Monday, January 23, 2012

Parents who get in the way of their kids' learning

This is a cheat of a post as I did not write it but received it in my email from a teacher friend who I used to work with, but she moved back to Seattle. It's probably gone viral as I am usually the last to get things.

I did, however, really think this piece was spot on with the issue.

Problem parents are only a small percent of the total parental package. However, the pain in the ass enabling and dysfunctional ones are ruining it for the rest of you. Because things have changed so much since we all were kids and schools are so afraid of getting sued that they cave to the worst of the parents and set horrible precedents. Even when they do not cave, they do next to nothing to let the parents know what is unacceptable behavior.

I once sat with friends having drinks and gave them a few anecdotal stories and they were blown away at how much time I spend dealing with unhelpful parents. Or parents who think I should run my classes to their specifications without regard to the other 29 kids in the class and what those kids' parents expectations were.

Anyways, here it is....

This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, "You can't leave us," and she quite bluntly replied, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

Please quit with all the excuses

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

Parents, be a partner instead of a prosecutor

And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, "My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!"

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.

And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.

Teachers walking on eggshells

I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster.

My mom just told me a child at a local school wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job. My mom, my very own mother, said, "Can you believe that woman did that?"

I felt hit in the gut. I honestly would have probably tried to get the mark off as well. To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary. Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." If you aren't happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That's a teacher's promise, from me to you.


hillgrandmom said...

Please Pseudo can I share this with a whole horde of teacher friends? This truly does hit the spot

Anonymous said...

Heavy heavy sigh.

I have a small caseload. However, at least half of my students' families have lawyers involved.

All of this is the microcosm of our broken culture. I often see the parents as grown up students. They don't know any better / different.

Kids are super easy to deal with (even the toughest kids in the region - like my class.) The parents? Way tougher.

I've been in for almost 15 years. Going back to school next year, methinks. Had enough of the trenches.

Hey! I'm blogging in your comment area.


Angie Ledbetter said...

So true. Bad/weak/irresponsible/blame-shifting parents are the root of most school problems. As "formerly" said above: "All of this is the microcosm of our broken culture." I miss teaching my special needs classes, but not the rest of the gunk that's involved. Don't even get me started on the glorious near minimum wage salary. Bleh.

Sprite's Keeper said...

Just last week, Sprite had a bad mark on her daily report and when I spoke to the teacher, I had Sprite come over and listen to what the teacher had to say. I then turned to Sprite and asked, "Is that true?", not to call out the teacher, but to make Sprite confirm that what she did was bad and worthy of discipline. She maintained her innocence, but I sided with the teacher because it did sound like something completely possible for her to do, something she had been in trouble for before.I then had Sprite promise the teacher she would try harder next time and apologize for her behavior. I don't want to be that parent that harpes on the teachers because my kid isn't prospering in their class.

Jan said...

While I have NEVER blamed a teacher for my child's bad grades or behavior, I've also been on the other side of this fence - dealing with a school system too busy trying to keep their federal funding by putting kids through a standardized testing mill to effectively teach.

The first time was when my eldest was in middle school and doing very, very poorly. They wanted to put him in special education classes (so his standardized test scores wouldn't count and affect their funding) instead of working with me to get to the bottom of the problem (which was he was being horribly bullied in school and was terribly bored with his classes because they were teaching him nothing but how to take tests). Because I could not get anyone at the school to work with me on either issue and I had them test him before putting him in special ed (which was a hoot - he tested above his grade level in EVERY subject and on a college level in writing and the 7th grade), he ended up dropping out of school. It was not a pleasant time for a single mother with a very unhappy teenage son, a rebellious pre-teen daughter and a small child with sensory/behavior problems.

When They Young One started school, we worked with the school and teachers to do everything we could to help him; we listened to their advice and took it. They also understood that we were raising this child and listened to us when we talked about effective ways to deal with him. By the end of the third grade, they had taken him off of the "intervention" list and he was fully integrated into mainstream classes. When we moved to Ohio, though, they would NOT listen to us, or even talk to us - parent-teacher conferences were bullying sessions where we were outnumbered by all of his teachers, the administration staff and a school "psychologist" who was a grade-A bitch. They wanted us to have him officially diagnosed with ADD, and when we refused they let us know that we wouldn't HAVE to have him medicated, but it would give him "special compensations" in the educational system, even through college (and, of course, keep his standardized test scores from bringing down their average and affecting their federal funding).

My reaction? "LIFE isn't going to give him 'special compensations.'" We finally HAD to put our foot down, so to speak, and when they implemented the strategy we suggested to deal with his behavior (which was NOT disruptive), the strategy we developed in tandem with his former school, the problem DISAPPEARED.

I feel your pain - the *responsible* parents are hampered here, as well.

Brian Miller said...

ugh i hear frustrating...i get it in counseling too...had a parent completely sabotage me last night with a kid...i dont understand why either...but will be talking to them here in a bit about it..

tera said...

