the punishment was deflective and could be seen by youth as “someone else will get it handled for me,”” Someone else will fix it,” “Not a big deal, the punishment was a piece of cake.” Rather, offering up a real life consequence where Grant conducted a ride along with Mr. Walker sharing what all he has to do as a transportation ward for those children on his daily route. Or Grant could have been late to his first period class after arriving to school and he would have had to clean the interior of the bus for Mr. Walker. Or maybe Grant have an assigned seat on the bus next to Mr. Walker so that he could ensure Grant would not display unbecoming behavior so as to distract Mr. Walker from his careful duty of transporting these malleable young minds.
I truly believe that punishments should be a teaching opportunity for these kids, especially teenagers. My feeling, hope, and prayer is that we can teach these kids that the consequence is theirs to bear for their unbecoming behavior. We need to teach them that they will pay the price. My question should have been to you on the phone, “What if he doesn’t have a ride?” Would he have had to miss school? Is that what happens with other children whose parents are unable to drive them to school? They miss out on their education? What would have been his alternative, because as a parent that is concerning to me for other children. Especially children who may not have a parent as engaged and available in their life as I am in Grant’s. I am a firm believer in the proverb:

Give a Man a fish, you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Can we do better by these kids to not teach them in that day, but to teach them for a lifetime? Teach them for the life they are growing into, to give them the tough love needed to become self-reliant, self-sufficient people, adults. We need to do better, to teach them outside the box with practical consequences. If we do not teach them to stand on their own, they will always defer, deflect, and will constantly be enabled in their behavior and actions. Can we do better to think outside the box for punishment that befits the crime, but has a practical, real life lesson or learning opportunity that is an applicable life skill? As I said before I can respect and understand your decision, however, I strongly disagree in who truly received the punishment at the end of the day, and from my viewpoint, it wasn’t Grant.

Sincerely, Karie Herring

3 Replies to “My Open Letter to be Better”

  1. Karie, I think you are spot on with your assessment with, “the punishment to be suspended for a day from the bus was more of a “pass the buck” punishment. You see, the punishment was mine to bear in that I had to rearrange my personal and professional life to ensure my son arrived to school on time. So I in turn was punished for being late to work, punished for leaving early to pick up my son, and I am failing to see where Grant may have taken this punishment as his own”. I have had the same sort of thing happen with my oldest child when she was in public school where the sort of punishment that is doled out automatically is more of a punishment for us as parents because it inconveniences us and doesn’t truly teach a lesson to the child. Unfortunately, it seems to be the standard mind-set when it comes to punishments issued by school systems. Perhaps it’s easier for them? It certainly doesn’t help assist us as parents in any shape or form. 🙁

    1. Jenine, I couldn’t agree more. I am finding a draw to homeschooling when I am seeing my kids deal with annoyances for their betterment. For instance, Sara was told she had to spit out and throw away her cough drop because they assumed to be candy. Even AFTER she explained it was a cough drop. Sigh…

      1. Yup. Teachers (not as a whole, there ARE good ones out there) seem to approach dealing with their class with the lowest common denominator attitude. Assuming all kids are munching on candies and will lie to say they are otherwise would be an example. So even though Sara explained that she had a cough drop, teachers just assume otherwise. It’s a very sad situation. As you know, we homeschool. And it’s bloody tough because at the same time we teach our kids to speak out and up so our girls are constantly testing their boundaries. Plus it doesn’t leave me to a lot of my own free time. But honestly, I couldn’t even envision putting them in public school – even a great one. Our girls are pretty quirky and I don’t think they’d survive the group mentality (from both teachers and classmates), peer pressure, standard out-dated rules, etc. B is outspoken, often outraged at ‘the system’, doesn’t like it when adults play the ‘child card’ to avoid discussion or confrontation, and is super-sensitive about environmental, political, and gender issues. T is more laid-back but shuts down completely when she gets upset and can not be budged if it reaches that point. So we keep plugging along with home education.

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