Blogging the string in the labyrinth of Crete

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Teachers v. Parents: a comparison

Teachers have a lot of gripes about parents. A recent article in Time magazine even goes through a litany of teacher woes concerning problem parents -- mostly those who hover too closely to their children or advocate too aggressively for them. Teachers fill sites with other complaints, as well -- parents who insult or undermine the teachers, who pull their children out of school, or who make unreasonable demands.

The message of the teachers is clear: parents often don't treat them fairly.

There's some substance to some of these complaints, of course. Any parent knows other parents who engage in questionable parenting practices. There's no mandatory certification or training process for being a parent. Teachers are all college graduates -- statistically, a high percentage of parents will not be.

In defense of these unreasonable parents, they don't generally have a lot of options. If it were an outright war, the weaponry available would look something like:

Parents (against teachers):

  • Abusive language
  • Ability to pull child from school
  • False accusations
Teachers (against parents or children)
  • Abusive language
  • False accusations
  • Ability to set policies
  • Summary imposition of punishment
  • Teaching inappropriately
  • Formal legal protection

There's clearly a substantial difference in the number and quality of techniques at the teacher's command. The teacher is largely unfettered by due process when imposing punishments, but protected by it when threatened. A teacher's accusation against a student leads to immediate punishment, whereas a complaint against a teacher is met with a long, drawn-out process that may lead to a reprimand, but is unlikely to result in removal.

Add to this that the school is essentially a teacher's turf. There are a bewildering number of acronyms and terminology for procedures, policies, and measures. The teacher often has years of experience inside a system that parents see only from the outside. Teacher contact and communication is entirely centralized.

One might hope that teachers would hold themselves to some standards of behavior, and likely most of them do. Nonetheless, they're still human, and still open to human weaknesses. One internet thread relays stories of teachers using racist language, criticizing family religious practices, denigrating students for being poor or having divorced parents, and other transgressions. It seems unlikely any of these would result in significant punishment for a teacher, and most states seem to report extraordinarily low numbers for tenured teachers being dismissed (on the order of less than ten per 50,000 per year) for either incompetence or cause.

One teacher cited in Time, Roxsana Jaber-Ansari, even proudly relates her defiance of parent desires:

Jaber-Ansari was challenged for hanging Bible quotes on her classroom walls. But she had studied her legal standing, and when she was confronted, "the principal supported me 100%," she says.

Perhaps Jaber-Ansari was on legally firm ground, and perhaps not (I'd hardly take the principal's word as definitive on the subject). But clearly she's running right over the concerns of some parents with no more than a cheerful thought of spreading her own values.

There is also a difference in the effect. A poor, abusive, or unreasonable teacher can affect a student for years, or their entire life. An unreasonable parent slewing invective against a teacher causes nothing more than an evening of crying. Small wonder, then, that a parent might become unreasonable on seeing that they have virtually no real power over their child's education sans a prohibitive investment of time or money.

Some teachers will disagree with this; they'll claim that the Board of Education or the Superintendent will bend over backwards (or, perhaps, forwards) for complaining parents. I've never seen these situations, and the ones I've heard about have mostly been regarding getting a student out of punishment. For myself, the only time I've had to influence the board I had to send them a notice citing statutory law and inform them their position was illegal before they'd bend a little. They didn't even say they'd conform to the law, but just softened their position somewhat.

Time is a polemic periodical: it has no obligation, legal or moral, to report from a balanced perspective. For this article, it's pretty clear where the bias lies.


Blogger ms-teacher said...

I am currently going through some issues with my middle child and his high school. I am grateful that I am involved the educational process because I knew exactly what kinds of questions to ask regarding recent disciplinary actions taken against him. The VP was extremely uncomfortable with my line of questioning in advocating on my behalf of my son. You are right though when you say that as teachers we do have a lot more on our side than a parent has on theirs.

4:51 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Thank you, ms-teacher. Do you ever worry that your interaction with the school district will affect how things go for your 11-year old? A parent today indicated to me that she didn't want to complain about a pretty clear conflict-of-interest (a 6th grade teacher with her own twin daughters in her class, and apparently responsible for recommending them to honors classes in middle school) because she was concerned about her younger child.

4:53 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Do you mean by my interaction, my involvement with the Union or as a teacher whose son is also enrolled in the same district?

10:06 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I meant more whether you think your having any kind of uncomfortable relationship with teachers/administrators now might affect their view of your other children. It strikes me as something that concerns a number of parents.

5:13 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Just to let you know I haven't forgotten. I'll probably respond to your question in full (I promise!) this upcoming week-end.

12:49 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

I've kind of run into the problem that you mentioned. I started the school year off with a not very good relationship with my principal. I was very concerned with how this might effect my 11 year old. However, my 11 year old is a pretty good kid and tends to stay out of trouble. What I have found is that his teachers are almost too willing to put him into positions that can cause conflict with his peers.

For instance, one of his teachers asked him to be a "spy" for when she has a sub. My son had shared this with a few of a his friends and before he knew it, a whole bunch of kids knew about it. This made him a target of ire and wrath by a handful of students who tend to act up when the teacher is not there. I had to bring in the VP and talk to his teacher to tell her she was NOT to do this again.

He has also heard comments from other classmates that the reason he made honor roll was because his teachers gave him those grades because of me. This really upset him because he has worked really hard this year.

I do worry about the potential for conflict of interest if he is ever in a situation where it's his word against someone else's. I worry that a parent might try to accuse school officials of favoritism and thus, have him face a stiffer consequence than is necessary. Luckily I haven't faced this yet.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Liz Ditz said...

Hi CL, thanks for the compliment here. I may start up a grad=school only blog, depending on how it goes.

9:14 AM  

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