Last night I attended “Meet the Teachers” night at my daughter’s school. Parents and their soon-to-be sixth graders were all crowded into the little school library, smiling and chatting before settling in to listen to the two middle-school teachers — one brand new and the other a seasoned veteran— talk about the upcoming year’s expectations.

Then things took a turn for the worse. 

Here’s what happened: The older veteran teacher is a gruff red-faced fellow with a dry sense of humor. During his spiel, he made a tongue-in-cheek remark that didn’t go over well with some of the parents. One parent responded with rapid-fire questions in what my daughter calls “mad voice” and soon others began following suit and telling the teacher in no uncertain terms (and also in mad voice) that they had a big problem with him.

Though a few attempted to come to his rescue, I could see his redness deepening and I felt terrible for him, not just because of this particular mini uprising, but because of what it meant for the rest of the school year. Because of the parents’ public display of disapproval, now a handful of students already have the go-ahead from Dad or Mom to disrespect this educator.

The highly uncomfortable incident made me think about the unwanted messages I might send my kids when I get angry or emotional — I try to keep any negative feelings I have about teachers, principals and family members (and anyone else who might be an authority figure to them) to myself. If I think a teacher is wrong, I might tell him in private, but not in front of his students because I know that for my child to have the best possible experience in the class, my kid needs to understand her place in the classroom chain of command.

Many people seem to have this romantic notion about “speaking out” or “speaking my mind”. That’s great — I am all for speaking your mind (I do it often), standing up for our children and righting wrongs. But let’s THINK about the about the tone we might be setting before we start talking in a public forum —whether it’s school, a neighborhood-zoning meeting or a city budget meeting —especially when the next generation is watching. Not only could we be sending them the wrong message, but also, negative and mean-spirited comments can turn a meeting geared toward progress into a counterproductive mess.  

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