we are penn state

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 10 2009


I need some help in dealing with N.’s mother. N. (as I have mentioned many times before) is incredibly bright and well spoken. He NEEDS to be challenged. I’ve encouraged him to sign up for the AP classes our school offers this summer (he’ll be going into 11th grade). In order to do this, he needs 2 letters of recommendation and a parent signature. The same day I told him this, he brought me THREE glowing letters of recommendation. I told him all he had to do was get the parent signature, and we would be all set.

He took the paper home.

He told his mom he wants to go to college and this will save him a lot of money in the long run (which is exactly what I told him to explain to her).

He showed her the letters of recommendation from his teachers.
He told her the class only ran through July, and he would need to be at the school from 8:30-12 each day.

You would think most parents would hug their child, tell them they were proud, SOMETHING. Here’s what the mother said:

“I’m not signing this. I don’t know why you’re bothering with this college stuff, because it’s not like you’re going to graduate from high school anyway.”

What do I do????????????

6 Responses

  1. A. Teacher

    Talk to your principal or whoever coordinates the summer program. It may not actually be necessary for parent permission but more to try and make sure students are really motivated by jumping through some hoops.

  2. Why would N’s mother say something like that??

    Perhaps my intonation and emphasis weren’t quite right. Let me try it again: “Why would N’s mother say something like that?” This is not a rhetoric question. Trying to win this parent to your side is not very different from trying to win the respect of an arrogant and testy student. Let’s find out what N’s mother is really thinking but isn’t saying.

    Maybe there haven’t been many teachers to tell her the positive academic attributes about her son. Maybe N has had a series of disappointing records, so the mom is reluctant to believe that N will amount to something. Maybe N’s mother hasn’t communicated with N like you have done with him, so she doesn’t understand (or hasn’t thought about) what N ultimately wants for himself… We can come up with many reasons and excuses, but it may be the ones that we don’t think of that matter most to N and to his mother.

    Could you convince the counselor or the principal talk to N’s mother? Maybe she just needs a good picture of what N’s chances are for graduating and doing well enough to go to college.

    Is there any other N’s teacher who has a better experience talking to N’s mother? Ask if that teacher wouldn’t mind making a phone call to plead for N’s AP class case.

    And I want to ask N’s mother, “If your son isn’t taking AP classes, what would you have him do?” I don’t intend to be confrontational, but the answer to that question may reveal something about the mother’s thinking or needs that can be used to win her over to your side.

  3. wearepennstate

    In response to Gene:

    I have had to call social services on N.’s mother in the past. She has beaten him repeatedly. She refuses to get a job. N. survives on food stamps and is often grounded for months at a time, because if he’s grounded, the mother does not have to watch N.’s little brother. There are currently 4 people living in their 1 bedroom apartment. She has told him he does not deserve to have a job, or participate in extra curriculars, or take extra classes.

    I have called N.’s mother many times to tell her what a wonderful student he is. So have many counselors and teachers at the school. I have seen N. in tears because no matter what he does, he cannot win his mother’s pride. It breaks him as a person. N.’s mother has my cell phone number and has called me often regarding N. I have never heard her say anything positive about him, even when I rave about his successes. Often, however, her phone is shut off, because she does not pay her bill (this is the case with the cable at the house also, from what I understand).

    N. has told me in the past he wishes his mother would just beat him so horribly that a judge has no choice but to put him in foster care. He believes he will be more successful on his own than in her home.

    Rather than take AP classes, N.’s mother wants him to sit at home, take care of her (run errands, go to the grocery store, get her welfare checks cashed, etc.). It seems to me that she does not want him to move on with his life, because then she will be responsible for her children and her house.

    I’m doing my best to help him. I wish this were as simple as winning her over to my side, but the woman needs professional help. I’m just trying to help N. navigate his way around her to make it to college.

  4. I see. There is a sad loophole in our law. If an abused or neglected child is in imminent danger, the law enforcement may intervene. Otherwise we have no choice but watch helplessly — or do we?

    21 states defined “failure to educate” as an act of child neglect. Pennsylvania doesn’t currently have this definition of neglect, to my knowledge. I can only hope N.’s mother doesn’t know that — I know, it’s unethical to fabricate the law, but I am sure we can find ways to wash our hands clean of suspicions of unethical behaviors…

    There are also non-abusive ways to relieve the mother of the custody of N. See Juvenile Law Center – PA Judicial Deskbook, 4th ed.: “Adjudication as a result of truancy can lead to loss of parental custody of children.” But truancy is obviously counter-productive, so pretend I never mentioned it.

    This seems a good time to start a letter writing campaign to persuade your state legislators to add “failure to educate” to the definition of child neglect. It may not help N., but I hope it will help other students like N.

    (What on earth could N.’s mother need the kid at home 24/7 for? She can’t possibly send N. on errands or babysit all day while she is nowhere to be found, eh?)

  5. Wait! I have another idea. This is a strategy I employed to train my dog (not that I am implying any similarity between my dog and… er… ). Can’t guarantee this strategy will work, but it’s worth suggesting to you. Email me, so I can tell you more about it. I don’t think the ensuing discussion will be suitable for the broader audience here…

  6. Monica

    After reading through this, I agree with the first comment. Requiring a parental signature assumes that the parent has the student’s best interests at heart, and that is clearly not the case. I think circumventing the parent is your best bet. Surely there is an authority in your school that can grant permission instead, given the circumstances. (Although I suppose that is not necessarily the case — my sister is working for LAUSD through TFA and her administration is as dysfunctional as the family in question here. I hope your school is managed better.) I wish you and this young man the best of luck in resolving the situation. I’m sure he has enough obstacles in life without his own mother standing in his way! (If it’s really that bad, can he be legally emancipated?)

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