289. Groups

The first time I heard a teacher refer to the parents of children in her class as “my parents,” it was confusing. But I haven’t yet been able to come up with another quick phrase a teacher can use to describe that group of adults. Like all groups, it’s composed of individuals, and most generalizations won’t apply to all the individuals.
Nevertheless, a teacher’s “parents” can become a group with a character of its own. In part, that character may exist only in the teacher’s mind. Maybe there are a few parents who say a lot, and the teacher hears them as representatives of the whole group. They may be supportive, critical, or apathetic. In the teacher’s mind, those few parents are almost everyone, and no matter how many exceptions there are to the pattern set by this inner core, they’re only exceptions.
But maybe it’s not just a matter of perception. One year, I had a class in which children seemed to have formed two very distinct social groups. The few children who didn’t belong to either group suffered, as did children who tried to make friends outside their own group. I tried to use my own repertoire of strategies to correct the problem, but I had little success. So in January, I asked parents to come to school after hours to discuss the problem. We had a great discussion, and it felt as if we were united in our attempt to solve the problem. But after the meeting, parents kept discussing the problem in the hall outside the classroom. In two distinct groups. The same ones.
There are good reasons for these groups. Parenting can be a very lonely activity, and it’s good when parents can get together and bounce ideas off each other. They usually don’t start these groups to complain about the teacher, the
administration, or other parents. But when an individual does have a complaint, it’s nice to have other people to complain with. It feels less like your own personal problem if you have comrades voicing similar concerns. And even if you weren’t concerned before, you can get caught up in the concern the group seems to feel. And you can always think of a few personal examples that apply.
As a volunteer, I’m friends with teachers, parents, administrators, and children. Occasionally, one of the above complains to me about another of the above, hoping that I’ll lend a sympathetic ear. What I sometimes hear is one person I admire complaining about another person I admire. I listen, but I try not to get caught up in the complaint; I’m sometimes more aware of the other side than the plaintiff is. And it helps to hear the other side. I hope those of you who are in one of these categories can clearly hear people who are in another one. It may not change your mind. But it may make communication a little easier.

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