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Saturday, 8 March 2014

The disintegration of the teacher/parent relationship

Dealing with difficult parents is virtually impossible for any one in education to escape and it is something that can be stressful, exhausting and has led to many great teachers leaving education. However, parents are vital part of their child's educational journey, research has proven that students with greater parental involvement typically have a leg up on students whose parents are less involved. So the reality is that with more parental involvement can come more parental complaint.

Parental complaints can come in a variety of  guises, there is:

The note on a piece of homework - this is generally any easy one to solve with a well worded and considered response, again just in note form, taking on board any concerns and reassuring the parent and rarely causes any stress.

The handwritten letter - again generally easy to solve but this one may require a phone call to the parent or a quick word at the end of the school day, again allaying any concerns.A bit time consuming but not stressful.

The 'quick word' - usually at the beginning or end of the day and still, usually easy to sort out there and then. Probably the least stressful because it is sorted there and then, face to face so avoiding any further misunderstandings between parent and teacher.

The going to see the head or SLT for a moan - getting a bit more tricky to solve now, and stressful, because of the involvement of someone else, along with the frustration it brings that the parent didn't just approach you first. Often, if you are well supported by your SLT or head, this is sorted before it even gets to you and the SLT concerned will listen to the complaint and concerns themselves and allay any fears, leaving it only to inform you what was said. Sometimes though you may have to have a meeting with the parent to do what you would have done if they had just come to you first!

The going to see the head or SLT with a more formal complaint - this may result into you being invited to the heads office which in itself signals the beginning of the stress caused. You may feel under scrutiny and threatened, depending upon how well your head deals with both you and the complaint. The result of this meeting is often the head seeking your point of view and then making a measured, reassuring response to the parent whilst making it clear that they support their member of staff. Sadly this may not always be the case and either way the stress levels are bound to be high.

The Email to the head - I think this is perhaps the worst type of complaint because I think people often elaborate a lot more in an email, adding content they definitely wouldn't if the complaint had been made face to face. This type of complaint in my experience is the most stressful but again needn't be if you have the full  backing from your head. This type of complaint may be dealt with in a similar way to the one above.

The 'complaints I mention are all generally 'he said, she said', 'too much homework', 'too little homework', 'shouting', 'getting picked on by a class member' etc. they are not child protection complaints as these clearly would take a completely different format altogether.

With parents increasingly treated as consumers of school services, to be consulted at every turn, it is perhaps not surprising there has been a rise in parental complaints about everything from the content of the curriculum to pedagogic methods.  The internalisation of the ‘pupil-centred’ model of education can mean parents have little regard for the authority of teachers. Parents at the school gate complain, ‘That teacher doesn’t have the right to say/do that to my child, just because they can’t control the class’.

Teachers want to do the best job they can for the students sitting in front of them. They want the students to excel and learn. They want to teach reading, writing, maths and science. They want to support the multiple learners who sit, waiting to be motivated and engaged. They want to spark that desire for learning in each student... but what expectations are reasonable?

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers expect parents to be their child’s advocate and they need to be. They should request meetings to discuss their child’s progress. Parents should be involved in their child’s education but, what level of involvement is reasonable? When do schools need to call parents on their expectations and say, “this is unreasonable?” Here are some examples:

  • insisting that your child deserves more of the teacher’s time than other children
  • showing up at the teacher’s classroom door making demands
  • requesting daily updates on your child’s progress both academically and behaviourally, by email, phone calls or written notes
  • expecting that ill behaviour be ignored because “that is just Johnny” or “Sarah has an identified problem, so her behaviour should be excused”
  • creating such stress in the teacher’s professional life that the teacher ends up home on stress leave
  • complaining about homework and school work and not holding your own child accountable for the quality of work completed, yet demanding high marks when the report comes home.
Both parents and teachers seem to be defensive, neither fully trusting the other to do their job properly. But what is the proper job of parents and teachers today? The 2004 Children’s Act put the responsibility for children’s happiness and emotional well-being with teachers, while home/school contracts are used to encourage parents to read with their children and help with homework. It seems that the roles have been reversed, or blurred at the very least. Can this lead to an improved partnership between parents and teachers? Or is it undermining relations of trust, without which neither teacher nor parent can do their work of developing the new generation properly?

If you are subject to a parental complaint, try to remember it is one parent out of the 30 something you have in your class. It is a 'lone' voice yet unfortunately a rather loud one that speaks to you through the night following a complaint. Seek support from your SLT, colleagues (who may have had problems with the same parent before) and from your family. Remember although it is stressful: