Dear COLlive readers,
My friend called me on Thursday morning all hysterical. After listening to her, I realized that she is not unique in this situation. And maybe sharing her plight can help others.
She received the following email from her daughter’s school:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. XXXXXX,
Congratulations on the graduation of your daughter XXXX. Please be advised, in order to receive a diploma, an outstanding balance of $XXXX, must be paid in full.
Please avoid any embarrassment.
* * *
So I sat down and penned a letter to the administrator of the school. I guess the letter is also reveal to anyone who may be dealing with similar circumstances:
You have a very difficult job which requires both responsibility and sensitivity, with a dose of firmness. Collecting delinquent tuition is not easy. I know you had to do something to get the tuition owed to the school, but what was that email you sent?
I imagine you were hoping that the email, with seemingly considerate words like “please avoid any embarrassment,” would mobilize the family to come up with the money. Or at least some of it.
Let me share with you what happened: The mother, my friend, received the email. She broke down in tears, totally immobilized, terrified. And couldn’t get her morning started.
Here’s some background information about her: She’s a good person. Her husband is a good person. Both try very hard to raise, educate, feed and take care of their large family, B”H.
Unfortunately, they are just not succeeding – economically. They are super sensitive about their financial problems and anything, even small, makes them crack. And it hits them in all areas, especially in shalom bayis.
He feels lousy about himself. She feels lousy about herself, and about his not being able to provide for the family. And that makes him feel even lousier. Every day is a constant reminder of their dire financial condition. When she’s at the grocery, when her daughter tears her tights and when the youngest kid unravels a half a roll of toilet paper.
Looking at them, one may not realize how grave is their financial situation. They are innovative and know how to make a dollar stretch. They try to be creative about how to keep the kids out of the stress of their financial problems and keep some dignity in the neighborhood.
Both parents are also hard workers and try to do well in their current jobs. Yet, the emotional stress is too much. They feel it, their kids feel it.
They hate the fact that they cannot pay their tuition commitments. It sits there in their minds among the many other stressors. It’s not that they are not evading their tuition responsibilities so that they can vacation or buy luxuries. They simply don’t have it at this time.
They are appreciate the services the school is providing for their child and they really do want to pay. Since they try to maintain some pride, they don’t come spilling out their story to you at school (even though it may be in their interest to let you know).
And then you sent that email…
You threatening to embarrass their child sent them into a spiral of negative emotions. It immobilized them and the shalom bayis challenges exacerbated. I assume they both went to work demoralized, which isn’t helping you reach your goal.
I know you don’t know that background. And I know that is because they didn’t share it will you. But couldn’t you have shown some care, to find out why is it they are behind on tuition?
You could have picked up a phone or emailed something like, “You’ve been paying your tuition responsibilities throughout the years in a timely fashion. And we so appreciate that; it makes our job in educating our students so much easier. At this point you are in arrears. Is there something going on? When would be a good time to discuss this?”
They’d appreciate the sensitivity and feel respected, keeping more of their dignity intact. And you’d know what is going on. You’d have the opportunity to explain the school’s position. Together, you’d probably come up with a solution that works.
But that takes time. And care. And sensitivity. And everything we all try to teach our children, yet don’t always bother to practice it ourselves.
Treating the parents with respect and understanding about their challenges might just be a better way – for the sake of your students, their parents and your school’s finances. (And dare I say, your school’s image – in at least that family’s eyes.)
A friend (of the mother and the school)