Giving Our Kids' Teachers Some Slack

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Recently, I was at a program at my 4th-grade son's school. The students were on stage, performing a song for the parents. There was a child in the front row of the students, hamming it up to a degree that was distracting, at best; disrespectful, at worst.

This child played and made faces and looked around everywhere (except at the teacher, who was clearly trying to maintain some control). As it turned out, I was sitting behind this student's mom.  She thought the whole thing was hilarious.

When the child made a funny face, the mom made the face back. When the child purposely stepped out of line, the mom threw her head back and laughed. I sat there in amazement and frustration, watching this little drama play out. I felt angry on behalf of this student who was being embarrassed without even knowing it. I felt sick for the teacher who was trying to hold it all together, after working on the program for so long.

I suppose that's an extreme example of a parent overtly undermining the authority of a teacher. But it's been on my mind a lot lately, especially last week when I read the news story about the Ohio kindergartener who was suspended for wearing a Mohawk hairstyle.

Mohawks violate the school's policy on being properly groomed, school Principal Linda Geyer said. Also, the school district's dress code allows school officials to forbid anything that interferes with the conduct of education. (MSNBC)

The school called the hairstyle "a distraction for other students."  It was the boy's third dress-code infraction this school year. His mother, Michelle Barille, opposed the decision and planned to enroll him in another school.

I was very curious to find out what the blogosphere had to say about this story. Most of the stories I was able to find supported the boy and his mother.

"The problem wasn't that his classmates didn't like it. The problem was with school administrators, who suspended the kindergarten student because of it," wrote Sandy Maple at ParentDish.

Kelly Mills at Stroller Derby wrote, "In a day and age when many schools are instituting programs to combat children teasing other children about their appearance, one school has decided to put the bullies out of a job by doing their work for them."

As a mom, this baffles me. I have three boys, all of whom think it's great fun to use my styling products to do wacky things to their hair. They come out of my bathroom looking like a bad 80's movie. They dash over to the neighbor kid's house, to show off their funky styles. They wear those styles around the house, cutting up and laughing and pointing at themselves in the mirror.

But when it's time for school, I make them wash it out. It's not because I think a Mohawk is a moral issue--it's not. Nor do I look for ways to stifle my kids' expression--I don't. It's just that our school district has a similar policy, and I respect the wishes of the people in the trenches with my kids every day.  Plus I just get it, having three spirited boys of my own.  Distractions are easy to come by. When teachers are teaching, doing everything in their power to help our kids focus and direct their learning, it makes good sense to eliminate unnecessary distraction. 

Is a six-year-old with a mohawk going to turn a classroom into a frenzied circus? Probably not. But I think it's very fair to give our schools some lee-way to maintain an environment that is as conducive to learning as possible.  Considering how hard our teachers and administrators work, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If they want to err on the side of order, I can't say that I blame them.

One of the things that baffles me the most about this story is this boy's mom's reaction. Anne Marie Dorning at Massachussets Mom expressed it this way:

This mom had me all the way, right up until this: "Rather than request a hearing to appeal the suspension, Barile said she'll enroll him at another school. Changing the hairstyle is not an option, she said.  "It's something that he really likes."

So let me get this straight: Mom is going to pick the hairstyle over the good school; because her 6-year-old likes his hair in a Mohawk (and let's face it 6 months from now he probably won't) she's going to pull him from a good charter school. That's the kind of smart thinking and well reasoned outcome that should have little Bryan Ruda flipping burgers while he tries to pass his GED for the 2nd time 10 years from now."

I hope Bryan Ruda isn't flipping burgers and trying to pass his GED in ten years. I hope the very best for that little boy, and I hope his mom is able to work with his teachers in a way that benefits his education.

There are plenty of excellent teachers out there, and they're working very hard to shape the minds of our kids. I think they deserve as much back-up as we parents can give them.

Shannon Lowe is a contributing editor for BlogHer (Mommy/Family). She also writes at www.rocksinmydryer.net .

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