So this afternoon I found myself in an awkward, squirmy, situation. It caught me off guard, and I am ashamed to say that even after 6 years of teaching, I was not prepared to handle this one.
While running errands, I bumped into a parent from my school. Readily identifiable as a teacher at ABC School due to my attire, we struck up a conversation as we waited in line. The conversation went like this:
Mrs. Y: “So, you teach at ABC? My son goes there. He is in grade M.”
Me: “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of him. I didn’t have the opportunity to teach him, but I loved that class of boys. They’re great.”
Ms. Y: “Yes, they are great. I wish he could have had you. In grade R, he had Ms. V. She was terrible.”
And crash went my heart. “She was terrible” !?!?! Ms. V is a colleague of mine. I love her. Our teaching styles are very different, but I don’t believe that she is terrible. As a teacher or otherwise.
So there I was, in a split second moment, having to decide, do I offend this mother and stand up for my friend, or do I say nothing–knowing that that is not the right course of action either?
Me: “Oh. I’m sorry.” [make face, turn away, not politely, but not harshly enough either.]
Ugh! I hate those moments, when you know the words that are coming out of your mouth are the wrong ones. I hate when if you had had 5 more minutes to think about it, you would have said something different. Upon reflection, here is what I should have said…..
Outraged: “I’m sorry that you feel like it’s ok to gossip about others in front of your very-impressionable-little-girl-who-is-standing-right-next-to-us! Way to be a crumby role model.”
Sassy: “I’m sorry that you feel like it is right to speak poorly about a professional. What kind of attitude toward teachers are you fostering in your children?”
Snooty: “I’m sorry that you think I would agree with you saying something so broadly negative about a friend and colleague. If you think she’s terrible, keep it to yourself.”
Angry: “I’m sorry that you think she’s terrible. Have you tried her job? If you think you can do better, why don’t you home school your children?”
A-little-too-angry: “I’m sorry, how did you come to that conclusion? From the lips of your perfect child? Have you even sat in on a class? Have you talked to her other than for five seconds on parents night?”
Probably better (kindly but with a look of slight disdain on my face): “I’m sorry, but you’re putting me in an awkward situation. I don’t think it’s right to speak about a friend and colleague that way, and in my professional opinion, I don’t think she is terrible.”
If only I could time travel back to that moment! But now, at least I’ll be sure that when caught in another sticky situation, I’ll have more options about what to say.
What would you have said?