Teacher to parents: Bug off!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 11, 2010 06:00 AM

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I am in my third year of teaching. I teach fourth grade. Most days, I find the work quite enjoyable - challenging, always different, and always fun to watch children learn new things.

The days I like it less are the days I field endless questions, complaints, or concerns from parents.

As I write this, I feel I have to admit, I am not a parent and I know that I probably find this frustrating because I don't truly understand where the parents are coming from. I'm good with child empathy - I remember being a child and I can put my self in my students' shoes easily.

While I do find it helpful to be on the same page with parents (especially when it comes to expectations), I really struggle to deal with the four or five parents who contact me at least weekly and at times daily about issues, concerns, complaints, vents, etc. I field emails, phone calls, and notes about one failed quiz, why I marked a question wrong, frustration over homework, confusion over the test on Friday that is explained on the study guide, issues about divorce, new jobs, custody agreements, landlord issues, family drama, and just general issues that I don't feel I can provide productive advice or information about, especially after I have heard from the parent four days in a row. I want to promote my students' independence without shutting out these highly communicative parents.

So I ask the parents out there: how can I draw the line and eliminate some of this communication? To be honest... its exhausting to deal with and could push me away from the profession I love.

From: Teacherinmass, Oxford

Dear Teacherinmass,

Parents, could this be you?!

There are so many reasons why parents are more needy these days -- lack of support systems and splintered nuclear families; societal anxiety and pressure for kids to succeed; competition among parents in social groups; angst over children's self-esteem; guilt about working; snowplow parents who want to push problems out of the way before a child even faces it ....the list goes on.

So where do they turn? To the over-worked, under-paid teacher who often has no more experience with the issue.

There are plenty of times when I've written in this space and elsewhere that parents need to "let the teacher know," or "get the teacher's advice/perspective."

I stand by that advice but I want to be clear: Parents need to be able to recognize when it's appropriate to contact and seek out a teacher and when it's not. It is when something is off the bell curve in terms of a particular child (all of a sudden, she refuses to go to school, won't/can't do math homework)  or when there is an event in a family's life that might affect a child's ability to function, like a beloved pet's death or a parent out of work. And I think it's OK to let a teacher know that you want his/her input if he/she spots something out of character for a child. There are even times when a particular problem warrants keeping in touch with each other on a regular basis.  After all, the education of a child ideally is a partnership between school and home.

Back in the day, a teacher was a minor god and the typical parents wouldn't consider overstepping their boundaries. Today, parents don't feel that inhibition. What's more, it's so easy to send off an email!

The answer, of course, is to achieve a balance. Do parents need guidelines set by principals? Teachers? The PTA?

Teacherinmass, It's sad, indeed, to think that someone like you who loves teaching is contemplating leaving the profession because of annoying parents. Not because of annoying kids,  not because of low-pay or too much work or too much testing or insufficient supplies or unnecessary paperwork. Talk about lists that go on....!

Parents, I hope you will take  Teacherinmass' comments to heart. If she were your child's teacher, how would you want her to draw the line? And teachers out there, please write in and give Teacherinmass some advice about how you deal with inappropriate parents. I look forward to some lively comments on this one!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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31 comments so far...
  1. Teacherinmass,

    Why can't you share some of the burden with the school psychologist? Its seems they would best equipped and have the time in their schedule to deal with these family issues.

    And if a parent doesn't understand a study guide for their child's test, of course you should help them! Don't you want their child to succeed - at least the parents admitted and were concerned enough to ask for extra help.

    Posted by notinterestedinbeinganunderpaidteacher February 11, 10 08:10 AM
  1. My husband was a teacher until recently but left the profession. It is parents he could not deal with -- the type who would call and yell when their son/daughter got a C, D or, heaven forbid, an F. These parents would blame my husband for their child's grade, and get really snarky and sometimes nasty. Sometimes the bad grade is because of loads of missed work (that my husband called home about ahead of time), or about failure to turn in a research paper that was assigned, or simply failing tests (that plenty of other kids had passed). The solution was to yell and pressure my husband to change the grade -- which he would not do. And that made the student angry and rebellious in turn, and the student would often then try to become disruptive in class.

    I think some parents really do not understand the boundaries here. And what is worse, they -- not all, just the vocal complainers -- do not understand they are doing their child no favors. Instead of promoting accountability in their children, they promote the idea that all you need to do is yell loudly enough.

    It's strange because I hear so much complaining in the news about "lazy teachers" and "low standards" -- but then someone like my husband, who was a hard teacher and expected his kids to work is driven out of teaching by parents who *say* they want high standards, but really just want their kids to get As and Bs.

    The problem is there are plenty of reasonable parents out there. But they are not vocal. The needy, demanding, unreasonable ones are vocal, and daily calls to the teacher and the administration are exhausting and, for my husband, sucked so much joy out of a profession he used to love.

    Posted by jlen February 11, 10 09:03 AM
  1. I can certainly understand that many parents overstep their bounds and intervene on behalf of their child more often than is warranted. I always find it very helpful when a teacher make his/her expectations for parent communication very clear at the beginning of the school year. This can be done at the "back to school night" for parents, and reinforced with a handout that the parents can keep (there is a lot to take in on these nights -- don't expect everyone to be able to remember every detail). It might be helpful to emphasize that, as these children are approaching middle-school age, the skills involved in learning to advocate for themselves are as important as memorizing the multiplication tables. A polite, but pointed "I went over the test questions with Johnny" in response to the wrong answer inquiry (perhaps accompanied by a fresh copy of the teachers expectations sheet) might help.

    That said, there is something about this letter that does not sit well with me. I am concerned that the letter writer lumps concern over a missed test question into the same sentence with divorce and custody agreements. I would hope that knowledge of such significant events in the life of a child would be helpful to the teacher. You don't have to solve these problems for the families--a reply of "thank you for letting me know" goes a long way.

    Categorizing sharing "frustration over homework" as an annoyance raises a red flag for me. A conversation over homework frustration was, for my son, the first step in diagnosing his dysgraphia. A similar conversation about my daughter led us to recognize that she needed professional help to deal with some anxiety issues. Parents need to be able to share their concerns with the teacher to understand whether there was just an unusual amount of homework in a given week, or whether their child is struggling in a way that others are not. I hope the letter writer will learn to recognize that parents are not trying to be annoying -- for the most part parents have the best interests of their children in mind when contacting a teacher. Managing this relationship is part of the job! I am sure that there are other school districts where the teacher would welcome a more involved parent community.

    Posted by gastrogal February 11, 10 09:52 AM
  1. LW, it's not entirely clear what your issue is - are you overwhelmed in general by the communication from parents, or are you just overwhelmed by what you feel is excessive communication from just a few parents?

    I think you need to figure out what you think is reasonable, and find a way to communicate that to the parents - preferably at the beginning of the year - so everyone's expectations are aligned. Let them know what kinds of communications you want from them, and which should be from the student. Parents tell you about 'family drama' because they are concerned that it affects their child, and want you to be aware. My kids' teachers have always asked for that information, and have expressed gratitude when it was shared. They also encourage us to let them know if our children are struggling with a particular assignment, etc. I do respect that my children's teachers are busy, and certainly try to keep my communications to the most pressing issues.

