Friday, May 30, 2008

Dealing with a difficult parent.

I dutifully returned the call of a parent concerned about her fourteen year old son’s progress in Year 8 English. The previous week, parents had received their child's ‘interim’ reports. Every six weeks, in addition to parent teacher interviews and formal reporting, our school prepares these reports for close to a thousand students. (That's a lot of reporting.)

After telling me she was concerned about her son’s unsatisfactory progress, the call proceeded thus:

Her: My son is only getting Ns in your class.

Me: What are you implying?

At this stage of my career, I’m sick of parents ringing up and thinking they can malign my teaching competence in this way. It’s something I have never done when addressing the teachers of my own kids. It’s simply rude. It’s even more rude given my status within my school and my excellent reputation - no false modesty. But I suppose she’s not to know me from a bar of soap.

Now of course I understand just about the entire psychology of parental investment in their children. Yes, it’s probably an unfathomable body of work, but I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and I know what I know, based on protracted, sometimes excruciating years of experience as a moderately intelligent teacher, and parent of a couple of occasionally ‘ne’er do well’ children to boot. I know how terrible it feels when you know you’ve put in so much as a parent and your kids won’t come to the party and satisfy your parental needs with 'braggable' ENTER scores and virtuosity in the performing arts or rocket science.

I take umbrage at the implication that it is my teaching that is making her boy fail.

This mother assured me that she wasn’t implying anything; she just couldn’t understand why her son was passing in every other teachers’ classes and failing in mine. Again, the castigations.

She wanted more from me, more than the blood I’m already giving.

She was demanding time that I don’t have to spare, given the fact that I’m just about always in the classroom, either teaching, or counselling and consoling year 12 students, or dealing with the occasional recalcitrant who needs a bit of a talking to at the end of a lesson, away from an audience. If I’m not in the classroom, or guarding the yard, I’m in a bleeding hour long meeting after school three afternoons a week. Or on the phone taking shit from caustic parents. I suppose she and her ne’er do well son could catch me for a spot of private tuition after I’ve done my weekly five hours of assessment and correction in bed on a Sunday morning.

The conversation became quite terse:

Her: Well, if you haven’t got the capacity to assist my son…

Me: I beg your pardon. Have you any idea how rude you sound?

But ultimately, despite twenty minutes on the phone, generally biting my tongue and being my political best, I was unable to ameliorate the situation.

And unfortunately, after I hung up the phone I burst into tears of frustration at the unfairness of it all, in front of two of my colleagues, one of whom is only twenty four, a new teacher in the area I coordinate and just embarking on her career. I felt pathetic.

Next day, the parent has followed through with a facetious open email, which borders on harassment, to the school office, which was then forwarded to me and the head of the junior school.

Fortunately, the junior school and year 8 coordinators are well apprised of my abilities as a teacher and have assured me I will not have to communicate with this parent again.

The irony is that it doesn’t matter how many successes I have, it’s these incidents that have the power to overwhelm me; hence the need to vent on a blog that is rarely read, to put it out there to float around unnoticed in the ether forever. But it has more chance of surviving than my volumes of self-absorbed journals, which my daughter, a writer herself, has assured me she will compost as soon as I’m in the nursing home, if not before.

Time for a chardonnay.


Nikki said...

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I am writing my thesis on teacher-writers and professional development and would like to use some of your material as examples of meaningful teacher reflection in writing. I have been following your writing for a while and have enjoyed your honest reflection.

If you are interested you can have a look at my study blog “thesisthoughts” at

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Anne Mitchell said...

Hi FT,

IS the kid failing in your class and doing well in all the others?

What's going on?

Anne Mitchell

The Fraudulent Teacher said...

Hi Anne Mitchell
I think it's about the constant workload required in English, as opposed to doing, say, classwork and one or two projects to pass in other subjects - for example, PE or Food Tech. I'm not knocking those subjects. They are just different, as are the other core subjects: maths and science. I wasn't privy to the boy's results in other subjects. However, the boy's year 7 English teacher reported that the mum did exactly the same at parent-teacher interviews last year. Clearly, the boy is lazy and is frustrating his mum.

I also know that lots of teachers simply give kids 'S' for Satisfactory to avoid just the sort of encounter I had with mum.

And the boy doesn't enjoy English, for reasons that occurred long before I met him. He is also one of those kids who abhors reading and writing.

No. It isn't me. I think there's a problem with the mum's attitude. She seems to think if she provides all the accoutrements - 'he's got his own computer in his room' - then her work is done.

It's complex, obviously, and I'm making some assumptions.

Thanks for your interest.

Yarshk said...

I've always wanted to be a teacher. I'm 18 now and going through the systematic beatings of VCE.

I sympathise. I've always wondered if it is possible a teacher to report one a students performance bluntly and truthfully. I personally dislike it during parent teacher interviews when teachers dress up everything that they say; so I end up with no idea where to improve.

With my next to no experience from teaching (apart from trying to get my friend to read books) I tend to recommend what I label as "trash reads" to start them off in the wonderful world of Literature. I had a friend named Simon. He absolutely hated books and took no interest in english. I managed to get him to Read Matthew Riley's 'Ice Station'. It's thick, but quickly paced, and violent. An excellent starter. Which would essentially lead up to the completion of the rest of Riley's books.

Although I must add that a lot of the persuasion must be done through the child's peers. I have noticed, that even to myself, I tend to irrationally shun figures of authority (teachers), so I know how hard it can be for a student to take interest in a subject they purely hate.

(i hope i don't sound like too much of an ignorant ass!)

The Fraudulent Teacher said...

Hi Yarshk
Thanks for your comment - and you don't sound like an ignorant ass! I've suggested the Matthew Riley books to boys who are reluctant readers. They are quite often deterred by the 'thickness' of the book - no pun intended. If they're inclined to read - and are fluent enough - those sort of books will 'take'. If they are still struggling with decoding, it's more difficult.

Thanks for reading my blog. Good luck with VCE and the future.