Phone home

A few weeks ago, Jessica – who blogs over at Where There’s Joy – wrote about making a positive phone call home. Oh, I thought, I love making these. In fact, earlier this semester I called home for a young person who often struggles but who had a really wonderful Thursday. I waited until Friday afternoon & called home. On the phone, their father was quietly delighted; by the time the student made it home, their father was over the moon. The student was still happy Monday afternoon when they got to class. “What did you even say to him? Can you call home every Friday?” It was wonderful.

Today, however, I steeled myself for the not-so-positive phone call home. I should probably use a moniker that is more, well, positive, but these are the calls I make when I find myself worrying about a student. Frankly, even with the worry, I often put them off. I hem and haw and tell myself “tomorrow will be different” or “they’re probably at work.” I hesitate, face to face with systemic inequity and cultural differences: what does it mean for me, a white authority figure, to call home when the student’s racial or cultural identity is significantly different from my own? What do I need to understand before I call? What are the results that I might not anticipate? I waver.

Eventually, my inner teacher voice gets louder. “If it were my child,” I think, “I would want to know.” Then, more powerfully, “These parents know and love their child. What if we were a team?” The team thing gets me every time. As soon as I know that I am truly calling to ask the parent to help me figure out how to best support their child’s success, I am ready to pick up the phone.

Which is how I found myself on the phone this afternoon, laughing with the mother of a child who has been increasingly belligerent over the past ten days or so. She was almost relieved that I had called, she said: she knows her child struggles with some parts of school, and she knows his IEP is woefully inadequate, so she had been waiting for a phone call ever since he transitioned to high school. No one had called, and she had started to wonder if we were aware of him at all. Last night things had gone a little sideways at their house – the way things do when kids are growing and rules have to be enforced – and he had come to school frustrated. Knowing that we were both seeing the same things, that each space was feeding into the other, assuaged some of our fears. “How is he in class?” she worried. “What helps calm things down at home?” I asked. We shared ideas and observations, parenting woes and commonalities until, suddenly, we were laughing because sometimes helping teens grow can be exasperating and ridiculous, all at the same time. Somehow we recognized that this is just a moment in time, and it, too, shall pass.

Before the call ended, I reminded her – and myself – of some of the wonderful things her child does in class: he’s whip smart and always willing to speak up. He cares deeply and is making friends. Even though he has had some tough moments lately, he often comes to class early and chats with me. Recently, he mentioned one of her accomplishments. As we began to sign off, I added, “You know, he’s really proud of you. He’s told me all about [the accomplishment].” Her voice caught, “Thank you. After last night, after these last few weeks… I guess I didn’t know.” I laid out our next steps one more time, and we said goodbye.

“I’ll call again and let you know how it’s going,” I said.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she replied.

And you know what? So am I.

Remind me of that the next time I’m hesitating to call home.

6 thoughts on “Phone home

  1. Amanda, it is wonderful that you used a positive technique to make a call home. Sometimes it is difficult to find the right words to support a student. A team approach is a great perspective. You got this!

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  2. This slice is so powerful, Amanda. Every time I read one of your teaching slices, you remind me to be a better teacher/person and so often hand me a strategy to do so. All the while, you’re writing beautifully about it! Wow! I, too, dread making those “not-so-positive” phone calls. Your question, “What if we were a team?” and your determination to make that happen are clearly a core part of your teaching magic.

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  3. Team. What if it was my child? I love how you and this mom connected over the common bond, a student… because you both care. I wish all “not so positive” calls turned out like this. We’d all question calling less and call more. I’m so glad you called.

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