    For the parents who routinely bombard you, I think it's worth pushing back gently - "Mrs. X, I want to continue to hear from you, but Johnny needs to come to me himself with questions about the test/homework/grades. "

    Posted by akmom February 11, 10 09:52 AM
  1. @jlen, I am so sorry to hear that - but I am even sorrier to tell you that I actually never even entered the profession after two very bad experiences in one semester of student teaching in an honors English class at Natick High School. I was a senior in the school of education at Boston College - sharp and well prepared to take that role.

    My cooperating teacher (another BC grad who was willing to take me on) and I were harassed so much by the parents of two particular students that they left me shaking after our meetings. I was only 21 at the time, and that may have had something to do with my reactions to parents sharply blaming us for their childrens' failures in the classroom.

    I walked out of that experience thinking it would never fly in the business world. You can't yell at your co-workers like that and get away with it! Some parents take the term "public servant" way too literally, and that was a role I did not want to play. How sad, because I had a great rapport with most of the students, and I enjoyed my work with them both inside and outside the classroom. And when a teacher enjoys the work, that's 90% of the battle of making a difference...because it's contagious.

    Posted by RH February 11, 10 09:56 AM
  1. I think that while teacherinmass is not entirely clear, it is the volume of contact from a few parents that is the problem--because while of course teachers want to help parents understand their child's academic progress and school life, one missed test question does not warrant a teacher phone call *every time there is a test.* Once in a while, O.K. I know where she is coming from, as a teacher I had 95% great experiences with parents, but the 5% that call on Sunday afternoons for an hour-long discussion of their child's needs after *looking up* my home phone number (!), that send long emails based on their child's story (demanding a response within that day "or they will go to the prinicipal!) have no idea that one 45-minute prep period each day can easily be eaten up responding so carefully to such an email. As a childless 20-something, I essentially counselled 6th and 9th grade parents as their children transitioned into adolescence and then into high school about what is normal, what is important, etc. Teachers are giving people for the most part. We help, but parents need to mindful about what they are asking of a teacher with 100 students and not nearly enough hours in the day to serve them. In the worst cast that happened to me, I bore the brunt of a parent's anger at her child's imperfection for an entire year, and the harrassment drove me to take a year off. It was insane.

    Posted by beenthere February 11, 10 10:57 AM
  1. I am constantly trying to figure out how much contact is too much. I lean toward the side of not communicating with the teacher for much of anything. For social problems I do contact the guidance counselor - my son has a lot of problems with being bullied. My son also has reading and writing issues and is on an IEP, so sometimes I discuss what levels of support are appropriate.

    I do find though, that I feel like very little info comes from school. Individual papers come back, but important assessments are kept in their portfolio, and we don't see them until report card time. By then it is too late to help them with a problem they had in October - they're already on to the next thing. I find out on the report card that my kid has been goofing off in class - I sort of needed to know that earlier, so I could work on behavior at home. I have no particular illusions about my kid's behavior - I know he can be a pain. But if teachers don't communicate this to me regularly, and I don't want to bother the teachers with excessive emails, then...what do I do?

    Posted by BMS February 11, 10 11:06 AM
  1. teacherinmass: I'm wondering is a scheduled "office hours for parents" would help. Can you provide a structured time that you make yourself available to parents? And then you can say that you need to move on to others' concerns. That way, the parents who have been exceptionally needy will know that you have limits on the time you're available. You could provide this 3 X/ week, from 7:30 to 8:30, or what not. If they contact you after that time, you have the opportunity to let them know you'll respond tomorrow during office hours. That way, your productivity isn't sapped, and you can focus on what gives you a meaningful relationship with your job. You are still in touch with parents. You are still making yourself available for parent concerns, but by using the traditional tool of office hours, you preserve your professional integrity and personal well-being. (And teachers at every grade level deal with parents like this...)

    Posted by claudine kavanagh February 11, 10 11:35 AM
  1. My advice (and I am a parent) is to write a nice welcome to class letter every year in the beginning of September and lay out exactly what you want from the students and parents. If you are concerned about the students learning to take resposibility for thier own homework/test scores/behaviors lay it on the line on day one. And when the calls and emails start coming, kindly but firmly tell them you were all provided with a outline and to refer to that outline. You have to be stern or you will drive yourselfs nuts!

    Posted by Judgenot February 11, 10 11:36 AM
  1. Teacherinmass

    Wow! How refreshing to hear this. As a fellow 4th grade teacher, I'm often bombared with e-mails and calls from parents regarding similar issues. My advice is this: set forth your expectations with parents from the beginning of the year.

    During the first few weeks of school and at our curriculum night, I specifically let parents know that e-mail is an "easy" medium to communicatie with, but not often the best choice for communicating. I bring up the fact there is no tone in e-mail. In addition, I tell them that I refuse to discuss child progress via e-mail. Phone calls and meetings are best for this.

    I'm in my 6th year of teaching and, I should mention, a father of three young children.

    I've found the above method successful. In addition, here's a great strategy, when a parent releases of his/her frustrations, questions, etc.. via e-mail, answer it with a telephone. This usually diffuses tempers and allows for civil conversation.

    Finally, if teachers aren't communicating with parents about an academically challenged child or one with behavior problems on a regular basis, they're not doing their jobs!

    Good luck!

    Posted by L February 11, 10 11:40 AM
  1. BMS -- from my experience, it is not questions asking, "can you let me know how my child is doing?" that is the problem. It is the parents who constantly call to complain and harrass -- there is a big difference between the two. My husband, for example, was always happy to talk to parents who were looking for information. (Though he always said, he gave out tons of info on parent nights and during conferences -- but the parents who showed up were the ones who were put together and whose children did the work and tried... never the parents who would call and scream later; the parents who called or emailed a few times during the semester were always the ones whose kids were doing fine).

    So I do not think it is contact in general that is the problem; it is harrassing contact that is the problem -- the "how dare you give my child a C" or "how dare you not let me know there was a test" (even parents of highschool kids yelling about tests -- as if high school teachers need or even can to tell the 100-200 parents that there is a test coming.

    I doubt the LW is complaining about general inquiries -- reasonable and involved parents are wonderful.

    Posted by jlen February 11, 10 11:50 AM
  1. As someone who substitutes quite often at my kids' private catholic school, I can say that it is almost always the kids with "needy" parents that LW speaks of, who are lazy, arrogant and expect to excel w/o doing the work. I'll also say that often these same kids seem average or above average intellectually so it is a shame that these helicopter parents are ruining their children's futures by teaching them to be whiny babies who think they are entitled to everything even those thing they don't work for like good grades. Every teacher I know in my kids' school loves his/her job and loves the kids as well. They also get paid less than the teachers in the public school system. The only complaints I ever hear about are about annoying parents who over step the boundaries and end up hurting their kids in the process. Grow up parents and let your kids do the same.

    Posted by eyes-wide-open February 11, 10 12:09 PM
  1. I think the advice here is all good. As a parent whose oldest child just had a very young teacher who does not have children, I can say that as a parent, it was very easy to see the difference between him and the other teachers my son has had, who by and large have had the benefit of not only many more years on the job but also the perspective of being a parent. To me this seems like a great opportunity for on-the-job mentoring between older and newer teachers - the LW's peers in his/her school must also be dealing with the same issues (maybe even the same problem parents) and may have some best practices to share.

