I remember my first parent interaction as a first year teacher in Cleveland. A large woman who was the mother of two boys at our school approached me at our school’s open house and said, “Mr. Steidl, if you’re going to be working with my boys just know that you have my permission and my blessing to put your hands on them if you feel that they need it.” I smiled and started laughing. Then I looked at her and saw that she was not at all joking…not at all what I was expecting. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot. I’ll not go into detail about the bad. I would rather share humorous stories about some of the parenting that I’ve witnessed as I’ve worked here.
The Street Vendor
I will forever remember one of my ESL students named Jimmy. His mother called him Jimmyto. For those of you who are not familiar with Spanish, adding -ito or sometimes -cito to the end of a name is a form of endearment. The official name for it is a diminutive. For English we turn the end of names into a -y to do this sometimes. Hence, Daniel becomes Danny, Madelyn can become Maddy, etc. So when she called him “Mi Jimmyto” she was saying how much she cared for her little Jimmy. Of course he was embarrassed when she did it in public but we all thought it was really nice. However, she was a strict disciplinarian at the same time. If she found Jimmy to be at fault in any way at school, she would let him know.
On one particular occasion, Jimmy had been talking back to one of his teachers all week and she finally came to me and asked me if I could speak with her after school, (she only spoke Spanish) to let her know that if his behavior continued that he would be receiving an after school detention. It was a like a miracle. The next day, Jimmy came in, sat quietly in his seat, stood in line silently, and did his work without complaint. In our small group, I inquired what spurred this change in attitude. I can still remember the look on his face when he said, “My mom said that if I don’t get it together she’s going to send me to Peru to stand on the streets and sell those little chocolate candies. She wasn’t joking Mr. Steidl. I really think she will.” I thought about telling him she wouldn’t really do that but I didn’t for two reasons. First, if he actually thought she would then I didn’t want to disrupt any leverage that she had in that. Secondly, and more importantly, I wasn’t actually sure that she wouldn’t do it and didn’t want to lie to the kid.
Them Rawlings Though
We had another student who was actually in the same class as Jimmy who was just forever getting in trouble. Disrespectful, defiant, disruptive, you name it. His mother is one of my favorite persons of all time and I actually really liked him too. Like many of our parents she was a single mother trying to work and raise a child on her own at the same time. So we tried not to bother her too much with her son’s behavior and tried to handle things in house as much as possible without involving her. However, there were times when we simply had to get her involved. One of those times was her son’s fourth grade year. He had been simply awful for about two weeks straight and we called her for a conference to brainstorm possible solutions. As we sat down and talked through it, we found that she was at her whit’s end too when it came to his behavior. In her words, “I could beat that child every day and his head is so hard it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” So we tried and tried all year to find a solution to his behavior but nothing seemed to get through to him. Then one day, she came in with a big grin on her face. “I got it. We’re good. You know how he loves his shoes right?” (It was true, the boy was always fit with the newest KDs or Kyries or LeBrons). “Well, I took a trip to Payless Shoes and bought some good old fashioned Rawlings. So, if he acts up again, you know what he’s gonna be wearing for a week?”
I have forever in my mind the look on his face one Wednesday morning after he’d had a particularly bad Tuesday as he walked in with that pair of Rawlings on his feet. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. He looked at me mournfully and looked down at his feet. I looked down at his feet and then back up at him. “She did it?” “Yep, she did it.” “All week?” “Yep. All week.” His behavior for the rest of the week was stellar. I’d like to say that things changed for the rest of the year, but unfortunately that would be false. However, for that one week….
There was one boy who we will call Dan who was actually a really great kid. He transferred to our school about halfway through the year and didn’t re-enroll for the next year so I didn’t ever really know him or his family that well. However, I remember about two incidents in which we had to call home for behavior. Both times, I remember that even I was scared at the look on his mother’s face when she came to get him. I only met her twice but will forever remember that her name was Renata. It was nearing the end of the year and I had started to plan out the summer reading program for the school. We were going to do a treasure hunt theme in which students could read books, take a test, and then move a playing piece on this game board to earn prizes. The game board was a large table decorated like an island with buried treasure. I had Dan and a few other students helping me decorate. I remember Dan’s mother was named Renata because he built the pirate ship that was in the cove of the island. He named the ship “Renata’s Revenge.” I still laugh anytime I think of that.