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
- 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.