    All that said, my oldest is a high-maintenance student with LDs and ADHD. He has had three very effective teachers (grades 2, 4 & 6) and the commonality among them was masterful organization and communication. These teachers are the ones who truly understand that writing homework on the board doesn't mean that it gets accurately recorded in the assignment book; that putting a paper in a folder at 1:55 doesn't mean it will still be there when the child gets home at 2:10; that sending home a permission slip due three weeks away guarantees that it will get lost. Each teacher developed an age-appropriate way of corralling the paperwork, communicating homework, etc. - for one it was a monthly and weekly parent e-mail, another uses a weekly "Triangle Folder" (Parent-Student-School), etc. With these teachers, I found that I rarely had to call or e-mail about anything. With other teachers, a lack of effective, regular communication meant plenty of one-off calls to help get my son back on track after finding out (at report card time) that 50% of his homework was missing, or he failed a bunch of tests, etc.

    As another poster mentioned, some of the drama/personal life information shared is appropriate so that the teacher knows that there is upheaval at home and can be on the lookout of evidence that the child's school work is suffering. I agree that the appropriate response there is a simple "thank you for letting me know" - parents shouldn't be expecting commentary or feedback or a shoulder to cry on. Perhaps the LW can try to track and categorize some of the communication and figure out ways to proactively head off some if it with revised expectations, a new way of communicating assignments, figuring out which calls should be handled by the school psychologist or learning specialists, etc.

    Finally, enlist the help of you peers and principal! No one wants to see a young, energetic teacher burn out due to something like this.

    Posted by Jen February 11, 10 12:26 PM
  1. Barbara -- thank you for publishing this! Such an important conversation to have!!!


    Posted by I.Annie February 11, 10 12:52 PM
  1. As a teacher ( 5 yrs) and a mother of 2, I'd like to weigh in here.Several other commenters have made sensible, realistic points about setting limits for particularly needy parents ( set office hours, re-direct to materials, discuss class rules at Back-to-School night) I feel these are all great suggestions, and have worked for me. I would add that you could discuss these issues with your guidance department- and your principal to ask for even more support if you're feeling overwhelmed. Guidance counselors should be informed about major changes and problems in students' lives and may be able to step in and help. Also, I'd talk to the teachers who had these children in grade 3- how did they handle them? what suggestions do they have about these parents? Often, other teachers are your BEST resource- especially those who have been effectively teaching for years- they're resilient, caring adults who have developed a host of skills to manage these issues.
    I have to also say, however, that you'll have to toughen up a bit- every job has stressful components that you need to learn to manage- to leave a career because there are parts that are hard seems a shame. To GH, who left the profession because of a few difficult meetings, well- you couldn't have wanted to be a teacher that badly if you left for those reasons. Again, every job has its stressors. Infact, as a note to the commenter who wrote about helicopter parents- I would add that many new teachers coming in to the profession have HAD helicopter parents and have a tough time dealing with these issues.
    They come in to schools thinking it's going to be a piece of cake and cry, whine and complain when they realize that teaching is one of the hardest ( and most rewarding) careers that you could choose. I hope you can develop some things that work for you to manage these parents- don't give up! The profession needs wonderful teachers!


    They


    Posted by Kay February 11, 10 12:56 PM
  1. I wonder if these over-the-top parents might be the parents of children with special needs. Maybe those special needs are not being met due to budget cuts and layoffs of specialists. Maybe this teacher is the one expected to deal with these special needs without being properly trained in that specialty? Maybe these children don't belong in this type of classroom. Oops, sorry, that's politically incorrect to say that, isn't it? Maybe you should consider working in a private school?

    Posted by anonymous February 11, 10 01:54 PM
  1. Teacher

    Please be careful and remember that these are your clients, and salary source. As a parent and a veteran educator I can see both sides, but in the end not giving your ear to the parents will only result in more trouble for you. You cannot change your clients and if you don't like how they behave you might have to move on.

    Posted by School Psychologist February 11, 10 02:04 PM
  1. I love the way my children's teachers have handled these issues through the years. I live in a community that is full of very self-important, entitled parents, and so almost every teacher we've ever had has required all contact be thru e-mail (except for the face-to-face conferences.) It works very well. The parent e-mails you, you read it and think it through, then respond at your leisure. This gives everyone a cooling off period and makes them think before sending a message.

    Posted by Ashley February 11, 10 02:22 PM
  1. You have to just realize what you see as acceptable communication. I do not give out my personal phone number or email address. I use the school provided or set up a school email that parents can contact me at. I field phone calls on planning periods and always give a detailed outline to the parents and students on day one.

    If a kid is having a social problem that is not my job, i send them to the school shrink. I am there to teach math to your student, not to be your one stop shop for answers. If a parent wants to meet I am always more than happy to meet with them and I try to make sure the kids always know what is up with their grades.

    But teaching needs to be ran more like a business. I wouldnt give out my personal information to a customer, and I wouldnt put up with an irate person if I was a business owner. So if you cant be civil, then you wont speak with me.

    Posted by anothertype of teacher February 11, 10 02:26 PM
  1. I think this sentence says alot "I am not a parent and I know that I probably find this frustrating because I don't truly understand where the parents are coming from."

    While I'm not suggesting that every teacher needs to be a parent to be sucessful but I do suggest that you start working on understanding where they are coming from. Maybe speak to some co-workers who are parents as well because they might have some helpful tips for you with dealing with concerned parents.

    Posted by m'smom February 11, 10 02:30 PM
  1. anothertype of teacher:
    If my child was in your class and had some social issues that prevented him or her from learning math you can be darn sure you are going to be hearing from me as a concerned parent. It's apparent how serious you take child issues as you refer to the guidance counselor or psychologist as the school shrink. I hope the parents complain to the principal about you!

    Posted by appalled February 11, 10 02:58 PM
  1. As one of those parents with a kid with learning disabilities, I would love to have him be in another school. Could you please tell me where such a school is that doesn't cost more than I make in a year? I haven't found one yet.

    Posted by BMS February 11, 10 05:00 PM
  1. I have taught middle-school English for over ten years, and the most effective means of communication for me is email. True, tone can be lost in email, but it gives you a chance to do some research into the issue, or cool down before emotions get heated. Also, it can be difficult to get a parent on the phone (or vice versa), leading to an annoying game of phone tag for both parties--email eliminates that problem.

    To teacherinmass--set some boundaries for yourself in regards to communication; for example, no checking school email after 8pm, or no calling parents from your home/cell phone. Let the parents know what your communication policies are at Open House, and be clear and consistent with those policies. Also, reach out to your colleagues for help, especially the guidance counselor and school nurse. Sometimes they're the people who need the info. you're getting about your students. Finally, if you feel you're getting harrassed by certain parents or groups of parents, go to your building principal; chances are, s/he will help you by meeting with the parents to establish the boundaries they need to follow.

    97% of the parents I've had are absolutely wonderful; reach out to those around you to help you with that other 3%. Chances are, if you're having trouble with a parent, others have too. Good luck!

    Posted by NDL's Wife February 11, 10 05:39 PM
  1. As a former trainer, I can confirm that one needy client is more work than 20 normal ones who put their share of the required effort into a learning task.

    I found that the needy parents are spoiled brats with hormones that permit them to reproduce. Keeping track of their emails is useful.
    The accumulated lot portrays their childishness perfectly.

    I suggest that the teacher use an Excel spreadsheet to log the hours spent on each student's parents. Then an average can be calculated, and parents can be given some cute graphs at the second parent-teacher conference of a school year. It might shame them to know that one parent takes 100 hours where 20 others take 2 hours each...without naming names.

