Ending the parent-teacher wars

As both a teacher and a parent, Jessica Lahey has seen both sides of the parent-teacher wars. She has advice on how to give peace a chance. One suggestion:

Parents and teachers need to help children learn that adults won’t always fix their problems for them. Their teachers will respect them more for it, and it will help them learn how to gain control of their education and their world. Yes, even the little kids. It’s never too early to start, says Heidi McPherson, a kindergarten teacher from New Hampshire. “When a child runs up to me on the playground to complain about another student’s actions, my first question is always, ‘Did you talk to him about it yet?’ We teach kids to zip their own coats and tie their own shoes for a reason. Kids have to learn to gain control of themselves and their relationships.” If this communication fails, then it’s time to move on to a parent-teacher conference, and …

Commenter Jimm, a parent and late-in-life teacher, was shocked by the “parent from hell” stories told by his ed school professors.

Most parents from hell are hellish because they are worried about their child. In my experience, a teacher who is willing to stop, listen, and work with these parents rarely ends up a punching bag. Sometimes? Sure. But in most cases you have to recognize that the parent’s job is to advocate for his or her child. Your job is to listen, talk, and explain what you can and cannot do for the child — providing reasons.

When parents don’t advocate for their children, we the teachers blame them for being uninvolved. When they do, we complain about their interference. How can they (or the children) win?

There are lots more comments from parents and teachers.

About Joanne


  1. This is the thing for me. I am a parent first and a teacher. It has been one of my biggest frustrations that people act as if I became a teacher in order to harm other people’s children. Many of us went into teaching because we have this strong desire to do good in the world. The dialogue nowadays is that most of us are lazy, incompetent, bad, and are only teaching because of the long summer breaks and short work days.

    Well, I worked in other jobs and I can tell you that none are as hard as teaching and none were as personal rewarding as teaching has been.

  2. The best fix I can think of for the parent teacher wars is to state clearly that teachers are in charge of the class and that parents are in charge of the home. Once we make that clear, the wars will begin to dissipate. With this statement, it must be understood that teachers are free to assign homework, but that such assignments are made with the tacit approval of the parents, and that that approval can be withdrawn for the individual student if, in the parents best judgment, the homework is doing more harm than good. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. author of The Homework Trap. http://www.thehomeworktrap.com.

  3. Ken, I must disagree. You will never “make clear” to parents that while they are in charge of the home, you are in charge of the class. Nor should you. For one thing, it the child is neither the home nor the class. For another it separates teacher and parent instead of making them partners in the child’s education.

  4. A good counterpoint to this article might be one discussing strategies for dealing with the bad teachers that one’s children might have. So far, and my oldest is in 8th grade, we have dealt with: 1. the teacher whose personal life was in such crisis that she had no chance of effectively teaching; 2. the teacher who was such a slacker that he couldn’t manage to send home different homework sets, my child brought home the same homework for a week before I caught on. He also couldn’t manage to shave or dress in non rumpled clothes. 3. the crazy mean teacher who targeted and bullied another child to such an extent that other parents who worked in the classroom suggested that the other parent move her child. 4. The teacher who regularly makes racist comments, e.g. “The brown haired, brown eyed students write more interesting stories that the blue eyed, blondes. 5. The P.E. teacher who routinely bullies and mocks students. 6. The teacher who is a nice guy, but cannot control the multple students who are emotionally disturbed in his classroom.

    I am not interested in going to war with any teacher, but my kids need to learn. And, they deserve to learn in a calm ordered classroom. I will do my best to make sure that happens. I would like to do it nicely, but I’m not going to sacrifice my children to make friends with the lame teachers.

    For what it is worth, my children have had several good to stellar teachers. Those teachers have my wholehearted support, and I have their back.