Based on true stories heard from teachers
Mrs. Schwartz was next on line. As soon as Mrs. Gendel
exited the classroom, Mrs. Schwartz rose from her chair in
the hall and walked towards the door, aware of the admiring
glances that followed her. Dressed in a tailored suit with
matching jewelry, she looked every inch the executive mom
"Good evening Mrs. Friedman. I'm Naomi Schwartz's mother.
She's a real little darling, isn't she?" stated Mrs.
Schwartz in a voice that implied: Don't dare contradict
"Oh, yes, Mrs. Schwartz. It is a real pleasure to have Naomi
in our kindergarten. She is very well behaved and enjoys
listening to stories. It is a pleasure to meet such an
optimistic mother. Do you have any questions?" The teacher
was relieved. She felt she came across as a good teacher to
a good child. After all, whenever a child has problems, it's
the teacher who gets blamed. And Mrs. Friedman had the long
standing reputation of teacher who ALWAYS had the best
children in her class. NEVER did she have any problematic
children in her kindergarten. Problems just didn't exist
"No, thank you. I have no questions. We appreciate the fact
that you made room for Naomi in your class even though we
were late with registration. Also, that afternoon program
you initiated is a wonderful idea. Naomi so loves coming
home with those beautiful arts and crafts projects." Mrs.
Schwartz answered warmly, blissfully aware that it was she
who enjoyed the afternoon arrangement.
Naomi would have preferred coming home earlier and spending
time with her almost invisible mother who pecked her cheeks
with a slight kiss just as she was about to drift into
dreamland. Mrs. Schwartz worked very hard at the office,
getting home only at seven in the evening. Naomi was
supposed to be sleeping by then, only her obstinate
determination to be up for the kiss kept her eyelids from
"It's a pleasure to meet a teacher who can appreciate our
daughter for the wonderful girl she is," ended Mrs. Schwartz
in her best PR manner.
After Mrs. Schwartz left the room, Mrs. Weiss entered. Mrs.
Friedman groaned inwardly. This was not another optimistic
mother who was easy to deal with. She looked like the type
who asked a lot of questions and had her own comments.
"Good evening, I'm Mrs. Weiss, Miri's mother," she said with
a winning smile and settled herself down at a little table,
waiting to hear everything the teacher had to say about her
"Miri is a very charming girl who helps her friends and
listens to her teacher," Mrs. Friedman said. Opposed to
other mothers who thanked her and thanked Hashem for their
good luck at having such a wonderful daughter and
disappearing before the teacher changed her mind, Mrs. Weiss
started shooting questions, all in one breath. "How well
does my daughter count? Is she up to par? How does she sing?
Are the words as clear as should be expected for children
her age? At home, I can't make out the lyrics and I wanted
to know if this was normal or should I take her to speech
therapy?" Why is she looking for problems? Why is she
asking so many questions? thought Mrs. Friedman and held
up her hand to stop the flow. "Now, now, Mrs. Weiss. A
person who has a slight headache doesn't run to a
neurologist. First you wait to see if it goes away with
time, and if not, you try over-the-counter medicines. Why
make a mountain out of a molehill? Don't worry about Miri.
She's sure to outgrow this and before you know it, she'll be
giving lectures." Mrs. Weiss looked skeptical but had to
admit that this teacher had a lot more experience with
children. She was an expert, whereas Mrs. Weiss was only a
When the months rolled by and Miri wasn't giving any
lectures or speaking any more clearly, Mrs. Weiss retracted
some of her trust in the teacher's infallibility and
scheduled an evaluation for Miri through her sick fund. She
was disappointed to learn that the closest available
appointment was a few months away. Precious time was being
lost because she had not followed her own intuition
concerning her daughter. "Oh well, better late than never,
that's for sure," she consoled herself.
The next year, when the children were already a few months
into the school year, another PTA meeting was scheduled. As
fate would have it, Mrs. Schwartz was again on line right
ahead of Mrs. Weiss. Mrs. Schwartz, the experienced
nachas-collector, walked into the classroom full of
confidence, ready to hear only compliments from the
"Good evening, Mrs. Green. I'm Naomi Schwartz's mother.
She's the cutest darling in your class, isn't she?" she
suggested in a voice that indicated, "I've made up my mind
about that so don't go confusing me with the facts." And
with that, she promptly sat herself down, waiting to hear
reinforcements to her assumptions. They were not long in
"Yes, she really is a darling. She's always dressed so well,
always keeps herself so neat and clean, a sure sign that she
has a caring mother. It's a pleasure to look at her." That
was more than enough reward for the money Mrs. Schwartz
spent on Naomi's designer clothing. With a gracious `thank
you' and a beaming smile, she swept out of the room.
"Ah, one minute, Mrs. Schwartz. About the reading..." But
Mrs. Schwartz was already walking smartly down the hall, her
motherly duty behind her.