    And expecting teachers to carry the load of therapists for students who are being subjected to divorce is just plain insane. Maybe a list of family therapists recommended by the school board would be a useful handout. Unfortunately some separating parents will actually let 7 year olds dangle for a whole school year because they are too cheap to pay for private counseling.

    Posted by Irene February 11, 10 05:51 PM
  1. I'm a school librarian. I want to remind everyone about the power of POSITIVE feedback.

    Teachers: call or email parents when Suzy has done something good, not just when she's misbehaved. "Suzy was so kind to her classmates today...she made a great comment in class discussion..." Parents are much more likely to trust you and be your ally if you've given their kid - and by extension, the parents - some praise! Parents usually share these calls/notes with kids, and that can only help you connect with the kid.

    Parents: speak up when you are happy, and give teachers a pat on the back. One kind comment can last us the entire year. "Johnny said you told a funny story..." "Suzy is really benefiting from your extra homework help..." "your bulletin board looks great..." whatever.

    I keep a file of positive emails and notes I've received. They are my respite on the tougher days!

    Posted by JM February 11, 10 08:35 PM
  1. As a former teacher, you have hit upon one of the reasons I quit.

    Today's parents are far more out of control than the kids are. They are spoiled, selfish and think that their child's performance in school somehow reflects on them as parents. They intrude upon class, enable kids by bringing forgotten hairbands (seriously) because god forbid their child not be accessorized correctly, demanded that I create 30 pages or so of extra work for their child on 2 minutes notice and are upset that I'm not going to abandon my class and photocopy it that second or take it home and grade it myself. They never say thank you. When they don't like what you have to say (your child broke the rules and the stated consequence that he knew before hand was that he wouldn't go on a field trip) they create trouble for you with the principal.

    When you set limits with parents (I will respond to email between 4 and 5 pm m-f and that is IT) they complain. When you try to help (I will post homework on this private wiki for the class) they complain.

    I didn't get a master's degree to be treated like dirt by entitled parents.


    Of course, there's always the alternative. The parents who stand you up for p/t conferences, who can't be bothered to sign a form that you have to have.

    I would strongly discourage anyone who is considering being a teacher away from the profession. The only thing my degree has any value for is evaluating schools for my own child. Because I am familiar with the curriculum, I know to avoid such trendy nonsense as TERC, Chicago (Everyday) Math, and Reader's Workshop (instead of Phonics) as designed by Fountas and Pinnell in the younger grades. But I could have learned about these curricula for far less than the 60k I wasted on my master's in teaching.

    Posted by Never Teaching Again February 11, 10 09:49 PM
  1. Teacherinmass,

    Hi, I was a teacher for four years. Parents are out of control these days and if the trend continues they are only going to get worse.

    You are still young. I would leave teaching and head into the private sector and get your masters degree paid for by your company.

    Once you leave teaching and work with mature adults you will never look back...

    Posted by Michael February 12, 10 01:23 AM
  1. I actually see the opposite in my community. My son's teacher begs parents to participate in teaching kids to read in class, creating plays once a month, and other requests. It is expected that parents are deeply involved. While this has created a reach learning environment, for those of us that work, this in-class during school hours requirements is a huge burden and leaves our kids upset because "my friend's mommy is always here." I've requested that there are opportunities for parent inclusion in an evening event and then dads can participate as well and received a cold shoulder. It has all been frustrating and a difficult year for my son.

    On the other hand, I've also experienced teacher's reaching out to let me know that my child could use some help. I meet and talk with the teacher and request communication that helps me stay abreast of what is needed so that I can reinforce at home. However, this is met with, "we don't really plan that way." and I don't have a heads up to help out. To be honest, I feel these discussions are useless and are more for the teacher to vent than really help work towards a solution.

    At the end of the day, my kids do well in school and have the typically issues to stay on top of like homework. What is difficult is knowing what teachers expect of me as a parent and also recognizing what as parents we can actually do. I don't know about work at home moms, but working mothers I know seem to have the same issue as I do. We want to have more involvement and seem expected to be more involved, but how to do so from when we can (timing) to what we can (expected) is vague.

    Teacherinmass, maybe setting expectations and limits as you do with the kids will help alleviate your frustrations. I wish my children's teachers and schools did more in this front.

    Posted by Mich February 12, 10 09:28 AM
  1. I am also a teacher, but I teach high school sophomore English. It is my second year of teaching. I find that students have no sense of personal responsiblity and do not know how to advocate for themselves when they do not understand something. I understand that parents want to help their kids, but the reality is that they will not always be there holding their child's hand through every difficult situation in life. Contesting one F or questioning an assignment only shows these kids that they should be able to get what they want by complaining, but that is not a reality. What's even more scary is that this type of over-bearing parental behavior begins in the elementary school level, so by the time they reach high school, they are completely disillusioned about teachers' expectations because they have this entitled attitude that they can argue their way out of any situation, even if it is due to their own laziness and lack of responsiblity. Remember the old adage- learn from your mistakes? Maybe letting your kid fail an assignment will teach them that next time, they need to do better. It's unfortuante that these parents don't realize that they are actually hurting their children more than helping them.

    Posted by Jessica February 12, 10 10:21 AM
  1. Such a topic that touches the heart... There are some helpful suggestions here, but I would strongly like to suggest to *not* use email as a means of communication.

    I have been a teacher for over eleven years, and have had my share of difficult parents. Email seemed like the easy solution. It's all written down, easy to respond to... however, there is really no end in sight for email. It can leave a paper trail a mile long, as even deleted emails are never truly gone. There is no "tone" to an email, and discussion topics can be misconstrued. Email can be sent at any time of day, and the pressure to respond quickly can be stressful.

    Having parents contact you at a specific time of day would be best, and vice versa. In that manner, there is always an open door policy, questions can be asked immediately (rather than the back and forth of an email), and, I have found, a more effective relationship can be established between parent and teacher.

    As a parent myself to two school-aged children, I have had a very good relationship with their teachers, and have learned from those parents that I have struggled with over the years. My children will never be perfect; I don't expect them to be. I just want them to be happy, to have some success. It may not be an easy path, and there *will* be some difficulties, even failure. A lot of those "difficult" parents have wanted their children to be perfect so badly that they made teaching these children a true hell on earth. Those were the parents who argued with me over every little question their child got wrong, who complained about their child not receiving extra assistance, etc. It's one thing to be concerned about your child's progress. It's completely another to be screaming at the teacher when your child comes home with 89% correct, rather than 90%.

    However, from the tone of the OP, it is clear that there is a multitude of issues concerning this classroom. It *is* important to know when there is a divorce in play, or a move. You can provide extra support to that child, and bring the issue to the attention of the school psychologist/counselor so s/he is aware. It can be tough to grow up in that type of environment, and having everybody work together is critical--sorry, but that is part of a teachers role! Not to be a counselor, but to be an advocate. But, that's a lot different that having a parent upset because question #7 was incorrect on a quiz.

    Posted by LMM February 12, 10 12:32 PM
  1. I am the teacher of a specialized music program at the elementary level. Around 200 students pay a fee to participate in my instrumental program. I have been teaching for five years.

