‘Unreasonable’ parents

Parents are driving teachers out of the profession, writes Ron Clark, founder of an Atlanta school and author of The End of Molasses Classes.

We’re educated professionals who can advise parents about their child’s development, Clark writes. “Trust us.”

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.

Stop making excuses for your children, Clark adds. “Be a partner, instead of a prosecutor.”

Not all teachers are trustworthy, responds Charlie Zegers, a teacher’s son, on Dads Good.

We’ve been burned by lazy teachers who don’t want to deal with kids who might need extra help, or by short-timers counting the days until retirement, or by inexperienced newbies who don’t know how to handle difficult situations. And we’ve been burned by layoffs and hiring decisions that push good young teachers out the door in favor of the entrenched, the tenured, and the politically connected. And while we know that most of you are dedicated educators that go above and beyond the call of duty to help our kids learn, we’ve also seen your unions work just as hard to protect the jobs of the least-deserving among you.

If parents seem unreasonable, “there’s a better-than-average chance that our trust has been betrayed in the past by another member of your profession,” Zegers writes.

Update:  Parents deserve respect — and rarely get it, writes Gwen Samuel of the Connecticut Parents Union on Dropout Nation.

Why is it that when parents advocate for their child’s well-being and right to a high-quality education, we are called “anti-teacher”?

Don’t fear parents, Samuel writes. Parents love their children and will support effective teachers.


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  1. I think this is a generational thing. I’m at the very tail end of Gen X, almost Gen Y. I can’t stand paternalistic physicians, teachers, etc. who act like I should take their word as gospel simply by dint of their position. I’m going to do my own research and while I’ll certainly take into consideration the professional opinion of the physician/teacher/etc., I’m not going to automatically defer to it. The democratization of information via the Internet has done a lot to level the playing field between those holding official credentials/certifications and laypeople. “Trust us” won’t work with my generation- you’ve got to stop the patronizing paternalism and actually be a real partner.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Somewhere in there is the likelihood that butthead kids have butthead parents and lawyering comes easily to many such.
    And admins have spines of jelly when facing such. One reason bullying is not addressed, I have heard from the pros not on the record, is that bullies have butthead parents and victims have passive parents.
    Easier to look away.

  3. My kids attended school in neighborhoods where many/most parents, even the SAHMs, had not only college but graduate degrees. Such people expect to do their own research and bring their own expertise into play. Expecting physicians, lawyers, professors and senior business/government administrators to accept being condescended to by ES teachers with a master’s in education is unrealistic and unreasonable. Also, I know many kids who got into trouble with their ES-MS teachers when they asked content-related questions that either (1) showed they had significant knowledg of the subject or (2) were questions the teacher could not answer.

    I also had experiences illustrating that some staff members have their own agendas. For example; one of my kids was constantly being sent from the playground to the principal’s office for various minor offenses (being too rough, not including a particular kid etc.). After my child transferred to another school, the principal called me to apologize and let me know that he had corrected the record; one of the teachers on playground duty had a kid in the school and all of the complaints were from her kid. Once my child left, all of her child’s complaints were against another kid. It was his first assignment as a principal and he had not done his homework; not by determining the identity of the complainer, not by observing the playground and not by talking to other staff who were aware of the favoritism in play.

  4. Regarding the trustworthy comment, how much trust should parents put in a MS teacher who (1) does not know her subject, (2) routinely screams abuse at her students (including saying she hates them and wishes they would all die) and (3) let several kids become ill in class because she would not allow them to go to the restroom or the nurse? It was fortunate that, by the time my child arrived in her class, the principal already had a full folder of documentation of her lack of knowledge and her abusive performance. It was unfortunate that the county was demanding ever more documentation, because of her status as a minority, female, STEM teacher. No, we don’t all trust blindly in either the accuracy of teacher observations or the impossibility of teacher bias.

  5. Hasn’t the average teacher career always hovered around 5 years?

    I’ve known wonderful teachers–but it takes only one unreasonable teacher to make a parent cautious about all teachers. I’ve also noticed that some teachers do much better with one gender than the other. If you have an active boy, and the teacher’s much more comfortable with sedentary girls, no you are not going to accept that your child needs Ritalin.

    The private schools have a good system of Advisors. That is, each student is assigned an advisor, who has time in his schedule to keep track of that student, his academic and social performance at school. If parents have a problem, they raise the issue with the advisor. Thus, if John Doe comes home complaining Miss Science hates his guts, it’s not the parents who have the task of raising the issue with Miss Science. It’s the advisor, who is a peer teacher. In effect, the parents gain an advocate for their child who know the school (and Miss Science’s reputation), and Miss Science has gained the ability to consult with a peer about the best way to bring young Mr. Doe back on track. If the advisor checks with other teachers about John Doe’s performance, he is better able to give the parents (and the school) informed feedback about the child. (If all the teachers hate John Doe’s guts, that’s a larger problem–and one which should be addressed.)

