Two quarters into my first year of teaching I experienced a parent phone call that I'm thankful only happened to me once. I'm still baffled by it to this day.
Let me set the stage for you. I was born and raised in northern Wisconsin and spent my adolescent years in a town of just over 2,000 people. The kind of town where it was a HUGE deal when the second set of traffic lights went in. No joke. The kind of town where if you met an old-timer from town for the first time he might say, "Oh, you're Bill's kid, eh? I traded your dad's cousin a boat motor to rebuild my deck 20 years ago!"
Yes, it was that kind of small town. Everyone kind of knew everyone. One grocery store, one hometown pharmacy, 19 bars, and not a single name-brand store to be found. The two main dinner-type of restaurants were restaurant/bars. We saw our teachers enjoying a fish fry and a Brandy Old Fashioned on Friday nights, and that's just the way it was, and that's the way I was used to things being.
The city I now live in has just about 70,000 residents, which is roughly 35 times the size of the town I grew up in. It's the same city where I went to college. The school I work at is the same school where I completed my student-teaching and have remained my entire career.
Let's get to the phone call. I was coaching 8th grade boys basketball with my old cooperating teacher, Jim, and practice ran from 4:30 - 6:00 each evening except on Wednesdays. One Tuesday after practice, Jim said to me, "Hey Matt, you want to run down to The Horseshoe for a burger? The Horshoe is a restaurant/bar like I grew up with. While we were there, a guy in his mid-40s approached Jim and said he hated to interrupt, but that the owner told him that Jim was the guy in charge of the volleyball league forming in the spring, which he was. The guy said, "I'm so sorry to bother you guys eating your dinner." Jim said, "No problem. Here's my number to call when you get a team together. By the way, my name is Jim, and this is Matt, he teaches 7th grade at the same school with me around the corner." The guy said, "Oh, is that right? You might have my son, Andy _______ in class because he's a 7th grader." I said, "I sure do. Great kid you've got there!" And that was pretty much it. Harmless, pleasant encounter with one of the first parents I had met outside of the school.
The next day as I was greeting students walking into class, I said to Andy (who was a pretty shy kid), "Hey Andy! I met your Dad yesterday after practice. What a nice guy!" Andy said, "Where'd you meet him?" I said, "Mr. M and I went to The Horseshoe after practice to grab dinner and your Dad came up and talked to us for a bit." Andy just half-smiled awkwardly and that was it. I thought, "Well, at least I sort of connected with Andy today." The rest of Wednesday went off without a hitch.
Then Thursday morning arrived. It was two minutes before the first class of the day was about to start. I was greeting students outside my classroom as always, and the kids inside were yelling for me that my classroom phone was ringing. I picked up the phone and said, "Good morning, this is Mr. K." The voice on the other end said, "Oh, yes...um...Hi, Mr. K. This is Andy's dad - we met the other night at The Horseshoe." I said, "Oh yeah, Hi! What can I help you with?" He said, trying to find the right words, "Yeah, well, you see...oh, man, this is awkward. I wasn't supposed to be at The Horseshoe on Tuesday. I feel bad asking you this, but could you please lie to Andy and tell him somehow that you were mistaken and didn't see me? I hate to ask you this, but I really need to." Idon't think I ever swallowed that hard in my life. I said, "Uh...ok. I gotta go because class is starting." He thanked me, and that was the last I ever heard from him again.
A few classes later when I was greeting Andy's class entering the room, I all of a sudden saw Andy. I didn't know what to say, but here's how it went.
"Hey, Andy. You know, it's got to be pretty exciting for you knowing you're probably going to be REALLY tall someday."
"Huh? Why would I be tall someday?"
"Well the other night when I met your Dad, geez, that's guy's got to be 6'9, right?"
Andy looked totally confused.
"My Dad's like 5'9."
[Yeah, I knew that].
"Wait, your dad isn't 6'9?? This guy had kind of a flat-top buzz cut with one of those cool handlebar mustaches. That's not your dad??"
Andy kind of chuckled.
"No. Not at all."
"Oh, man. I'm sorry...I could've sworn he said his son was Andy. It was kind of loud in there. My bad."
I hated everything about that exchange.
I don't know why Andy's dad wasn't supposed to be there, and I don't really care to know. I never saw or heard from him again.
That was a long time ago, but from that day on, if I ever saw parents in public I never said a thing to their child unless their child brought it up first, and even then, I would tread lightly.
Everybody doesn't know everybody here like we did in my hometown, and times like this one would have been better kept that way.
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies