Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Problem with Parents

Warning: There is graphic language in this entry.

With the holidays in full swing, I'm seeing more of my cousin the former teacher and current counselor. She said something that I agreed with. It seems sometimes the parents cause some trouble.

I've been hesitant to bring up this topic. The main reason is that there are often very real reasons that you need to advocate for your child and I don't want anyone to think that is what I'm talking about. Standing up for your child when there is a real injustice or when they seriously need help is never a bad thing. There's a difference between this and what I'm about to describe.

Sometimes you can understand where students learn their disrespectful attitudes from, and unfortunately it's their parents. I witnessed the following scene when I was walking into school while student teaching. The student in question entered the school, accidentally bumped into the principal and yelled "Get the fuck out of my way!" at the principal. After seeing what car he came out of, the principal walked the student to the car and attempted to talk to the mother.

Principal: Ma'am, I'm very sorry, but your son can't use that kind of language here. It's unacceptable and if he can't control his mouth, he's going to end up in ISAP.
Mom: I don't care what the fuck he says! This school fucking sucks anyway and I'm pulling him out as soon as I can. Fuck all y'all.

After this exchange, she rolled up her window and peeled out of the parking lot. The principal shook his head and walked the student back into school. This is not the only time I've seen a parent actively undermine the authority of a teacher, principal or other staff member in a school. The trouble is that we can't expect a student to respect the rules or people in a school if their parents don't.

I understand where it comes from. Really, I do. Part of it is not liking having someone imply you are a bad parent. I am sincere when I say this. Just because I'm talking to you about the behavior of your child does not mean I am questioning your parenting. Deciding to not talk with you about your child's behavior should be much more insulting. Not talking to you means that the teacher feels you are ineffective as a parent and your child won't listen to you anyway. Talking to you implies you have some measure of control over you child, so I'm going through you before we make an official paper trail in school.

Another part of it very well could be that the parent themselves hated school, too. I won't lie and pretend that school is or always has been a safe, happy, healthy place for someone to grow into adulthood. There are horrors in public school past. There are horrors in public school present. We work together to eradicate those problems. Instilling your children with an "I hate school" attitude only increases the issues in school, some of which are caused by discipline problems.

A huge part of the problem is that sometimes, even when there are legitimate discipline problems to address, parents accuse a teacher of "picking" on their child by addressing these issues. If your child pushes me and calls me a bitch, I'm not picking on him by disciplining him for that behavior. If your child has flat out refused to do work for several weeks, I'm not picking on him by refusing to give him make up work the day before grades are due (at your request and not his). One of the troubles with having a large amount of children is that you have to actually be fair. Students won't follow the rules if they only apply to certain students. If I let Johnny have all of the work he absolutely refused to do for weeks just because you say I'm picking on your child, what message does that send to the other students? What message am I sending your son for when he's in the real world and he'll just be fired?

Unfortunately for students, teaching involves a lot of tough love. Unfortunately for parents, having a child means trying to figure out when the tough love is needed. Again, I do want to stress that there are times when advocating for your child is absolutely necessary. Not all teachers are perfect. Not all situations are black and white. However, you are the one who needs to realize when it's time to call the school or teacher and when to trust the school.

The best advice I can give you is to communicate frequently with your child's teacher. Not everyone is available to call during school hours, so it's best to email to teachers. Not only will you get to know your child's teachers better, but teachers are also more able to work with a parent on a discipline issue if the parent can help keep the line of communication open. Beginning communication with a teacher about a bad thing, instead of just an introduction, puts both parties on the offensive. This is one of the reasons I try to contact as many parents as I can the first few weeks of school. It's better to hear from me first when I'm just saying hi than when I'm calling about how Johnny's going to fail my class.

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