I’ll never forget the day I got a phone call from a parent who ranted that their precious child was being treated unfairly. I was a terrible teacher, and the parent was paying “good money” to send their child to my class. What I couldn’t tell the parent, because their “child” was nineteen and in college, was that their little angel had missed over half of the class session and was failing. This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, that I dealt with a disgruntled, ill-informed parent during my nine-year teaching career.
Teachers and other school staff are superheroes—period. Being an educator is a difficult career, one in which they’re overworked, underpaid, and overstressed. Pair this with the pandemic, and educators have an even tougher job. Parents, we can help make their jobs just a little better and easier while helping our child, but we have lay off our bad habits. Don’t take my word for it. I asked several educators and school staff what they want us to know. How can we better support them? What do we need to stop doing—ASAP?
Adults need to adult.
Leslie, an experienced preschool and elementary teacher, shared that it’s OK for parents to believe their kids, but there are two sides to every story. The teacher’s side is valid, too. She adds that the teacher’s take “on the scenario should carry weight.” She also wants parents to handle things in an adult-manner, noting that once a parent showed up to yell at her in front of her class of students. Yes, you read that correctly. Leslie says that if a parent is upset about something, fine. But be mature enough to schedule a meeting.
Likewise, don’t freak out over e-mail. Jackie, who has been teaching elementary-aged kids for sixteen years, told me that parents have said horrendous things to her over e-mail, things they’d never say in person. Another parent wouldn’t even call her by name, referring to her in the meeting as “she” to be passive-aggressive. Diedre, who has thirteen years of experience in education and works as a social skills counselor, told me that parents need to also keep their “frustration” under control in telephone meetings with teachers. No matter how you communicate with the teacher—in person, by phone, or by e-mail—check yourself. You don’t get anywhere by throwing a temper tantrum.
The teacher is on your team.
Your child’s teacher isn’t your adversary. Candace, an experienced elementary teacher who recently changed careers, told me about argumentative parents. For example, she would send a book home with a student to practice reading. Parents would complain that their children were just memorizing the books. When Candace, who has a master’s degree in teaching reading, would explain that repetition is good for fluency and learning site words, parents would argue with her.
Multiple teachers I talked with said they don’t contact parents or send home additional work just for fun, to torture parents, or to create an issue. They genuinely care about the child’s success, and one way they can support a student is by giving them extra practice. Likewise, a recent conversation with one of my teacher friends made me think about children with special needs who may need more. She’s had parents outright deny her concerns, not wanting their child to be “labeled.” Instead of worrying about how their child can be the most successful in the classroom, they worry about appearances. (By the way, a diagnosis isn’t a label.)
Value the teacher’s education and expertise.
Jackie shared with me that when parents have expressed distrust in her when they feel their children aren’t experiencing “positive results” quickly enough. Additionally, if the teacher sends home supplemental work to your child, it’s not to keep them busy or waste your time. The teacher wants your child to receive the extra practice in order to help them understand work.
Cora, a music teacher with fifteen years of experience, told me that the worst parents are the ones who hide “behind social media posts when venting about issues with the school.” She’s seen parents spread misinformation on social media, often taking their child’s side of the story as the whole story, creating a “toxic environment.” Cora told me that yes, the student’s side is valid, but children often “don’t necessarily understand the whole picture.”
Allow the teacher to discipline—and back them up.
Leslie once dealt with a few of her students plopping down on cherry tomatoes in the cafeteria to be funny—enjoying the explosions. Leslie issued a consequence, having the students take up some of the custodian’s tasks, hoping to teach them that making messes for others to clean up is unacceptable. One parent was furious with Leslie because those cherry tomatoes were organic, and she was hung up on her kid not eating them. Leslie never signed up to be the tomato police, and the parent missed the point of the lesson Leslie was trying to teach the children.
Cate, a high school Spanish teacher, says that when parents “give their child the benefit of the doubt over me as the teacher,” it becomes a whole ordeal. She adds, “I am a professional and if I am calling or reaching out about a behavior of your child, that means I have already tried multiple other interventions.” She asks, “Why would I waste time out of my day to call you and make something up about your child?” Instead of arguing with the teacher, consider that maybe it’s the kid who needs a talking to.
Repeat after me: grades aren’t everything.
Cate said she recently had a parent call her to argue over how to average grades. Cate’s student had an A, B, and C on assignments, each with equal weight. The student earned a B, of course. The parent relentlessly argued with Cate over the child’s grade, “insisting that mathematically that didn’t add up.” Cate wasted time and energy explaining to a parent how averages work.
Then she has parents ask, at the end of a semester, how their child’s grade can be raised. Perhaps the child can do extra credit? At the point in which a student is in high school, they should have taken Cate up on her offers to meet with them for tutoring and extra help. She even e-mails the struggling students’ parents with tutoring information. The “slacking off” students “rarely” show up for extra help, and then the parents start complaining (when grades are due) that their child needs a better grade. Instead of focusing on the student’s grades, the parents need to help their children develop study skills, self-advocacy skills, and certainly, let kids face the consequences of their own choices. Preparing kids for post-high school, whether they choose to attend college, a trade-school, or go straight into the workforce, requires them to have these skills.
There’s a lot of things parents get wrong—really, really wrong. However, Megan, a high school teacher with ten years of experience, told me, that problematic parents are the minority. However, she says that “it’s that super small percentage that make life super hard some days.” Our educators do not need their job to be any more difficult than it already is. Parents need to think twice before making demands, issuing insults, or stirring up drama on social media.
If they are truly focused on their child’s education, partner with the teacher when issues arise. Better yet, be proactive and offer to help the teacher in any way you can throughout the school year. Ask the teacher what you can donate, offer to volunteer, and above all, teach your child to respect their teacher’s time and energy. “Good grades” don’t mean a thing if your child is jerk—and you are, too.
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