  6. “Hasn’t the average teacher career always hovered around 5 years?”

    Good question. I expect it probably did back in Little House on the Prairie days when the young women who taught would teach until a good-looking farmer came their way.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    Today my 9th grade son arrived home this afternoon irritated with his AP American History teacher. He received a zero on on his first homework assignment, as did every other kid in his class. The teacher failed to actually inform the class that there was an assignment. This is her first year teaching this particular class. His school has an online program that allows the teachers to post assignments/due dates/notes. While the teacher completed and updated every other classes’ page, his was undone.

    Should I trust that the teacher knows what’s she’s doing?

    At this point, I won’t be doing anything, but if we have another instance of like circumstances, you bet I’ll make myself a pain in her butt.

    Teacher are sometimes unresponsive and irresponsible. Trust but verify.

  8. john thompson says:

    Yes, it is a generational thing. As the late William Strauss observed, the Baby Boomers were the last generation to have universally positive memories of public schools, and since the 70s the idea of schooling as a market relationship has grown.

    Being a Baby Boomer, I bring a lot of the ethics taught to my generation about backing up your teammate even when he’s wrong. As when I was an umpire and a referree, I publically backed my partner even when he blew a call. If a student is being hurt, there are quiet ways of protecting him. After all, there is no other institution where the clients are protected as thoroughly as are students.

    But here’s my complaint. It doesn’t bother me at all that we are all paid the same. What bothers me is that teachers who have had years of experience in proving themselves as honorable and honest are treated like the obvious incompetents – we are all guilty until proven innocent. Many times I have been in meetings where the administrators put on their full court press until every teacher backed down. Then the principal(s) would say, “see what we have to put up with?” or “Was that parent nuts or what?” or “Sorry, but you know how the game is played.”

  9. Most teachers are reasonable when dealing with parents and most parents are reasonable when dealing with teachers. Of course there are the few bad apples on both sides which leads to articles and comments like the above. We should stop smearing the “other” simply because of the bad apples.

  10. Trust but verify might be appropriate…I backed my kids teachers unless I knew my kid was right and the teacher was being unreasonable. I challenged teachers who taught only while paid meaning once supplemental money stopped for the drilling to the test they only taught to the contract and I challenged incompetent teachers and those that did not align their curriculum to the national test that would be the exams. In many cases the principal was one to whom I was complaining. When I went directly to the teacher that didn’t work.

    Some people do not believe it could be the teachers that are wrong…it is okay to be wrong as that is how we learn to change and adapt (hmmm…the 21st century buzz words of the day –hah!)

    But…there is a bigger issue…there is a set (generation or two) of parents that were not made to feel welcome in the schools as students and now they have no clue how to behave as parents…something must be done to bridge this gap…the kids mimic their parents behavior, the teachers have their backs up and don’t know how to defuse a generational issue…

    Need to figure this out for the sake of the kids and keeping the effective teachers in the classroom…

  11. My experience has been that the comment above about some teachers dealing better with one sex is true; ditto for some teachers dealing better with some student groups (gifted, middle, struggling etc). A number of the issues I had related to those two issues. Particularly at ES-MS levels, some teachers see boys as defective girls; medication needed. Also, I have seen school/county admins protecting senile and emotionally unstable teachers. They attended some of the “best” schools in some of the “best” suburbs; imagine what the other end looks like. Most of their teachers were solid, many were very good and, at HS level, most were outstanding; it’s the weak/incompetent admins (aided by union rules) who protect the bad apples.

  12. Mom and Former Teacher says:

    I always ask my son some variation of “Is that true?” because I want him to have to look me and his father (and the teacher if we are at school at the time) in the eye and admit what he did. I am in no way doubting the teacher. I do this as a way to prompt him to take responsibility.

    Otherwise, Clark is right on.

    • I agree with you here. “Is that true?”, should be a moment of joy for the teacher, when the kid has to admit to his parents his guilt.

  13. John,

    Do you think these two statements might have a causal link?

    Being a Baby Boomer, I bring a lot of the ethics taught to my generation about backing up your teammate even when he’s wrong.


    What bothers me is that teachers who have had years of experience in proving themselves as honorable and honest are treated like the obvious incompetents – we are all guilty until proven innocent.

  14. “I always ask my son some variation of “Is that true?” because I want him to have to look me and his father (and the teacher if we are at school at the time) in the eye and admit what he did. I am in no way doubting the teacher. I do this as a way to prompt him to take responsibility.”

    Of course. You have to hear the kids’ side out to gauge culpability (was the kid misunderstood? is he being a weasel?).

    Mark Roulo,

    Yep. I thought that vision of ethics was pretty mafiaesque.

