Who’s Watching the Parents? | Jason Pittman

So, I have just completed 10 years as a public school teacher in Washington, D.C. Don’t clap, actually, because I just quit.

It was a difficult decision. I hated leaving a lot of my students.I had a student when I was a very young teacher. Ryan, in the middle of my lessons, would conduct these very wild conversations between his thumbs — who spoke their own thumb language.

Like: “Mee mee mee mee mee mee meep.”

“Mee mee mee mee mee mee mee mee mee meep.”

So when Ryan’s mother signed up to be the chaperone of our class field trip to the zoo, I was unhappy.

She gets the kids. We get to the zoo. She walks 20 steps from the entrance. She sits down next to the ice cream vending machine, buys herself an ice cream, announces to the three students that I have conservatively put in her chaperoning group that “It’s too hot to walk around the zoo today,” and just eats ice cream in front of the children and won’t buy them any.

I find out about this when I was summoned by the zoo staff to the petting area of the zoo because my students from her group have decided to ride the goats.

Now, look, I love my students, so I have to justify their behavior a little bit. They’re boys. These are boys who have eaten all of the soap in the soap dispenser in my classroom. So, like, wanting to ride a totally awesome miniature horse double-unicorn pony is, like, the most well-behaved and normal thing that they’ve done this year.

Look, as a parent chaperone on a school field trip, you have one job, and that is returning to the school with the same number of UNINJURED children that you started with!

We get on the subway, the Metro in D.C. The doors close, and Mrs. Hannigan, Ryan’s mother, says to me, “Mr. Pittman. I don’t think I have all the kids in my class.”

So I said, “Mrs. Hannigan, please count to three and tell me that you have all of the students in your group.”

After she gets to two and pauses, I realize we are missing a child. And of course it’s “Thumbs.” She left her own child in the subway station on the last platform!

I pull the whole class off the subway, ride back to the other one, pick him up. We get to the end of the line at the subway, get our cars out of parking.

D.C. Metro has just instituted the SmarTrip card, and you have to pay for everything on the SmarTrip card. She’s trying to get her car out of the parking lot. She says, “Mr. Pittman, I don’t have a SmarTrip card. I can’t get my car out —”

I said, “No problem, Mrs. Hannigan. I’m going to give you mine. You can get your car out with that.”

“But Mr. Pittman, I don’t have a SmarTrip card.”

OK, thank you for restating the problem for me. Now I understand much better. So how about this solution: I’ll give you MINE, and then you can GET OUT.

She said, “But, Mr. Pittman, it said I need a SmarTrip card. I don’t have —”

DOES EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY ONLY SPEAK THUMBS?

Meep f—ink meep. I’ll meeping give you mine and then you’ll have–

F— it. Forget it. I bought her a SmarTrip card. I give it to her. Get out.

Mrs. Martinez, who understandably actually does not speak English, sees this transaction and comes over and asks for her SmarTrip card to get her car out. And I figure I can’t do this conversation in English. Fine. Another $10. Here’s your SmarTrip card to get out.

Mrs. Martinez is a responsible chaperone, so she gets $10 out of her wallet to repay me for the SmarTrip card — unfortunately hands it to Mrs. Hannigan, asks her to hand it back to me, and of course Mrs. Hannigan POCKETS THE MONEY.

Mrs. Hannigan, however, is not the criminal element of this story — is NOT the worst chaperone of this story — because the worst parent chaperone this day GOT ARRESTED.

Mr. Jeffers shows up at the last minute asking to be a parent chaperone. I’m not sure we’re gonna let dad-who-just-got-out-of-jail be the chaperone for a group of kids, but I tell him sure, have a little father-son day with your kid. Decided it’ll be super entertaining to encourage the monkeys to throw their poo at each other. Causes such a ruckus that he is escorted out by the zoo security. Turns out he has outstanding warrants and is arrested.

His son has to walk — by himself — 10 miles from the police station home that night.

It was situations and students like that that kept me in teaching and wanting to be a better teacher for kids like that. It was the adults and the parents and the administrators and the legislators that drove me out.


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Jason Pittman has won several national teaching awards and recognitions, including the National Science Teacher’s Association’s Early Science Teacher of the Year Award, by breaking the mold for the traditional educator and the traditional classroom. He has served for three years of oceanic exploration with Dr. Robert Ballard, finder of Titanic, as Educator-at-Sea, and created curricula with National Geographic’s experience based learning JASON project (no relation). His Washington DC area students have planted gardens with Michelle Obama and created award winning apps for smartphones.

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