    To the letter writer: hang in there. The other commenters are right about making positive comments and contact with parents. If they know that you are looking out for your kid they will relax. Learn to distinguish between the helpful, important parent feedback, and the nit-picky, entitled stuff that doesn't help you improve your teaching. You don't want to mistake the former for the latter because then the person who loses is the child. When parents do bring you concerns about changes in home life or medical issues, you can help that child by notifying all the teachers who come in contact with him or her. As the music teacher, I want to know about those changes and concerns so that I don't come down hard on a child who is going through something scary or traumatic at home.

    To parents: so many of you are wonderful and supportive and help us do our jobs better. Bless you. To those of you who judge a teacher's competence by her age, or think that she should hold office hours three times a week to accommodate your multitude of concerns, please think it over several times before your next email or phone call. Unfortunately, most times that I hear parents make a judgment about a teacher not understanding because he or she doesn't have children, they are using it as an excuse to justify their own lack of boundaries. It is completely true that every year that I teach, I learn about children and improve the quality of my instruction and materials and communication. But telling a teacher that she is too young or can't understand because she is child-free just puts her (and yes, this judgment is typically about female teachers) on the defensive because you have just said that the issue is her. You've said it's about her personally, not even professionally, and that statement is in itself a violation of appropriate boundaries. If your belief in this is so strong that you are giving frequent or forceful "guidance" for her career, please take a step back and know that you are not the right person for that role. Every new teacher in Massachusetts has an assigned veteran mentor and goes through many observations and evaluations for the first three years. We are trained, even from pre-service programs, to be reflective practitioners and to seek advice from other knowledgeable people. Your unsolicited daily advice is likely to cause the teacher stress that will take her attention off of the people who deserve it: the children.

    Posted by Music Teacher February 14, 10 09:27 AM
 
31 comments so far...
  1. Teacherinmass,

    Why can't you share some of the burden with the school psychologist? Its seems they would best equipped and have the time in their schedule to deal with these family issues.

    And if a parent doesn't understand a study guide for their child's test, of course you should help them! Don't you want their child to succeed - at least the parents admitted and were concerned enough to ask for extra help.

    Posted by notinterestedinbeinganunderpaidteacher February 11, 10 08:10 AM
  1. My husband was a teacher until recently but left the profession. It is parents he could not deal with -- the type who would call and yell when their son/daughter got a C, D or, heaven forbid, an F. These parents would blame my husband for their child's grade, and get really snarky and sometimes nasty. Sometimes the bad grade is because of loads of missed work (that my husband called home about ahead of time), or about failure to turn in a research paper that was assigned, or simply failing tests (that plenty of other kids had passed). The solution was to yell and pressure my husband to change the grade -- which he would not do. And that made the student angry and rebellious in turn, and the student would often then try to become disruptive in class.

    I think some parents really do not understand the boundaries here. And what is worse, they -- not all, just the vocal complainers -- do not understand they are doing their child no favors. Instead of promoting accountability in their children, they promote the idea that all you need to do is yell loudly enough.

    It's strange because I hear so much complaining in the news about "lazy teachers" and "low standards" -- but then someone like my husband, who was a hard teacher and expected his kids to work is driven out of teaching by parents who *say* they want high standards, but really just want their kids to get As and Bs.

    The problem is there are plenty of reasonable parents out there. But they are not vocal. The needy, demanding, unreasonable ones are vocal, and daily calls to the teacher and the administration are exhausting and, for my husband, sucked so much joy out of a profession he used to love.

    Posted by jlen February 11, 10 09:03 AM
  1. I can certainly understand that many parents overstep their bounds and intervene on behalf of their child more often than is warranted. I always find it very helpful when a teacher make his/her expectations for parent communication very clear at the beginning of the school year. This can be done at the "back to school night" for parents, and reinforced with a handout that the parents can keep (there is a lot to take in on these nights -- don't expect everyone to be able to remember every detail). It might be helpful to emphasize that, as these children are approaching middle-school age, the skills involved in learning to advocate for themselves are as important as memorizing the multiplication tables. A polite, but pointed "I went over the test questions with Johnny" in response to the wrong answer inquiry (perhaps accompanied by a fresh copy of the teachers expectations sheet) might help.

    That said, there is something about this letter that does not sit well with me. I am concerned that the letter writer lumps concern over a missed test question into the same sentence with divorce and custody agreements. I would hope that knowledge of such significant events in the life of a child would be helpful to the teacher. You don't have to solve these problems for the families--a reply of "thank you for letting me know" goes a long way.

    Categorizing sharing "frustration over homework" as an annoyance raises a red flag for me. A conversation over homework frustration was, for my son, the first step in diagnosing his dysgraphia. A similar conversation about my daughter led us to recognize that she needed professional help to deal with some anxiety issues. Parents need to be able to share their concerns with the teacher to understand whether there was just an unusual amount of homework in a given week, or whether their child is struggling in a way that others are not. I hope the letter writer will learn to recognize that parents are not trying to be annoying -- for the most part parents have the best interests of their children in mind when contacting a teacher. Managing this relationship is part of the job! I am sure that there are other school districts where the teacher would welcome a more involved parent community.

    Posted by gastrogal February 11, 10 09:52 AM
  1. LW, it's not entirely clear what your issue is - are you overwhelmed in general by the communication from parents, or are you just overwhelmed by what you feel is excessive communication from just a few parents?

    I think you need to figure out what you think is reasonable, and find a way to communicate that to the parents - preferably at the beginning of the year - so everyone's expectations are aligned. Let them know what kinds of communications you want from them, and which should be from the student. Parents tell you about 'family drama' because they are concerned that it affects their child, and want you to be aware. My kids' teachers have always asked for that information, and have expressed gratitude when it was shared. They also encourage us to let them know if our children are struggling with a particular assignment, etc. I do respect that my children's teachers are busy, and certainly try to keep my communications to the most pressing issues.

    For the parents who routinely bombard you, I think it's worth pushing back gently - "Mrs. X, I want to continue to hear from you, but Johnny needs to come to me himself with questions about the test/homework/grades. "

    Posted by akmom February 11, 10 09:52 AM
  1. @jlen, I am so sorry to hear that - but I am even sorrier to tell you that I actually never even entered the profession after two very bad experiences in one semester of student teaching in an honors English class at Natick High School. I was a senior in the school of education at Boston College - sharp and well prepared to take that role.

    My cooperating teacher (another BC grad who was willing to take me on) and I were harassed so much by the parents of two particular students that they left me shaking after our meetings. I was only 21 at the time, and that may have had something to do with my reactions to parents sharply blaming us for their childrens' failures in the classroom.

    I walked out of that experience thinking it would never fly in the business world. You can't yell at your co-workers like that and get away with it! Some parents take the term "public servant" way too literally, and that was a role I did not want to play. How sad, because I had a great rapport with most of the students, and I enjoyed my work with them both inside and outside the classroom. And when a teacher enjoys the work, that's 90% of the battle of making a difference...because it's contagious.

    Posted by RH February 11, 10 09:56 AM
  1. I think that while teacherinmass is not entirely clear, it is the volume of contact from a few parents that is the problem--because while of course teachers want to help parents understand their child's academic progress and school life, one missed test question does not warrant a teacher phone call *every time there is a test.* Once in a while, O.K. I know where she is coming from, as a teacher I had 95% great experiences with parents, but the 5% that call on Sunday afternoons for an hour-long discussion of their child's needs after *looking up* my home phone number (!), that send long emails based on their child's story (demanding a response within that day "or they will go to the prinicipal!) have no idea that one 45-minute prep period each day can easily be eaten up responding so carefully to such an email. As a childless 20-something, I essentially counselled 6th and 9th grade parents as their children transitioned into adolescence and then into high school about what is normal, what is important, etc. Teachers are giving people for the most part. We help, but parents need to mindful about what they are asking of a teacher with 100 students and not nearly enough hours in the day to serve them. In the worst cast that happened to me, I bore the brunt of a parent's anger at her child's imperfection for an entire year, and the harrassment drove me to take a year off. It was insane.