  15. I think this has largely to do with a lack of civility and respect nowadays as opposed to being specifically anti-teacher.
    Each year I give every student and their parents the same respect I would like in return, not holding the wounds of the past (and boy, do I have some) against my current crop. I was taught as a child to respect everyone until they lost that respect.
    Most parents do the same (I’m teaching in a small blue-collar district), but some openly distrust and attack teachers the second any problems pop up with their darling little angels. That parent may have an MD, PhD, or whatever, but it gives them no right to dismiss my experience and expertise in the classroom, especially when I may see their child more than they do. Its just plain rude to question what I say without cause, and little Johnny vowing he didn’t do it just ain’t enough cause.

    • I am very civil towards our pediatrician and others in authority positions. I just don’t automatically defer towards her judgment. I absolutely respect her professional opinion- but respecting it doesn’t mean that I’m going to necessarily go along with whatever recommendation she makes.

  16. I am a parent and a teacher. I go out of my way to be kind to my kids’ teachers, and I’ve had good experiences so far. Should an incompetent or disorganized teacher come along, I will be respectful but firm in stating my concerns.

    Yet as a teacher, I am surprised at how often the emails and notes I get from parents could be resolved if the parent simply asked the child a few questions. All kinds of accusations, misunderstandings, assumptions, and false statements come to me from parents who have clearly not bothered to talk to their child about the issue at hand. Also, some parents clearly feel the need to turn on their Mama – or PapaBear attitude without ever bothering to check if the information they have is correct. People leap from hearsay to accusation without pause.

    Sign of the times, I guess. The blogosphere isn’t much different.

    • I once worked with a teacher that sent notes to parents with a letterhead that said, “If you’ll only believe half of what they say about me, I’ll only believe half of what they say about you”.

      I’ve always wanted one of those.

  17. This is a hot topic. Like most of the other posters here, I am a teacher, parent and, yes, also a former student. I think that all of us have experienced the possible scenarios: a bad teacher, a good teacher, a bad student, a good student, an unreasonable parent, an involved parent, etc… generalizing here is difficult because people are different and every experience will also be different. The fact of the matter is, however, that, while I feel that one should always analyze, consider and discuss the feedback given by teachers, it’s also important to recognize that parents ‘should’ exhibit signs of believing in their children. One shouldn’t be blind or naive but, in my opinion, it would be sad if a parent automatically and without questioning believed everything that a teacher has said about his child. Not every teacher’s analysis is correct – you know that from your own experiences; and even if the feedback is accurate, which it probably most of the time is, a key to processing it is discussing it. Therefore, I can understand the question ‘Is this true?’.

  18. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Unless it is a parent I’ve worked with before (I tend to teach entire families), I try to preface the conversation with something like, “I need some advice about my approach with Luellen, this is what is going on in class.” Tends to get things off on the right foot. If a parent is hostile/rude, I don’t call home again. Life is too short.

  19. The first day of first grade , my Asperger’s son was snatched out of the car line on the wrong day by the childcare worker from across the street, and my son ran from her to inform his teacher. When I came to pick up my son by car, there was a panic that he was “lost”. Finally the teacher showed up in the office and told me that my son basically rescued himself, I was almost going to have words with him and she prevented that with the truth. It was a wonderful reunion, happy son, happy Mom AND happy teacher! Then the principal steps up to me and yells in my face, “If you can’t prepare your child to be ‘school-ready’ perhaps you should just keep him home this year!!!” I lost it, demanding who the hell hired this vile woman. I never trusted the school after that, and finally had him removed from her school , and he made two honor rolls in his new school after that! She went on to have a 15 or so year career at that same school, gathering more and more complaints from parents over the years that were swept under the rug by the Superintendant’s office. Last I heard she was asked to resign before her retirement age.

  20. I have given the teachers the benefit of the doubt when interactions initially arise.

    However, I have seen plenty of teachers that are more interested in covering their backsides. One teacher accused my eldest of saying something to offensive to another child. Since I was on very friendly terms with the other child’s parents, I called to ask. The other child denied it happened. When I approached the teacher questioning that she actually heard my daughter correctly, she didn’t answer the question, but replied with a laundry list of other offenses against my eldest.

    The trust but verify description of an earlier poster is very apt. I have had too many teachers twisting or changing their stories when I ask for clarifications because of contraditions in their own story. At this point, I have asked for mediation by a principal figure … and the whole issue seems to magically resolve.

    But once the respect for a teacher is lost, it is very difficult to recover over a one year period.

  21. Trust cannot be demanded. It must be earned. If the first interaction with a teacher is over a disciplinary matter, many parents will be defensive. If the teacher and parents have had the chance to build a “partnership” before the first complaint, matters will probably run more smoothly. I am, of course, assuming that parents will come to back-to-school night, and any regularly scheduled conferences.

    There are parents who are unpleasant for anyone to interact with. As a volunteer, I’ve found most parents to be reasonable, and positive. Unfortunately, the few impossible parents can make volunteering a challenge. A teacher’s opportunities to interact with such parents are limited. The child must interact with those parents daily.