I hear similar tales from my teacher friends here. Sadly, I get calls (at 911) regarding these same kids/parents because of failure in those relationships all the time.
One of the main reasons my brother home-schools his kids is so he doesn't have to deal with those kinds of issues.
Those parents don't realize they are effecting the whole class and sometimes the whole school with their nonsense.

gretchen said...

Yikes. This made me cringe a bit. I fear that I may on occasion be a "helicopter parent". But I have to say I work hard to make Jude understand how hard it is for his teacher to put up with the nonsense, and to try to be kind to his teacher by listening and showing her respect. Thanks for posting this. Very thought provoking!

Mama Badger said...

Ugh, this is why I left teaching. I gave up every lunch hour and 2 hours after school to meet with parents (our principal limited the number our hours we were allowed to meet with parents each day, thank god).

Now, I feel for teachers. LG's pre-school teacher told me I am her ONLY parent who asks how my kid behaves each day, and asks her what she thinks I can do to fix it. Also, the only one who has asked her to be more harsh (bad word? I asked her not to give him second or third chances anymore).

Nobody wants to be on a "team" anymore. It's each man for himself and his kids. Sigh.

Just Two Chicks said...

This was NPR's FB status yesterday... It looks like parents will not let go, will not accept negativity, and will always fight their children's battles, not allowing them to learn a thing from life. There is no hope for the future of kids' today.

"HR specialists say boomer parents are advocating on behalf of young adult children, calling up to negotiate better benefits, protest a poor evaluation, etc. NPR seeks to interview people about this. Employers - have you experienced it? Parents - if you've done this, why? 20-something employees -- if your parent has done this, did you appreciate it, or resent it?"

Val said...

i have heard about this problem - its no way forward. there should be away to distinguish between the few bad teachers who abuse the system, and the rest - that allows educators to do what they do best. crazy world.

Angela said...

I am teaching in an in-between level, as a private tutor. Children come to me who got bad grades at school and want to pass. I ask them why things could get down so far (sorry about my English, I am a German), as teachers don`t expect unreasonable things from them. They say, I cannot listen at school, my class is so loud, and then the teachers scream and make us write tests. I wish you could be my teacher.
Then I say, Are you kidding? You think it`s the teacher`s responsibility to keep you quiet and listening? Not at all! It`s YOURS!
And I say, You would not need to come here if you considered your teacher your helper, and even a friend. They are there to lead you on, but the one who`s got to do the learning is nobody but you.

Yes, I wish there was a parents` class for first-graders` parents where they learn to say such things!

Michele R said...

My husband teaches elem school and he has said for years that it is the parents that many times make his job so frustrating. Of course the schools are all about test scores so in an effort to help out some students he offers to tutor several for free and gives the option of either 7:00 a.m. any and every day of the week or 3:30 to 4:30 Tues and Thurs but this means that the parent has to get the child there/pick up as opposed to the bus. One student, very sweet and nice to people, wants to come in the a.m. but tells him she has to plead with her mom in the a.m. so she hardly makes it. Sometimes she makes the p.m. tutoring here and there. Last couple weeks a relative has been checking her out of school almost an hour and a half early. The student told him it is because an aunt needs her to babysit her cousins. The student just turned 11. The mom came in for a requested conf. She yawned the whole time, barely able to stay awake at 3:30 p.m. (Hubs is there at 6:45 daily). He had to tell her about the babysitting and she exclaimed how the aunt was supposed to come at 2:00 to do this--not 1:30!! Hubs had to tell her that she is still missing 45 mins of educational time and is missing a lot. His grade level will be coming in two hours every Sat in Feb to help prepare select students for a state writing test and he asked her if she has seen the paper daughter brought home for permission on this. Daughter was present at conf and said, "Mom, it is on the table!" Mom said "All those papers! You have to tell me when there is something in there I need to read!"
And yet teachers will now start to be graded. I say the parents need to be graded on certain criteria.

Secret Agent Woman said...

For the life of me, I don't get it. I always saw teachers as my colleagues in my child's education and started with the assumption that we would work together if a problem arose with my kid. But I have patients who talk about threatening to kick a teachers' ass and so on, and I am always running interference by trying (sometimes in vain) to get them to re-think that position. The worst of it is that of course there are some terrible teachers, but there are terrible people in every profession. I don't know how we got to a point where teachers and parents were so often not on the same team.

And if it's any help, there are problem patients, too - the ones who make me want to leave my profession.

I sent an invitation to my blog which I had to hide. If it didn't get to you, email me at and I'll re-send.

Melissa B. said...

Powerful. The "helicopter parents" really run our district. Sad, and many of my buddies are cashing in their gradebooks and getting the heck out of dodge. I wish it weren't so, but there you go!

Nicole G said...

Thank you for this post (and everything else you share with us). Love your blog!