During a monthly Newton County Board of Education meeting a few weeks back, I sat and listened to the mother of an Eastside High student complain to the board about the school's policy regarding absences and tardiness. Her complaint stemmed from a suspension her daughter received due to excessive tardiness. Now before I get into this, let me quickly shed some light on the situation.
For those of you who don't know Principal Robert Daria, he runs a tight ship. He is known throughout the school system as one who abides by the rules and regulations set forth by the board and state, and he expects his teachers and staff to act accordingly. In other words, he operates a school the way it should be operated. Now, let's get back to the story.
As the concerned mother defended her daughter's excessive tardiness, explained how she had no idea of the problem and asked the board to reconsider the policy, I took a second to reflect on my past.
I skipped my fair share of classes. During my junior year, I missed so many first period history classes that even though I received a B in the class, I only earned four out of the possible five credits. Consequently I had to attend a two-week recovery course at night in order to earn the credit back.
I knew how the system worked. I knew when progress reports went out, and I made it a point to get home in time to intercept the mail. I had friends who worked in the office, and they'd give me the inside scoop if my name came up in any conversation. One of my best friends could sign my mother's name as good as she could. I knew to stay by the phone in the kitchen (this is before the days of cordless phones) and answer every call, especially as it approached 8:30 p.m. My mother would be sitting at the dining room table or watching T.V. in the adjacent living room without a clue. If I suspected anything, I made sure to play it off by talking to the recording for at least a few minutes. I'd hang up the phone, and if anyone asked, I'd simply tell her who it wasn't. I could lie with the best of them.
I'm not here to judge anyone. I'll leave that up to crooked politicians. I'm simply speaking from experience. The schools don't need to change. It's not their fault I almost didn't graduate high school - far from it. How does any teacher or administrator influence what kids do outside of school?
I needed a swift kick in the pants. My parents wouldn't do that. Instead my mother would believe whatever I told her and would much rather fight the school than think I was in the wrong. While I thought she was a cool mom for doing that, I went on to learn she did me a disservice. I finally figured it out on my own but it cost me. It cost me a shot at attending a big college or flying jets in the military.
And for what?
At that age, all I wanted to do was have fun and run wild. School, for the most part, meant very little to me. Look, I had more natural ability than probably 90 percent of my classmates but I didn't care. I went off course. At a time when I needed guidance, I got, well, everything I wanted and nothing I needed. Yeah, it was great having cool parents. But where does that get you?
I got lucky - or rather - I worked it out. If I would have applied half the energy and creativity to school as I did on getting over, I could have attended the University of California at Berkeley and studied anthropology or forensic science or flown jets and gone into NASA's astronaut corps. I own up to that, but it would have been nice to have some help from my parents.
Schools don't need to worry about kids getting to class or constantly walking in late. Teachers have a hard enough time getting the ones who do make it on time to act right. I've been there and used the T-shirt as a dust rag. Parents need to be parents, not running buddies. You will never help your child become an adult if you can't hold them (or yourself for that matter) accountable. Fortunately my path always meant for me to be a writer. And while it worked out for me, it didn't have to be so hard getting here.
Josh Briggs is the education reporter for The Covington News. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.