Of the hundreds of students to come through my classroom, I can count on one hand the number of parents who showed up at the school for a conference. Even more rare were the ones who appeared for a surprise visit.
Last year I became acquainted with Annie’s mother. Annie was (and still is) possibly the most independent, strong-willed student I have ever had. In her eighth grade year she was prone to outbursts, but not like your typical teenager. Annie would get mad when her peers were talking during class, or when her group members weren’t carrying their load. This led to some interesting situations, and one day I found myself on the receiving end of one of her fits of rage.
Annie was very particular about the setting in which she could complete her work. One day during exam review, she asked to move her chair into the doorway so that she could concentrate. I said that was fine, so she moved. Several minutes later, I glanced at the door and Annie was gone. I rushed into the hallway to find her standing by the wall with her paper pressed against the concrete, filling in answers.
“What are you doing out here?”
“They are TOO loud, I had to come out here.”
“Then you need to ask first.”
This is when things fell apart. It was a tricky situation. Someone more prone to discipline and consequences would certainly berate Annie for not following protocol and asking to leave the classroom. But I have also never been accused of being prone to discipline, and part of me was impressed with her determination to complete her assignment. Because I chose to focus on what she did wrong instead of what she was doing right, she became angry and I ended up sending her out of the class altogether.
After class I called her mom. Yet another single mother, I was reluctant to call because I knew she worked the third shift at her job and she would have just come home, or just gone to sleep.
I explained the situation and I could tell she was annoyed, but not necessarily at me.
“Thank you for calling, but I don’t want you to tell Annie that we spoke.” She had a plan.
Several hours later the security officer told me there was a parent in the cafeteria who wanted to speak to me. I knew what was happening.
We all sat at the table – me, Annie, and her mother. The mother made it seem like she had just decided to stop by, and when Annie told her what happened she asked to speak with me. As we sat there together, I found out the real reason for Annie’s outburst.
“You embarrassed me in front of my friends.”
I considered for a moment what to say. “I’m sorry for the way I handled the situation. Do you understand why I felt like I had to say something?”
She acknowledged that her actions could have been better, and we shook hands. Then her mother addressed her.
“You see, that’s a real woman. A real woman knows how to apologize and forgive.”
No matter where I go, what I do, or what I become, that will be one of the best compliments I ever receive. A single mother who works third shift, calling me a real woman.