Saturday, May 14, 2011

The parent is not always right

Yesterday a colleague told me he's been researching administrative techniques that revolve around the idea that parents are customers, that they're always right and that we (teachers and administrators) need to do everything we can to make them feel good and happy about all in the world. Okay, so maybe the last part might have included a bit of hyperbole, but seriously, this approach is, in one word: destructive.

I understand how important it is to do everything we can do to help set a student up for success, but my experience has been that this philosophy translates into an excuse to not address the true issues that parents bring to the table.  I am also a parent of a second grader and a soon-to-be kindergartner and let me tell you, I've been told "no" by the administration at  his school many times.

My son had a terrible kindergarten year, so bad in fact that I went in demanding he be moved out of that teacher's class because she had told my son that he made her not want to come to work everyday. Highly unprofessional, yes, but the principal explained she'd personally address the situation and keep an eye on things, that moving kids was the last resort because there are so many life lessons to be learned and running away from them hurts all involved that early in the game.

I was still upset, but I understood where she was coming from, and as an educator I appreciated the fact that she was supporting her teacher, and the parent while actively seeking out a solution.  What she was doing made sense and while my son had to be moved because the teacher's negative behaviors continued (and they were bad), we left knowing we did all we could. More importantly, though, a paper trail following that teacher was started because of her refusal to learn from her mistakes, (which ties into my last post).  Was I upset that we had such an emotional mess to clean up with my son? Oh my gosh, you have no idea!  But, did we all learn and grow from the situation? For sure.

The principal and I didn't always see eye to eye, but I truly respected and continue to respect her administrative style. Because of her, my son had an incredible first grade teacher and continues to excel in second grade. So that brings me back to looking at the parents as "clients" and the primary goal of "making them happy." None of what I just explained would have been as successful if I (the parent in this case) would have been allowed to call the shots, which is precisely why we have to deal with the issues the parents bring in (i.e. excessive absences, apathy, poverty, whatever) and be active with finding solutions that may be difficult, but necessary. Regardless of how hard the conversation might have to be, it has to be done.

Taking the easy way out by just "making them happy" will perpetuate an environment in which parents continue to have very little accountability because it's easier to just go with the flow, while teachers continue to bear the brunt of society's woes.  Parents are not the experts when it comes to education, we are. And because of that, we can help them in so many ways.  Keeping that information to ourselves just further cripples everyone involved and creates more helicopter parents who scream instead of communicate.

Do teachers make mistakes? Hell yeah!  Do parents have a hard time taking off their parenting hat and seeing the truth for what it really is, and do they make mistakes? You bettchya.  Do administrators need to value their teachers as much as the parents and do they make mistakes? Holy cow, do I even need to answer that?  So what does it all mean? If we are truly going to start turning this terrible educational environment around and rethink the educational system as it stands then we have to work as a team, listen to each other's voices and stop looking at schools as corporations, because our commodity is way too fragile and our purpose is not a capitalistic one.

As a parent and a teacher I have been forced to walk on both sides of the path and I only wish everyone could have the fortune (or misfortune) of living out both sides of this conundrum.  It's no longer a matter of No Child Left Behind as we know it; it's becoming a matter of No Common sense Left Behind.  Life is not about taking the easy path because it's often too narrow and too short-sighted, leading nowhere; it's about finding a path big enough for everyone to walk down that leads to change.

Tell me what you think!


  1. Laura,

    Very timely blog. We had a parent tell one of our teachers in a meeting the other day, "Ms. ___, I don't know if you know this or not, but you are in the customer service business, and it is your job to make sure my son and I are happy." What the heck? I cannot tell you how many times this year, the admin has moved students off another team just because the parents weren't happy. Our team has been the recipient of those students. Ouch!

    I also understand not always being happy. I have an 11th grader and 7th grader, but I am also not delusional enough to believe my boys are perfect either. When I have had an issue with a teacher I go to her/him FIRST - not directly to the admin the way so many parents are doing nowadays. I firmly believe the negative press we teachers receive on a daily basis is a direct correlation with the lack of respect we receive from parents. Please don't get me wrong; I have more fabulous parents than I do problematic ones, but it is those few that make our job so difficult, and it is high time our country, our admin, and all parents start appreciating teachers for what they are - the educators of our country's future - not sales people who are providing a "customer service".

  2. Trina,
    Well stated and I couldn't agree with you more! It truly is those few, though, that can set a negative precedent for so many to follow. I think we've really lost our way and it's just going to take time and a whole lot of discussion amongst teachers to gather enough momentum to actually make a social a professional change. We've become the acceptable prejudice, almost a dirty name in today's society and it is time we start taking back our classrooms and our schools. Most importantly though, we need to become the voice of reason. Thank you so much for your post!

  3. I just want to say hurray for teachers. When I was in public school way back in the "olden days",I respected my teachers, was in awe of them and yes, even afraid of some of them. I wish I could tell them thank you, but most of them are dead and gone. I recently heard that my 2nd grade teacher just celebrated her 100th birthday. I sent her a card and some pictures even though I expect she would not remember me after 100's of students have passed through her classroom door. She was a strict teacher and I can still remember the sound of her fingers as she snapped them at some poor soul who got out of line. The rest of us were sure to toe the line after that. And our parents were all very supportive of the teachers and their discipline. My mother was an elementary school teacher. Her nickname was "Old Lady Green Witch." I have met some of her former students that now claim she was one of the best teachers they ever had, and glad that she made them learn. Teachers had control of their classrooms back in the "olden days" including the discipline in their classrooms. Administraters backed their teachers then.I think it is time that we get back to letting our teachers teach and control what goes on in their classrooms. What has happened to allow parents and students to take over the classroom?

  4. Well stated, John, well stated.