A High-Stakes Game Of Telephone

Sep 10, 2020

As the father of a fourth grader and a sixth grader, I have learned to take the reports my children offer about school with a grain of salt. Occasionally, my children lie. At other times, they embellish and exaggerate. They do a slapdash job paraphrasing the words of others. They add details and nuances they wish were true. Their summaries often leave out significant facts. They have a tendency to interpret the words and actions of others in wildly implausible ways— and, to be honest, my children are no different from most children (and most children are not all that different from adults), which means I am often tempted to do the same thing with my children’s words.

Over the last ten years, my appreciation has grown for parents who come to me directly with their concerns. I like being asked, “Did you say thus-and-such?” and then being given the time to explain what happened in class, if anything. I admire parents with enough self-awareness to recognize when they are being tempted into a game of telephone wherein a small comment made in class is becoming blown out of proportion and taken out of context. I also admire parents who are not too busy to become concerned, because teachers do sometimes say outrageous things in the classroom that they need to be called out on.

Wise parents develop the knack of seeing what is probably going on beneath breathless reports of what so-and-so said in class (or on the playground), follow up on some of these claims and leave the rest alone. Likewise, an experienced teacher can run everything he says through a couple rounds of telephone and figure out how his words will sound if they come out as the subject of a formal complaint. I should be clear, though, that most parents have this knack; however, teachers are often tempted to speak as though the small minority of parents who don’t have the knack to color their impression of all parents, which is both unjust and counterproductive. At the same time, one can learn a lot about being a good teacher by observing an incompetent teacher and one can learn a lot about good parenting by mulling over baffling parenting fails.      

As a caution to teachers and parents (and administrators) alike, I offer the following rounds of telephone which are sometimes autobiographical, sometimes drawn from real life, and sometimes embellished and exaggerated to make a point:

 

1. What the teacher says to the class: “It will be hard for you to get an A in this class.”

What the student says to his parents: “On principle, Mr. Gibbs just never gives A’s.”

What the parent says to the admin: “The only thing standing between my fourteen-year-old son and his ironclad full-ride scholarship to Yale is Mr. Gibbs’ idealism.”

 

2. What the teacher says to the class: “Due in two weeks.”

What the student says to his parents: “Less than three days to write the paper.”

What the parent says to the admin: “Up until two in the morning just trying to finish his homework.”

 

3. What the teacher says to the class: “Martin Luther argued for the perpetual virginity of Mary.”

What the student says to his parents: “Mr. Gibbs said Lutherans are dumb.”

What the parent says to the admin: “Mr. Gibbs is trying to convince our children to become Catholic.”

 

4. What the teacher says to the class: “I need everyone in the back row to stay after class.”

What the student says to his parents: “I wasn’t even doing anything.”

What the parent says to the admin: “In 2020, group punishment is just completely tonedeaf.”

 

5. What the teacher says to the class: “If you are disruptive in class, I will send you out to the hall.”

What the student says to his parents: “I wasn’t even doing anything.”

What the parent says to the admin: “What happened to showing grace?”

 

6. What the teacher says to the class: “There is no way that dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima could be justified within the Medieval worldview, at least not so far as the Medieval worldview is presented in The Song of Roland.

What the student says to his parents: “Mr. Gibbs doesn’t always sound like a Republican.”

What the parents say to the admin: “I don’t want to name any names, but this school needs to be careful not to hire any more Marxists.”

 

7. What the teacher says to the class: “Virtue is rare. It is hard to be virtuous. However, there is no way to be happy apart from virtue.”

What the student says to his parents: “He basically said that if we cheat on a test, we’re going to end up in hell.”

What the parent says to the admin: “Mr. Gibbs is teaching works righteousness.”

 

8. What the teacher says to the class: “If you didn’t do all the reading, you get a zero on the reading quiz.”

What the student says to his parents: “I did some of the reading.”

What the parent says to the admin: “Perfectionism just creates a really toxic school culture.”

 

9. What the teacher says to the class: “I don’t take Andy Warhol seriously.”

What the student says to his parent: “Didn’t you tell me you liked Andy Warhol’s artwork?”

What the parent says to the admin: “What happened to in loco parentis?”

 

10. What the teacher says to the class: “Tommy, can you write more neatly pleased?”

What the student says to his parents: “I was so embarrassed.”

What the parent says to the admin: “Publicly humiliated for something he has absolutely no control over.”

 

11. What the teacher says to the class: “The paper needs to be at least one thousand words long.”

What the student says to his parents: “He never said the paper absolutely had to be one thousand words long.”

What the parent says to the admin: “I think this seven-hundred-word paper warrants at least a C.”

 

 12. What the teacher says to the class: “Rusty, did you really think I wouldn’t notice you’re playing video games on your laptop during class?”

What the student says to his parent: “I wasn’t even doing anything.”

What the parent says to the admin: “He wasn’t even doing anything.”

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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