It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

An “Oops!” Note Tragedy

My friend in California, Dr. Marvin Marshall, shared this letter from a parent in his most recent newsletter. I’m printing it here with his permission, and direct you to his website, My comments are after the letter.


Dr. Marshall,

The teacher who loves to give “Oops” notes is back this year as my son’s talented and gifted teacher. “Oops” notes are
given out when a child misbehaves or does not have his homework. The notes show a slumped stick figure whose head
hangs in shame and must be signed by the parents.

Yesterday, the 8th day of school, my son, who is mostly a straight “A” student, asked me to sign his Oops note for
not having a quote written down on paper.

My son said the assignment, as he remembers it, was simply: “Bring a quote about achievement to class and be prepared to share it with the class.”

So on the appointed day, student after student went to the front of the room and read their quote from a piece of
paper. When it was my son’s turn, he walked up without a paper because he knew the quote by heart and recited:

     “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

The teacher said, “Where’s your paper?”

My son said, “I don’t need a paper. I already know the quote.”

The teacher said, “Go over to my desk and get an Oops note.” The teacher said this while he was still in the front of the
class. The teacher knows he is shy and easily embarrassed because she had him last year.

He felt embarrassed and humiliated and went to get the note, which he brought over to the teacher, then waited while the
teacher filled it out and handed it to him.

He sat back down at his desk while his friend next to him hurriedly wrote out his memorized quote, less he face the
same punishment.

The note is sitting here on my desk, waiting for my signature.

What was the point of the activity? I assume to expose them to ideas about achievement and help encourage them in their
advanced math.

What was he punished for? Being able to recite a quote from memory? Being familiar enough with sayings and quotations
that he would already have known a quote about achievement?

It seems he was punished for being too smart. Was he encouraged? Just the opposite; he felt discouraged and

And, by the way, these quotation papers were not turned into the teacher.

I can’t get over the mentality of a teacher who would do this to a child and the absolute end-means inversion of the

What was the teacher thinking?

An extremely frustrated mother.


Her concern sounds reasonable to me, and, from her knowledge of her son, my guess is that he told the truth pretty much like it happened. What really rips me about this whole thing is that the young man apparently did EXACTLY what was on the assignment. The teacher was intending to inspire these students about achievement, yet engaged in a behavior that essentially thwarted not only achievement, but initiative. And all of this is supposed to be a “bonus” because this is a talented and gifted class.

I agree with Mom. What was she thinking?

What would be her best response as a parent? I only know what I would do if it were my son or daughter. I’d sent the note back to the teacher unsigned but stapled to a noted that would say I would prefer to come to school and sign it in the teacher’s presence after I have had a chance to visit with her about the incident. I would be hopeful that the situation could be resolved, and perhaps even some reasonable, relationship-rebuilding action could take place.

I would hope that could be accomplished, but I WOULD’T write down what I intended to say.  

 James D. Sutton, Psychologist 

October 11, 2007 - Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem, Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. WARNING: The following is personal opinion, NOT professional advise.

    The son sounds pretty overwhelmed by the incident – “He felt embarrassed and humiliated…”

    The mother sounds pretty overwhelmed by the incident – “I just can’t get over the mentality of a teacher who would do this to a child…”

    The difference is that the son went and got the note and the mother is still irate.

    The son tried to engage in a rational negotiation – My son said, “I don’t need a paper. I already know the quote.”

    The teacher doesn’t sound like she listens too well – The teacher said [in response], “Go over to my desk and get an Oops note.”

    The difference is that the son tried to communicate and the teacher did not.

    For my vote, I think the end game is getting the son educated to understand and deal with reality appropriately, not getting the teacher to listen to children.

    I would sympathize with the sons hurt feelings at being wrongly accused and ignored, acknowledge the teacher as objectively wrong on both counts, then tell him that I am proud of him for accepting the note despite believing he was wronged.

    When the son’s education and the mother’s knowledge of his education primarily depend on the goodwill of the teacher in question, given the single incident I’m not sure escalating the argument against the arbitrary and capricious judgment of legitimate power is pragmatic.

    Justice and fairness are two seperate words for a reason. Reality can be harsh. Somethings are worth fighting. I’m just not sure if a single Oops note is one of them.


    Comment by Conciously Living | October 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. Thank you


    Comment by Blealmep | August 3, 2008 | Reply

  3. Let it go, this is a small thing. The child did not follow directions which may have irked the teacher. The kid should toughen up and the parent to back off.


    Comment by Mike | September 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. Mike makes a good point, for sure. If the boy were a tad on the arrogant side, this might have been a good lesson for him and, in the long run, a rather painless one.

    I would add, however, that a “small thing” or a “big thing” in a youngster’s experience can be quite different from my interpretation of the very same circumstance or event. I only need to remind myself of youngsters who have suicided over what I felt were “small things”.


    Comment by docspeak | September 8, 2008 | Reply

  5. My daughter, 4th grade, had to sit out recess because she forgot to put a staple in her homework. Give me a break!
    This is no “small thing” to her, she had to sit out as if she didn’t do her homework at all. What kind of incentive to learn is this? It only makes one have contempt for the teacher.


    Comment by Cindy | November 6, 2008 | Reply

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