In walked Mrs. Weiss. "Good evening. I am Miri's mother. She
so enjoys coming to school each day."
"You have a lovely daughter, Mrs. Weiss. She is so well
behaved and gives so willingly to others," said Mrs. Green.
She expected Mrs. Weiss to thank her and head for the door.
When that didn't happen, she looked up and saw the mother
pull out a list from her handbag. "I have a few questions
about Miri's reading. I noticed when you sent the new
letters to be reviewed at the end of the week that Miri is
not so familiar with them. Are the children in Pre-1 A
supposed to recognize them or do they learn it again more
thoroughly in first grade?" Mrs. Weiss was taken aback. A
new teacher, she had heard stories circulating in the
teachers' room. The mother who had just left the room fit
the general profile of mothers who preferred to hear only
compliments and did not want to acknowledge any shortcomings
or problems in their children. Here was a mother who was
actually interested in knowing the details of her daughter's
progress. Many of Mrs. Green's colleagues would have beat
around the bush rather than let on that they weren't
successful in teaching a basic skill to some of the students
for fear that it reflected back on them.
Mrs. Green decided to be honest with Mrs. Weiss. "I noticed
that Miri had some difficulties with the letters a while
ago," she admitted. "You did? Why didn't you call me? Or at
least send a note home." Mrs. Weiss was thoroughly annoyed.
Problems aren't corrected if they are not confronted. She
tried to keep accusation out of her voice but it was hard
not to feel it. "How is a mother supposed to know if no one
tells her anything?"
"It's true that your daughter is among the few children who
don't know all the letters. I thought I could tutor her
myself together with the others who are behind. But I see
that I'm just not getting around to it. I do have a few
suggestions which can help Miri. First of all is to review,
at least for twenty minutes a day. Next is something which
has been successful with many children: employing the sense
of touch. Many children integrate better this way. You can
cut out shapes from cardboard, sandpaper, or glue material
letters onto a large board or small cardboard squares. You
can also make play-dough letters. All these ideas, and
others you might add yourself, can make her aware of their
"Thank you so much, Mrs. Green. I truly appreciate your
suggestions. I think it would be a good idea to let the
other mothers of poor readers know, too, so they can give
their children the necessary push to keep up with the pace
of the class. It is so much easier now when they are young,
their minds are impressionable and the gap is not so wide. A
pity they should grow older and be too ashamed of their
difficulty in reading to do something about it," she said
urgently. The image of a lovely high school student she knew
flashed through her mind. Already in one of the higher
grades, she still could not read. She was sent for tutorial
help but by then the girl had lost all interest, even hope,
in ever knowing how to read.
Miri was helped and in a short while, she had caught up to
the level of most of her classmates. Sadly, it was not the
same for Naomi. In the first grade, the teacher called up
Mrs. Schwartz and informed her that she would have to make
sure that somebody taught the letters to her daughter since
the entire class was already reading five letter words and
she was mixing them up all the time.
"I'm sorry about that," said Mrs. Schwartz, "but that is
exactly the reason why I send her to school. I pay enough
tuition not to have to worry about her reading. Really, it's
the teacher's job, don't you think? And I expect the teacher
to do a good job!" With that, she felt she had done her
biological duty of caring for her daughter.
When the third grade teacher called up to say that Naomi was
having great difficulty reading even easy words, which she
should certainly have recognized by now, Mrs. Schwartz had a
great idea. "You know what? Promise Naomi a very expensive
prize, a very enticing incentive, and I am sure she'll
buckle down to her reading and general school work. Don't
worry about the expense; you'll be fully reimbursed."
"Alright," agreed the teacher, somewhat dubiously. "I'm
willing to try." Mrs. Weiser, a very conscientious teacher,
was also the mother of five small children who needed all of
her attention in the afternoons. Nevertheless, she felt
responsible for the progress of this weak student and went
to the bother of finding a babysitter so that she could go
looking for a suitable prize for Naomi, a student who had
been problematic from the very first day. Mrs. Weiser had
tried a long list of available methods for helping slow
students, but was not reaping any success. It was because
she cared for the child that she had finally gotten up the
courage to call her mother, who had the reputation of being
a difficult woman.
She found a gift that would surely appeal to Naomi. Pricey,
but worth it, especially if the mother was footing the bill.
She then had a private talk with the child: Naomi was to
take her studies seriously and would receive the prize. The
input was worth the attention she got. A few weeks went by
and Naomi got her prize. She took it home to show her
"Hmmm. Very nice," mumbled Mrs. Schwartz over the edge of
the newspaper she was reading.
After that, Naomi lost interest in her schoolwork. She was
not getting any outside help and it was downhill again; no
lasting improvement with her reading to show for it. Mrs.
