By Kit Goldman, President of Workplace Training Network, Inc.
Lynn Ross: a middle school English teacher
Ed Silva: father of one of her students
SCENE: A classroom after school. Lynn is at her desk, grading papers. Ed enters.
E: Excuse me, are you Mrs. Ross?
L: Yes, I’m Ms. Ross. May I help you?
E: I’m Ed Silva, Eric’s father.
L: (moves to him, shakes hand) Hey, Mr. Silva, nice to meet you. Your son’s a great kid!
E: Thanks. I think so. You also had my older son, Richard, a few years back.
L: Oh yes. Ricky. I remember him well. How is he doing now?
E: Yeah well, Ricky’s still trying to get his act together… but that’s a whole ‘nother… Listen, do you have a minute?
L: Sure, but a minute’s about all. (gestures to chair, they sit. Indicates papers) Mid-terms. Eric missed it. And we missed him. Hope he doesn’t have that nasty strep going around.
E: No, not strep. Actually.. uh…it’s uh…Eric’s having some pretty severe anxiety. Stomach’s upset, headaches. Took him to the doctor and apparently… it is anxiety.
L: I’m so sorry to hear that. He’s got nothing to be anxious about in my class. He’s doing beautifully. Especially his writing. Your son’s very gifted.
E: Right. Thank you. That’s great, but…uh…actually, it’s not his class work he’s worried about.
L: I see. Problems at home?
E: Nothing more than usual. No, uh, actually… Ms. Ross…and this is… hard for me to say… it has to do with you.
L: With me?
E: (with difficulty) Yeah, Eric finally opened up to me last night about the fact he’s…uh… not really comfortable with… some personal stuff that’s happening between you and him…
L: Personal stuff? You can’t be serious.
E: Excuse me, but when it comes to my son, I am dead serious. Look, Ricky flew right by your class and eventually got kicked out, so you know I went through hell with one son. I’m not letting anything happen to Eric.
L: Mr. Silva, with all due respect, I would never let anything happen to Eric either! I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
E: Eric showed me this note from you (takes out note, hands it to her)
L: (she looks at it, then reads out loud) “Hey awesome guy. Your short story was wonderful. Where did you get all those thoughts about love? Personal experience? Come by for some more one-on-one. Hugs, Ms. R.” Mr. Silva, I’m not sure what you’re objecting to. I’m his English teacher. It’s a note of encouragement about his writing, that’s all
E: Don’t you think asking a 9th grader questions about his love experience is way too personal?
L: (Incredulous) Those were rhetorical questions, Mr. Silva. I wasn’t asking for details, I was paying him a compliment. I thought Eric was mature enough to understand that. I guess I was wrong.
E: I also didn’t know until last night you had meetings alone with Eric after school and actually drove him home. It made him really uncomfortable, which I guess is why he never mentioned it to be before.
L: We were working on his writing project! I meet individually with kids all the time, especially if they’ve got a real talent like Eric. He missed his bus a few times so I drove him home. He seemed perfectly comfortable. In fact, I think he asked for the rides. If he wasn’t comfortable, he should have said something.
E: Look, you’re his teacher. He looks up to you, didn’t want to upset you. That note saying you wanted more one-on-one time with him made him not want to go to school and feel pressured.
L: Eric has a vivid imagination. That’s why he’s such a good writer. The only pressure I put on these kids is to be the best they can be.
E: Eric said sometimes on those rides home you’d talk about your social life and ask him about his. I don’t think those are things teacher and students should be talking about.
L: Oh good Lord. Mr. Silva, please. Maybe I mentioned I had a dinner date and asked Eric if he was going to the 9th grade dance! He’s been very forthcoming with me about his life in the context of his writing and seemed interested in mine. I open up to my students and that helps them open up to me. That’s a good thing, don’t you think? I always wished I could have gotten Ricky to open up so I could have helped him more. You can’t mentor kids from a distance. You have to get up close and personal with them.
E: Maybe…, but that doesn’t mean you should be getting physical with the kids.
L: (getting angry) What do you mean “getting physical”? What are you implying?
E : From what Eric says, you’re a…touchie feelie kind of person. Look, I know you probably don’t mean anything by it, but for a 14 year old kid, a teacher hugging you… or whatever… can be kind of confusing, you know what I mean? C’mon… I’m 43 years old and I’d be way uncomfortable if my boss hugged me! Plus he says you sometimes comment on how he looks, what he’s wearing, that he’s shaving already, that kind of thing and it makes the poor kid really, really… self-conscious.
L: Eric’s expressed a lot of insecurity to me. His self esteem is low. Did you know that? I want him to know what a special, wonderful young man he is. Mr. Silva, have you ever heard the saying “No good deed goes unpunished”? Frankly, that’s how I’m feeling right now. I give everything I’ve got to all my kids, including Eric, to help them reach their potential, to be successful in school and in life, to know they are important and special. I’ve never had anything but my kids best interests at heart. This feels like an inquisition. I honestly don’t know what to say.
E: (rises, agitated) How about “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m sorry Eric’s uncomfortable and I’ll stop doing whatever it is I’m doing to make him feel that way”? That’s what I expected. Let me tell you something, Ricky takes after his mom… but Eric, he, takes after me… he and I are both shy by nature, OK? It was super hard for me to psych myself up to come in here and talk to you about this, but I did it, calmly and respectfully. I’m not an ingrate, I understand you’ve done a lot of good things for Eric, so I wanted to do you the courtesy of speaking with you directly to try and solve the problem. I didn’t think you’d be so angry and defensive. Now I’m afraid you’ll take it out on Eric, make him pay for this meeting.
L: Of course I won’t do that, Mr. Silva. I appreciate you’re coming to me. It was shock. I’m sorry about my reaction. Please… let’s calm down.
E: I am too, sorry that is. And calm — but more confused than I assumed I’d be right about now. Stupid me, I thought… maybe a few words back and forth and boom, problem solved. But no!
L: We still can solve…
E: Uh Uh. NO! NO! You’ve made yourself quite clear, Mssss. Ross. You’ve given me no choice. I’m going to speak to the principal right now! (exits, under his breath) Great, just what I needed today.
L: Mr. Silva, there’s no need to get excited, we can…. Mr. Silva? (To audience) What happened here?
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