    Posted by beenthere February 11, 10 10:57 AM
  1. I am constantly trying to figure out how much contact is too much. I lean toward the side of not communicating with the teacher for much of anything. For social problems I do contact the guidance counselor - my son has a lot of problems with being bullied. My son also has reading and writing issues and is on an IEP, so sometimes I discuss what levels of support are appropriate.

    I do find though, that I feel like very little info comes from school. Individual papers come back, but important assessments are kept in their portfolio, and we don't see them until report card time. By then it is too late to help them with a problem they had in October - they're already on to the next thing. I find out on the report card that my kid has been goofing off in class - I sort of needed to know that earlier, so I could work on behavior at home. I have no particular illusions about my kid's behavior - I know he can be a pain. But if teachers don't communicate this to me regularly, and I don't want to bother the teachers with excessive emails, then...what do I do?

    Posted by BMS February 11, 10 11:06 AM
  1. teacherinmass: I'm wondering is a scheduled "office hours for parents" would help. Can you provide a structured time that you make yourself available to parents? And then you can say that you need to move on to others' concerns. That way, the parents who have been exceptionally needy will know that you have limits on the time you're available. You could provide this 3 X/ week, from 7:30 to 8:30, or what not. If they contact you after that time, you have the opportunity to let them know you'll respond tomorrow during office hours. That way, your productivity isn't sapped, and you can focus on what gives you a meaningful relationship with your job. You are still in touch with parents. You are still making yourself available for parent concerns, but by using the traditional tool of office hours, you preserve your professional integrity and personal well-being. (And teachers at every grade level deal with parents like this...)

    Posted by claudine kavanagh February 11, 10 11:35 AM
  1. My advice (and I am a parent) is to write a nice welcome to class letter every year in the beginning of September and lay out exactly what you want from the students and parents. If you are concerned about the students learning to take resposibility for thier own homework/test scores/behaviors lay it on the line on day one. And when the calls and emails start coming, kindly but firmly tell them you were all provided with a outline and to refer to that outline. You have to be stern or you will drive yourselfs nuts!

    Posted by Judgenot February 11, 10 11:36 AM
  1. Teacherinmass

    Wow! How refreshing to hear this. As a fellow 4th grade teacher, I'm often bombared with e-mails and calls from parents regarding similar issues. My advice is this: set forth your expectations with parents from the beginning of the year.

    During the first few weeks of school and at our curriculum night, I specifically let parents know that e-mail is an "easy" medium to communicatie with, but not often the best choice for communicating. I bring up the fact there is no tone in e-mail. In addition, I tell them that I refuse to discuss child progress via e-mail. Phone calls and meetings are best for this.

    I'm in my 6th year of teaching and, I should mention, a father of three young children.

    I've found the above method successful. In addition, here's a great strategy, when a parent releases of his/her frustrations, questions, etc.. via e-mail, answer it with a telephone. This usually diffuses tempers and allows for civil conversation.

    Finally, if teachers aren't communicating with parents about an academically challenged child or one with behavior problems on a regular basis, they're not doing their jobs!

    Good luck!

    Posted by L February 11, 10 11:40 AM
  1. BMS -- from my experience, it is not questions asking, "can you let me know how my child is doing?" that is the problem. It is the parents who constantly call to complain and harrass -- there is a big difference between the two. My husband, for example, was always happy to talk to parents who were looking for information. (Though he always said, he gave out tons of info on parent nights and during conferences -- but the parents who showed up were the ones who were put together and whose children did the work and tried... never the parents who would call and scream later; the parents who called or emailed a few times during the semester were always the ones whose kids were doing fine).

    So I do not think it is contact in general that is the problem; it is harrassing contact that is the problem -- the "how dare you give my child a C" or "how dare you not let me know there was a test" (even parents of highschool kids yelling about tests -- as if high school teachers need or even can to tell the 100-200 parents that there is a test coming.

    I doubt the LW is complaining about general inquiries -- reasonable and involved parents are wonderful.

    Posted by jlen February 11, 10 11:50 AM
  1. As someone who substitutes quite often at my kids' private catholic school, I can say that it is almost always the kids with "needy" parents that LW speaks of, who are lazy, arrogant and expect to excel w/o doing the work. I'll also say that often these same kids seem average or above average intellectually so it is a shame that these helicopter parents are ruining their children's futures by teaching them to be whiny babies who think they are entitled to everything even those thing they don't work for like good grades. Every teacher I know in my kids' school loves his/her job and loves the kids as well. They also get paid less than the teachers in the public school system. The only complaints I ever hear about are about annoying parents who over step the boundaries and end up hurting their kids in the process. Grow up parents and let your kids do the same.

    Posted by eyes-wide-open February 11, 10 12:09 PM
  1. I think the advice here is all good. As a parent whose oldest child just had a very young teacher who does not have children, I can say that as a parent, it was very easy to see the difference between him and the other teachers my son has had, who by and large have had the benefit of not only many more years on the job but also the perspective of being a parent. To me this seems like a great opportunity for on-the-job mentoring between older and newer teachers - the LW's peers in his/her school must also be dealing with the same issues (maybe even the same problem parents) and may have some best practices to share.

    All that said, my oldest is a high-maintenance student with LDs and ADHD. He has had three very effective teachers (grades 2, 4 & 6) and the commonality among them was masterful organization and communication. These teachers are the ones who truly understand that writing homework on the board doesn't mean that it gets accurately recorded in the assignment book; that putting a paper in a folder at 1:55 doesn't mean it will still be there when the child gets home at 2:10; that sending home a permission slip due three weeks away guarantees that it will get lost. Each teacher developed an age-appropriate way of corralling the paperwork, communicating homework, etc. - for one it was a monthly and weekly parent e-mail, another uses a weekly "Triangle Folder" (Parent-Student-School), etc. With these teachers, I found that I rarely had to call or e-mail about anything. With other teachers, a lack of effective, regular communication meant plenty of one-off calls to help get my son back on track after finding out (at report card time) that 50% of his homework was missing, or he failed a bunch of tests, etc.

    As another poster mentioned, some of the drama/personal life information shared is appropriate so that the teacher knows that there is upheaval at home and can be on the lookout of evidence that the child's school work is suffering. I agree that the appropriate response there is a simple "thank you for letting me know" - parents shouldn't be expecting commentary or feedback or a shoulder to cry on. Perhaps the LW can try to track and categorize some of the communication and figure out ways to proactively head off some if it with revised expectations, a new way of communicating assignments, figuring out which calls should be handled by the school psychologist or learning specialists, etc.

    Finally, enlist the help of you peers and principal! No one wants to see a young, energetic teacher burn out due to something like this.

    Posted by Jen February 11, 10 12:26 PM
  1. Barbara -- thank you for publishing this! Such an important conversation to have!!!


