I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on Facebook recently: people venting about their children’s teachers.
The complaints are usually similar in nature — the kid said the teacher was mean, or he was being picked on in class and nothing was done about it, or the parent tried to contact the teacher and didn’t hear back immediately.
The worst part is that in many cases, parents don’t even attempt to speak with a single adult at the school before they complain on social media. They take the word of a single child, without question, as the unbiased truth and reality.
As a teacher, I can’t help but feel defensive every time I read one of these rants, and I wonder what parents hope to gain by slandering someone they’ve never met or spoken to. While you might get sympathy or even suggestions for coping with the problem, you risk ruining your child’s relationship with his teacher, which will only make the situation worse, at least in the short term. Plus, it makes you look like a petty gossip with no class.
It makes you look like one of the worst kind of parents — the obnoxious, overbearing helicopter parent who thinks his own child walks on water. The kind of parent no one wants at a sports event because they’re always arguing with the referees or talking trash about the coaches. The kind of parent whose kid can get away with murder (or at least without ever picking up a pencil in class or completing a homework assignment) because your kid knows he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to.
You’re really not that parent, are you?
I have two kids of my own, and I used to be a kid myself. Here’s one thing I know about them: sometimes they misunderstand, sometimes they misrepresent, and sometimes they flat out lie.
Why do they do it? Any number of reasons. Maybe they want to avoid hard work or punishment. Sometimes they just want attention — from parents, from friends, maybe even from The New York Times. If it means some poor, feckless substitute teacher who got tricked into showing a clip from the wrong movie gets fired and can’t feed his family, some kids figure it’s all in good fun. I’ve heard kids sitting in class bragging about their parents intimidating teachers. I’ve heard them brag about making teachers cry.
Even well-meaning parents can get the wrong impression from their kids about what goes on in school. It happens a lot in cases of so-called bullying, because no parent wants his child to be tormented, but kids often misrepresent or misunderstand their own role in the situation. Here’s an example: Several years ago, I had a student who told his parents he was being verbally harassed by another boy in my class. Luckily for me, instead of ranting on Facebook, his father contacted me and asked me to change his son’s assigned seat. I was happy to do so, and when the two boys started arguing in front of me the next day, I walked them to the office.
After both boys talked with school administrators, the one who had claimed he was being bullied admitted that he started the conflict by whispering racist jokes about the boy he had accused of harassing him. When his parents found out, they were shocked he would make such comments.
So it’s worth talking to a teacher, preferably in person and with your child present, before you launch a crusade on social media or storm into the school in a rage. I’ve heard kids of all ages say they “hate” certain teachers or that teachers are “mean” for reasons that might make sense to kids, but would not be valid to an adult. Maybe the teacher denied her a hall pass, asked her to put away her cellphone, or took a cigarette lighter or pocket knife away. Maybe the teacher asked him to stop playing video games or watching YouTube videos and participate in the class.
Think about it. Your kid probably hates you when you try to get between him and his video games, too.
Just as there are too many parents ranting about “bad” teachers and schools on social media, there are plenty of stories in the news and online about all teachers do for students, how little we earn, and how badly we are treated. Some of that is exaggerated, too. Not everyone who teaches wants to save the world. Sometimes teachers do raise our voices or get sarcastic with students. Sometimes we do yell, and then we’re the ones who feel bad about it afterward. When I lose my temper with a kid, whether it’s my own or someone else’s, it always ruins my day, but half the time I don’t think it even fazes the kid.
So the next time you’re tempted to make a private issue public by going on a Facebook or Twitter tirade about your child’s teacher, keep this in mind: Most teachers aren’t saints, but most kids aren’t either.