Diapers and Dragons

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Loco Parentis

Which means, in the Latin (oooh, look, she’s using a dead language! She must be Smart!) “in the place of the parent” (more or less). And this is what I am, each work day, in my classroom. Now, this has legal ramifications (“Bobby, you can’t just go MIA from class because if something happens to you and I didn’t know where you were and your parents are heartless a-holes then I can get in very very big trouble and spend the rest of my life paying for the crime of losing track of your 16-year-old butt!”) that we are very aware of as teachers, but there are also the social ones.

You see, many of my students have wonderful parents, for whom I am grateful, but there are those who do not. In fact, there are those who have parents who, if you ever meet them, make you want to grab their child and hide him/her under your jacket. Some of them are the ubiquitous Helicopter Parents who seem determined to give someone an ulcer—either their child or the teacher or both, depending on the parents. Some of the others are just Horrible Parents.

It’s all too easy to judge parenting, and as a rule I try not to do it too harshly. God only knows what things I am doing to my sons that will scar them for life, and certainly I subscribe to the school of belief that individual children require individual parenting approaches. In other words, Do What Works.

But there needs to be parenting that is done with the goal of raising well-adjusted, fairly-well-functioning members of society who will—to the greatest extent of your limited control—hold jobs, live happy lives, and not kill people. And if you can work your hardest at helping your child succeed in school (without being a Helicopter Parent—that’s no good either), that is Good Parenting. And if you actually care about your child in some way, show him or her love, and are involved in his or her life, that is also Good Parenting.

But I have seen the Bad Parenting. I have had the student who has to work in order to feed herself because her parent thinks that a sixteen-year-old is old enough to pay for basic necessities. I have had the student who walks five miles to school (not uphill both ways, but…) because his mother has left him in the care of his stoner brother who sold household items to pay for his drugs, and she is off for months with her boyfriend, secretly hoping her younger son will give up and move in with his father in another state. I have had the student who has wonderful grades and works really hard and wants to be a doctor or lawyer or something like that, and who will not be attending college because her parents don’t believe girls should get higher education. I have had the student who covers his arms with long sleeves year round because his bipolar mother tries to hurt him when she’s in a rage and his father beats him if he resists her because he is not “honoring his mother.” I have had the student whose parents loudly objected a zero for cheating on a test because he had shown “creativity” in figuring out a way to cheat (I wonder if they’ll protest to the judge that he showed creativity in bilking clients out of millions? Hmm…Enron, anyone?).

I cover information that some students simply do not get from their parents. I teach students about morality (“Cheating is bad”), philosophy (“Is there Truth that does not require us to know, understand, or believe in it to nevertheless be True?”), politics (“Checking a box to vote for one party regardless of the individual candidate is NOT informed voting”), sexuality (“Yes, there are emotional consequences as well as physical ones for engaging in sex, even for boys, regardless of what society says”), and social mores (“Even if you don’t agree with a person’s identity, ideas, or lifestyle, you need to treat him or her with respect”). And somewhere in there I get in a comma rule or two, and read some literature, and have them write papers.

So I have been in loco parentis in ways I never dreamed when I took this job. I have been teacher, counselor, mother, sister, friend. I constantly walk that precarious line, trying to keep balance between professionalism and the personal. And I hope and pray and watch carefully to make sure that the special people at my sons’ daycare are trying to be as excellently in loco parentis as I try to be.

(My apologies. This started out with some attempt at humor and quickly went serious. Such is the subject matter, I suppose. Today I had a student who spoke to me about an issue with her parents. It made me sad.)

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