    Posted by I.Annie February 11, 10 12:52 PM
  1. As a teacher ( 5 yrs) and a mother of 2, I'd like to weigh in here.Several other commenters have made sensible, realistic points about setting limits for particularly needy parents ( set office hours, re-direct to materials, discuss class rules at Back-to-School night) I feel these are all great suggestions, and have worked for me. I would add that you could discuss these issues with your guidance department- and your principal to ask for even more support if you're feeling overwhelmed. Guidance counselors should be informed about major changes and problems in students' lives and may be able to step in and help. Also, I'd talk to the teachers who had these children in grade 3- how did they handle them? what suggestions do they have about these parents? Often, other teachers are your BEST resource- especially those who have been effectively teaching for years- they're resilient, caring adults who have developed a host of skills to manage these issues.
    I have to also say, however, that you'll have to toughen up a bit- every job has stressful components that you need to learn to manage- to leave a career because there are parts that are hard seems a shame. To GH, who left the profession because of a few difficult meetings, well- you couldn't have wanted to be a teacher that badly if you left for those reasons. Again, every job has its stressors. Infact, as a note to the commenter who wrote about helicopter parents- I would add that many new teachers coming in to the profession have HAD helicopter parents and have a tough time dealing with these issues.
    They come in to schools thinking it's going to be a piece of cake and cry, whine and complain when they realize that teaching is one of the hardest ( and most rewarding) careers that you could choose. I hope you can develop some things that work for you to manage these parents- don't give up! The profession needs wonderful teachers!


    They


    Posted by Kay February 11, 10 12:56 PM
  1. I wonder if these over-the-top parents might be the parents of children with special needs. Maybe those special needs are not being met due to budget cuts and layoffs of specialists. Maybe this teacher is the one expected to deal with these special needs without being properly trained in that specialty? Maybe these children don't belong in this type of classroom. Oops, sorry, that's politically incorrect to say that, isn't it? Maybe you should consider working in a private school?

    Posted by anonymous February 11, 10 01:54 PM
  1. Teacher

    Please be careful and remember that these are your clients, and salary source. As a parent and a veteran educator I can see both sides, but in the end not giving your ear to the parents will only result in more trouble for you. You cannot change your clients and if you don't like how they behave you might have to move on.

    Posted by School Psychologist February 11, 10 02:04 PM
  1. I love the way my children's teachers have handled these issues through the years. I live in a community that is full of very self-important, entitled parents, and so almost every teacher we've ever had has required all contact be thru e-mail (except for the face-to-face conferences.) It works very well. The parent e-mails you, you read it and think it through, then respond at your leisure. This gives everyone a cooling off period and makes them think before sending a message.

    Posted by Ashley February 11, 10 02:22 PM
  1. You have to just realize what you see as acceptable communication. I do not give out my personal phone number or email address. I use the school provided or set up a school email that parents can contact me at. I field phone calls on planning periods and always give a detailed outline to the parents and students on day one.

    If a kid is having a social problem that is not my job, i send them to the school shrink. I am there to teach math to your student, not to be your one stop shop for answers. If a parent wants to meet I am always more than happy to meet with them and I try to make sure the kids always know what is up with their grades.

    But teaching needs to be ran more like a business. I wouldnt give out my personal information to a customer, and I wouldnt put up with an irate person if I was a business owner. So if you cant be civil, then you wont speak with me.

    Posted by anothertype of teacher February 11, 10 02:26 PM
  1. I think this sentence says alot "I am not a parent and I know that I probably find this frustrating because I don't truly understand where the parents are coming from."

    While I'm not suggesting that every teacher needs to be a parent to be sucessful but I do suggest that you start working on understanding where they are coming from. Maybe speak to some co-workers who are parents as well because they might have some helpful tips for you with dealing with concerned parents.

    Posted by m'smom February 11, 10 02:30 PM
  1. anothertype of teacher:
    If my child was in your class and had some social issues that prevented him or her from learning math you can be darn sure you are going to be hearing from me as a concerned parent. It's apparent how serious you take child issues as you refer to the guidance counselor or psychologist as the school shrink. I hope the parents complain to the principal about you!

    Posted by appalled February 11, 10 02:58 PM
  1. As one of those parents with a kid with learning disabilities, I would love to have him be in another school. Could you please tell me where such a school is that doesn't cost more than I make in a year? I haven't found one yet.

    Posted by BMS February 11, 10 05:00 PM
  1. I have taught middle-school English for over ten years, and the most effective means of communication for me is email. True, tone can be lost in email, but it gives you a chance to do some research into the issue, or cool down before emotions get heated. Also, it can be difficult to get a parent on the phone (or vice versa), leading to an annoying game of phone tag for both parties--email eliminates that problem.

    To teacherinmass--set some boundaries for yourself in regards to communication; for example, no checking school email after 8pm, or no calling parents from your home/cell phone. Let the parents know what your communication policies are at Open House, and be clear and consistent with those policies. Also, reach out to your colleagues for help, especially the guidance counselor and school nurse. Sometimes they're the people who need the info. you're getting about your students. Finally, if you feel you're getting harrassed by certain parents or groups of parents, go to your building principal; chances are, s/he will help you by meeting with the parents to establish the boundaries they need to follow.

    97% of the parents I've had are absolutely wonderful; reach out to those around you to help you with that other 3%. Chances are, if you're having trouble with a parent, others have too. Good luck!

    Posted by NDL's Wife February 11, 10 05:39 PM
  1. As a former trainer, I can confirm that one needy client is more work than 20 normal ones who put their share of the required effort into a learning task.

    I found that the needy parents are spoiled brats with hormones that permit them to reproduce. Keeping track of their emails is useful.
    The accumulated lot portrays their childishness perfectly.

    I suggest that the teacher use an Excel spreadsheet to log the hours spent on each student's parents. Then an average can be calculated, and parents can be given some cute graphs at the second parent-teacher conference of a school year. It might shame them to know that one parent takes 100 hours where 20 others take 2 hours each...without naming names.

    And expecting teachers to carry the load of therapists for students who are being subjected to divorce is just plain insane. Maybe a list of family therapists recommended by the school board would be a useful handout. Unfortunately some separating parents will actually let 7 year olds dangle for a whole school year because they are too cheap to pay for private counseling.

    Posted by Irene February 11, 10 05:51 PM
  1. I'm a school librarian. I want to remind everyone about the power of POSITIVE feedback.

    Teachers: call or email parents when Suzy has done something good, not just when she's misbehaved. "Suzy was so kind to her classmates today...she made a great comment in class discussion..." Parents are much more likely to trust you and be your ally if you've given their kid - and by extension, the parents - some praise! Parents usually share these calls/notes with kids, and that can only help you connect with the kid.

    Parents: speak up when you are happy, and give teachers a pat on the back. One kind comment can last us the entire year. "Johnny said you told a funny story..." "Suzy is really benefiting from your extra homework help..." "your bulletin board looks great..." whatever.

    I keep a file of positive emails and notes I've received. They are my respite on the tougher days!

    Posted by JM February 11, 10 08:35 PM
  1. As a former teacher, you have hit upon one of the reasons I quit.

    Today's parents are far more out of control than the kids are. They are spoiled, selfish and think that their child's performance in school somehow reflects on them as parents. They intrude upon class, enable kids by bringing forgotten hairbands (seriously) because god forbid their child not be accessorized correctly, demanded that I create 30 pages or so of extra work for their child on 2 minutes notice and are upset that I'm not going to abandon my class and photocopy it that second or take it home and grade it myself. They never say thank you. When they don't like what you have to say (your child broke the rules and the stated consequence that he knew before hand was that he wouldn't go on a field trip) they create trouble for you with the principal.

