Educating Parents

Ok, I don’t pretend to know what happens in the home of every child I teach, but I can say one thing for certain – since the beginning of public education, parents have always said that their kids act differently at home than they do at school.

I have participated in conferences for students who misbehave and have heard every excuse under the sun from parents who just do not want to have to deal with their child’s misbehavior issues. And I think that’s it, in a nutshell. They are in denial because they either see their child as perfect or they simply don’t have the time and energy to work with the school to correct the problem.

I will give you the most extraordinary example. Years ago, I taught in a self-contained high ability classroom. I had a student who was also – gasp – the child of a very good friend. I know, it is certainly not a good idea to have the child of a friend as a student in your classroom, but my friend’s daughter was gifted. Therefore, she was automatically put into my classroom. And what could I do but accept that? To be fair, there was no other place to put her.

I knew Susan (not her real name) to be a very kind and loving child. And Barb (not her real name) was the most supporting and nurturing mother. They had a very tight bond – an almost sisterly relationship – due to the fact that they were the only two “girls” in a house full of “boys”. I always thought their relationship was cute … until I saw a much different side of it.

In school, Susan was what we call a “mean girl”. Seriously – it was like night and day. I have never really understood how a child can be almost angelic at home and have so much devil in her at school, but it was a fact. I refer to this as the “Eddie Haskell” syndrome – those of you over the age of 50 will understand this reference.

I spoke to teachers who had Susan as a student in the past and was warned not to call “the mother” in for a conference because all I would get would be a woman who is seriously – almost pathologically – in denial about her child. This shocked me. Barb and I went waaaaay back, and I had never once heard about her having a problem with school in regards to Susan’s behavior. I decided that I would deal with it at school and correct the behavior, while appealing to Susan’s “outside of school” relationship with me.

What a nightmare. I started receiving calls from Barb almost weekly about how we needed to talk. When we would sit down, she would share with me how hurt she was over my picking on Susan. Each time, Barb would share something that Susan had told her I said or did that offended or upset her. And each time – each and every time – I would gently relate the truth of what really happened. I would get that look….the one that screamed, “I don’t believe you.”

It got to the point where I would refuse to talk about these issues without Susan present. And we did so on my turf. If Barb had a problem, I asked her to come in to school to speak to me, and I made sure that Susan was present. Barb would tell me her issues and I would look directly at Susan and say, “Is this true, Susan?” Without fail, Susan would look right at her mom and say, “I never said that to you!” It only took two of these kinds of conferences to get the point across. Her daughter was, for want of a better word, a liar.

Having called Susan out on her behavior in front of her mother damaged the relationship between Susan and I a bit, but I didn’t have one problem with her lying to her mom about me from that moment on. She knew that she had been caught, so she was smart enough not to do so again. And my relationship with Barb? Fine… nothing had ever happened to threaten it. Strange, but true.

As Susan went through middle school and on to the high school, her behavior only got worse. Being a mean girl in elementary pales in comparison to being a mean girl in high school. As before, Barb never shared with me any of the problems Susan had in school in the years after I had her as a student. However, knowing Barb and I were friends, her teachers did. Apparently, it was the same thing over and over again. Barb would defend her cub as any Momma Bear would do, only to find that it was her daughter who was lying, not the teachers. One would think that Barb would have the presence of mind to start believing the teachers and take her daughter to task for her behavior. Sadly, this was never the case.

Barb is not the only parent who I have seen behave like this over the years, and she most assuredly will not be the last. Unlike when I was in school and my parents sided with the teachers first, in this day and age teachers will always be wrong until it is pounded into some parents’ heads that their child is not perfect…….and they are brave enough to admit it themselves.

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