The amount of time, energy, and resources we waste on trying to make mopey parents feel better, make angry parents happy, and brush problems under the carpet is staggering, but we never seem to want to face the hidden costs.
Teachers who are circumvented, who are ignored, trampled upon, brushed aside, plowed under, and thrown to the wolves burn out. They teach less effectively because they’re under massive stress, and more children suffer because of the parent(s) of one kid.
We insist too often in education on making concrete that which must be fluid. “My child needs X.” “My kid must have Y.” “You’re doing Z when you should be doing A, B, and C.” These adversarial, motto-riddled, emblazoned-in-granite-over-edifice conversations are contrary to any child’s best interest. Collaborative conversations between the primary observers and guardians of a child – the parents – and the trained, experienced professionals in child psychosociology, pedagogy, and development – the educators – can accomplish wonders when they work together, especially when paired with thoughtful paraprofessionals. (And I include specialized, degreed non-educator child experts like psychologists, therapists, and counselors in the “paraprofessional” category.)
But all the best intentions and opportunities in the world are for naught when higher-ups circumvent hard conversations for the sake of convenience. The vast majority of the time, I’ve seen teacher-parent relationships blossom because of mutuality: everyone has the child’s best interests genuinely at heart, and disagreements about style are easily overcome through substance. (Note to professional practitioners: Have your research in line before you walk into the room, or don’t ask me to back your play. You purport to be an expert in children by virtue of sitting on my side of the table. Know your stuff, or find another chair.) However, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to have an adversarial relationship with a parent. Specifically, when a parent wants something that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt to be contrary to the child’s best interests, we have an ethical and professional obligation to say “no.” At best, this leads to clarification and parent education. At worst, this can lead to due process hearings and legal proceedings.
So what? Let it. In short: Go ahead. Sue me.
You heard me. Bring it on. “I’m an attorney, sir…” I’m going to go ahead and stop you right there. Oh, what, you thought there was more? No, I’m really just going to stop you. I have no interest in what comes out of your mouth after you, as a parent, say something like that. If you’re an attorney, you know that our system of laws exists in a naturally-adversarial condition. It’s designed that way. Even “no fault” cases are often heard with plaintiffs and defendants, and involve evidence and process to guarantee that everyone gets a fair say. So I say, bring it on. If I know, in my heart of hearts, what I’m doing is accordant with the law, compliant with research and child science, consistent with best practices, and representative of the state-of-the-art of teaching, bring it on.
You always have a right to leave the public schools if you want what you think is best for your child despite the facts. (In my world, we call doing something you know to be wrong “stupidity,” but hey, I’m just a teacher. What do I know about definitions and meaning?)
See, I think we’ve sold our credibility down the toilet by placating parents. I’m not interested in complacent parents. Are you a parent? Are you pissed off at this blog post? Why? Do you want to be coddled and complacent? Do you want me to ignore the facts of modern child science when doing right by your kid? Or would you rather your child’s school be populated with people that constantly pursue, with unmitigated tenacity and unbridled passion the absolute bleeding edge of what modern psychology, sociology, pedagogy, medicine, and the multifarious content disciplines tell us to be best for your child? I’m not interested in making you happy, parents. I’m sorry if that busts your chops; I really am. I wish you’d believe me when I say I hope it’s a fringe benefit, but as an action, I could give two shakes if you’re “happy” with me as a teacher. What I want, more than anything that involves your ego, emotions, feelings, whims, thoughts, or aspirations, is what’s best for your child. Fortunately, 95% of the time, parents and teachers are on the same page about these things. I’d bet most of you have rarely, if ever, experienced a real confrontation with one of your kid’s education professionals.
But in the 5% of the time when a haughty know-it-all, an egomaniacal fact-flaunter, or a self-appointed homeschool-leaning dilettante decides to act or speak contrary to what we, as professionals, know to be best for the child in question, I say take it to the mat.
Do we fight stupid and unnecessary fights in our field? Absolutely. There’s stuff I desperately want to teach teachers is unimportant, useless, and counterproductive. There’s a lot of completely avoidable tribulation in our schools, and I’m neither blind to it nor unwilling to tackle it and make some fairly sweeping culture shifts to ensure we put down our baggage. But there are times when we’re right, you’re wrong, and it’s as clear as day to any objective observer.
The cost of placating parents when they’re wrong is worse than wasting massive time and energy and money that could be better spent helping kids. Make no mistake, tiny fraction of parents that put “winning the fight” ahead of respecting good educational science: you’re hurting your kid and many other kids with your shenanigans. The real cost of placating parents is that it hurts kids.
Usually, the kid hurt the most, is the kid at the center of the situation, and you know me: I will never acquiesce in the face of defending a child.