    When you set limits with parents (I will respond to email between 4 and 5 pm m-f and that is IT) they complain. When you try to help (I will post homework on this private wiki for the class) they complain.

    I didn't get a master's degree to be treated like dirt by entitled parents.


    Of course, there's always the alternative. The parents who stand you up for p/t conferences, who can't be bothered to sign a form that you have to have.

    I would strongly discourage anyone who is considering being a teacher away from the profession. The only thing my degree has any value for is evaluating schools for my own child. Because I am familiar with the curriculum, I know to avoid such trendy nonsense as TERC, Chicago (Everyday) Math, and Reader's Workshop (instead of Phonics) as designed by Fountas and Pinnell in the younger grades. But I could have learned about these curricula for far less than the 60k I wasted on my master's in teaching.

    Posted by Never Teaching Again February 11, 10 09:49 PM
  1. Teacherinmass,

    Hi, I was a teacher for four years. Parents are out of control these days and if the trend continues they are only going to get worse.

    You are still young. I would leave teaching and head into the private sector and get your masters degree paid for by your company.

    Once you leave teaching and work with mature adults you will never look back...

    Posted by Michael February 12, 10 01:23 AM
  1. I actually see the opposite in my community. My son's teacher begs parents to participate in teaching kids to read in class, creating plays once a month, and other requests. It is expected that parents are deeply involved. While this has created a reach learning environment, for those of us that work, this in-class during school hours requirements is a huge burden and leaves our kids upset because "my friend's mommy is always here." I've requested that there are opportunities for parent inclusion in an evening event and then dads can participate as well and received a cold shoulder. It has all been frustrating and a difficult year for my son.

    On the other hand, I've also experienced teacher's reaching out to let me know that my child could use some help. I meet and talk with the teacher and request communication that helps me stay abreast of what is needed so that I can reinforce at home. However, this is met with, "we don't really plan that way." and I don't have a heads up to help out. To be honest, I feel these discussions are useless and are more for the teacher to vent than really help work towards a solution.

    At the end of the day, my kids do well in school and have the typically issues to stay on top of like homework. What is difficult is knowing what teachers expect of me as a parent and also recognizing what as parents we can actually do. I don't know about work at home moms, but working mothers I know seem to have the same issue as I do. We want to have more involvement and seem expected to be more involved, but how to do so from when we can (timing) to what we can (expected) is vague.

    Teacherinmass, maybe setting expectations and limits as you do with the kids will help alleviate your frustrations. I wish my children's teachers and schools did more in this front.

    Posted by Mich February 12, 10 09:28 AM
  1. I am also a teacher, but I teach high school sophomore English. It is my second year of teaching. I find that students have no sense of personal responsiblity and do not know how to advocate for themselves when they do not understand something. I understand that parents want to help their kids, but the reality is that they will not always be there holding their child's hand through every difficult situation in life. Contesting one F or questioning an assignment only shows these kids that they should be able to get what they want by complaining, but that is not a reality. What's even more scary is that this type of over-bearing parental behavior begins in the elementary school level, so by the time they reach high school, they are completely disillusioned about teachers' expectations because they have this entitled attitude that they can argue their way out of any situation, even if it is due to their own laziness and lack of responsiblity. Remember the old adage- learn from your mistakes? Maybe letting your kid fail an assignment will teach them that next time, they need to do better. It's unfortuante that these parents don't realize that they are actually hurting their children more than helping them.

    Posted by Jessica February 12, 10 10:21 AM
  1. Such a topic that touches the heart... There are some helpful suggestions here, but I would strongly like to suggest to *not* use email as a means of communication.

    I have been a teacher for over eleven years, and have had my share of difficult parents. Email seemed like the easy solution. It's all written down, easy to respond to... however, there is really no end in sight for email. It can leave a paper trail a mile long, as even deleted emails are never truly gone. There is no "tone" to an email, and discussion topics can be misconstrued. Email can be sent at any time of day, and the pressure to respond quickly can be stressful.

    Having parents contact you at a specific time of day would be best, and vice versa. In that manner, there is always an open door policy, questions can be asked immediately (rather than the back and forth of an email), and, I have found, a more effective relationship can be established between parent and teacher.

    As a parent myself to two school-aged children, I have had a very good relationship with their teachers, and have learned from those parents that I have struggled with over the years. My children will never be perfect; I don't expect them to be. I just want them to be happy, to have some success. It may not be an easy path, and there *will* be some difficulties, even failure. A lot of those "difficult" parents have wanted their children to be perfect so badly that they made teaching these children a true hell on earth. Those were the parents who argued with me over every little question their child got wrong, who complained about their child not receiving extra assistance, etc. It's one thing to be concerned about your child's progress. It's completely another to be screaming at the teacher when your child comes home with 89% correct, rather than 90%.

    However, from the tone of the OP, it is clear that there is a multitude of issues concerning this classroom. It *is* important to know when there is a divorce in play, or a move. You can provide extra support to that child, and bring the issue to the attention of the school psychologist/counselor so s/he is aware. It can be tough to grow up in that type of environment, and having everybody work together is critical--sorry, but that is part of a teachers role! Not to be a counselor, but to be an advocate. But, that's a lot different that having a parent upset because question #7 was incorrect on a quiz.

    Posted by LMM February 12, 10 12:32 PM
  1. I am the teacher of a specialized music program at the elementary level. Around 200 students pay a fee to participate in my instrumental program. I have been teaching for five years.

    To the letter writer: hang in there. The other commenters are right about making positive comments and contact with parents. If they know that you are looking out for your kid they will relax. Learn to distinguish between the helpful, important parent feedback, and the nit-picky, entitled stuff that doesn't help you improve your teaching. You don't want to mistake the former for the latter because then the person who loses is the child. When parents do bring you concerns about changes in home life or medical issues, you can help that child by notifying all the teachers who come in contact with him or her. As the music teacher, I want to know about those changes and concerns so that I don't come down hard on a child who is going through something scary or traumatic at home.

    To parents: so many of you are wonderful and supportive and help us do our jobs better. Bless you. To those of you who judge a teacher's competence by her age, or think that she should hold office hours three times a week to accommodate your multitude of concerns, please think it over several times before your next email or phone call. Unfortunately, most times that I hear parents make a judgment about a teacher not understanding because he or she doesn't have children, they are using it as an excuse to justify their own lack of boundaries. It is completely true that every year that I teach, I learn about children and improve the quality of my instruction and materials and communication. But telling a teacher that she is too young or can't understand because she is child-free just puts her (and yes, this judgment is typically about female teachers) on the defensive because you have just said that the issue is her. You've said it's about her personally, not even professionally, and that statement is in itself a violation of appropriate boundaries. If your belief in this is so strong that you are giving frequent or forceful "guidance" for her career, please take a step back and know that you are not the right person for that role. Every new teacher in Massachusetts has an assigned veteran mentor and goes through many observations and evaluations for the first three years. We are trained, even from pre-service programs, to be reflective practitioners and to seek advice from other knowledgeable people. Your unsolicited daily advice is likely to cause the teacher stress that will take her attention off of the people who deserve it: the children.

    Posted by Music Teacher February 14, 10 09:27 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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