Schwartz never bothered finding out how much she owed the
teacher, and Mrs. Weiser was too refined to remind her.
The fourth and fifth grade teachers did not have the courage
to call Naomi's mother. Each of them had past experiences
with trying to get across to parents who were just not
interested in hearing anything negative about their
children. The fifth grade teacher still shuddered to recall
the day, ten years ago, when she came home from school after
handing out report cards to her students. She was a new
teacher and had tried to be very honest with the grades. She
felt it was only proper that the marks on the reports cards
reflect the girls' progress throughout the term.
After an exhausting day at school, she was preparing dinner
for her husband who would be returning home after
kollel. The knock on the door was not her husband,
but an angry mother.
"Mrs. Genuth, my husband is the biggest talmid
chochom in his kollel, and he said that either you
change the marks on the report card, or else you take full
responsibility in this world and the next for having ruined
our child's life forever." What a tangle. First she had
tried to explain to the mother that if the child was not
going to shape up and start learning, her life would end up
a failure, no matter what grades she got on this particular
report card, which was only a piece of paper. It was no
Mrs. Genuth taught a decade of fifth graders since, but she
never again marked a report card with the real grades
reflecting the (lack of) poorer students' progress. Rather,
the marks were a mix of past endeavors combined with wishful
thinking for the future. She did not want to risk having
aspersions cast on her teaching abilities.
The sixth grade teacher decided to try an emotional
approach. "Mrs. Schwartz, Naomi doesn't have self
confidence. I noticed that she does not participate in class
discussions, neither during the lesson with the teacher, or
even just between the girls. It seems to me that all this
stems from her feeling bad about her scholastic failures. It
would be wise to do something about it now, before it is too
late. With some remedial help, she can catch up to the class
and upgrade her self image."
"Nonsense. Naomi talks so much at home that I don't even
listen to all she says. She is sweet and intelligent." She
proceeded to contradict herself, "She seems so quiet because
she is very refined. I think you should look into different
teaching methods. It is up to the school to cultivate a
student's public speaking abilities, not the home." With
that, Mrs. Schwartz was sure that she had put the teacher in
place once and for all. There was absolutely nothing wrong
with her Naomi. These teachers nowadays just don't know how
to teach properly and they blame it on the homes.
Eighth grade rolled along and all the girls were nervously
submitting applications to different high schools. But while
most of them were getting letters of acceptance in their
mailboxes, and discussing which school was really the best,
Naomi did not receive any reply at all.
Mrs. Schwartz rolled up her sleeves and got down to
business. "Hello, this is Mrs. Schwartz from Schwartz
Contractors. I don't know if you remember, but we built the
new wing of your school building and donated the desks in
four classrooms. We have a daughter in eighth grade and
would like to send her to your high school, which has an
"Yes, of course we remember. Please have her send in an
application as soon as possible. It should have been in by
the end of last week which was the deadline, but we'll make
an exception in your..."
"But we already sent in our application and have not
received any confirmation."
"I'm sorry about that. There may have been a mix-up. All
replies have been sent to the principal of your daughter's
school. Check with them."
Mrs. Schwartz called up the school and asked them to look
into the matter. The secretary called back several moments
later. "I'm sorry to inform you that there has been no
mistake. Naomi was not accepted into any of the schools to
which she applied."
"What? How could they refuse us? She's such a good girl. She
never hurt a fly. She was never thrown out of class. She
never misbehaved. She never misses a day. Besides, our
family has donated so much money to the school that you
should have made sure she got accepted." Mrs. Schwartz was
semi- hysterical. She insisted on being connected to the
principal and repeated her arguments. The principal
explained, "High schools accept applicants on the merits of
their scholastic achievements, not on attendance. It is a
very competitive society."
"Well, why didn't the school see to it that she got higher
grades? That's why we sent her to school in the first place,
for academic achievement. What has she been doing for eight
years in school if not learning? Besides, these things can
be arranged..." she concluded with a significant clearing of
"Mrs. Schwartz, the teachers have repeatedly tried to bring
the issue to your attention a number of times. Naomi came to
us as a weak student. Throughout the years there have been
teachers who contacted you about outside help which Naomi
needed in order to keep up with the work, but you ignored
them. You chose to fault them and blamed them for picking on
her. In the meantime, Naomi has been failing subject after
subject. The home can help a child succeed and it was your
duty as a mother to provide the extra help she needed."
Back and forth they argued, each throwing the blame upon the
other, and neither side succeeding in convincing the other
that they were at fault.
The poor Naomis are the ones who lose out in the long run.
It is not exclusively the job of the mother or the teacher
to help a child succeed in school; they must work together.
Teachers should be honest with the parents and parents
should be open enough to accept the fact that their child
may need remedial help.
With a long summer ahead, this might be the best time to
catch up on lost time!