Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Idiot parents!"

Did my title grab you? Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds. That was simply my reaction when I heard about the complaints of some parents the other day. I have said before and I'll say again that most of the parents I've dealt with have been good, reasonable people, and they have been supportive of our school and their kids. But just as there are some incompetent teachers who give all of us a bad name, there are some idiotic parents who give all parents a bad name. If parents have to deal with an incompetent teacher or two, it probably becomes tough for them to remember that those good teachers exist. When teachers have to deal with idiotic parents, it becomes too easy to forget about all those good ones.

The parents who aroused my Irish temper did so by complaining that their high school aged kids would have to serve detention time for tardiness. If these parents had complained that our math program needs to improve, I wouldn't have liked it, but I could respect them as legitimately concerned parents. If they had complained that discipline in our school is too lax, I'd have agreed. There might even be some area where a parent could complain that our school is too rigid, but only a fool could complain that our tardiness or detention systems are too tough.

In our relatively small school we allow five minutes between passing bells. A former principal of ours used to bring a stop watch and take parents who had this complaint for a walk from one end of the building to the other, complete with a stop at a locker, and it always succeeded in ending any discussion about the matter. It never took close to five minutes. I know why students are tardy, and ninety percent of the time it happens because a boyfriend and girlfriend just can't stand to part from each other until the late bell rings.

Students in our school aren't given detention until they have hit their third tardy in the same class during one marking period. Since we have seven class hours and four marking periods, a student could be tardy 56 times during the year and never have to serve detention. Students are assigned a half-hour detention for a tardy, and they can serve it before or after school. In other words, our tardy and detention policies are embarrassingly lenient. Yet, these parents have the audacity to complain because their little darlings will have to serve detention. Aargh!

Parents like these do nothing but damage their own children. These kids know that whenever they have a conflict with a teacher or the principal that Mommy will jump to their defense. If they don't do the things they are supposed to do in school, they will have their advocate. Tell me, who gets hurt the most by that? To top it off, there is always the danger that some administrator will actually listen to a whining parent. As I've said before, schools do care what parents think. A few years ago we changed an absence policy that was having a positive effect because a parent with some clout went on a rampage because his daughters got warning letters. One could argue that our school has never been the same.

When I was in high school, I was not a great student, but I really believe I had great parents. The school and the teachers were right--period! It was my job to do what they wanted me to do, to the best of my ability. If I did something wrong and got into trouble, I should expect to suffer the consequences, whatever they might be, and make sure I didn't do it again. There were times as a student that I might have suffered minor injustices, but I would not have been foolish enough to complain to my parents about it.

I have to admit, however, that there are times when normally supportive parents should speak up rather than simply say, "Do what the teacher says!" The key is for parents to approach these situations with the presumption that the people in the school are competent and want to do the right thing. "Idiot parents" don't do this. Instead, they immediately assume that the teacher or the principal or whoever else from the school who is involved is wrong or lazy or acting out of ulterior motives. They think that instead of supporting teachers and the school, as my parents did, a good parent should serve as advocates for their kids whenever the students have conflicts with teachers or principals.

If this sounds like the old "teacher whining about parents" song, it really isn't. As I said earlier, most of the parents I've dealt with during my career have been pretty good, and that's still true today. And "idiot parents" should not just be a concern to teachers and administrators; they should be a concern to every good parent, as well. I think one of the biggest problems we have in public high schools today is poor discipline, and "idiot parents" contribute to that as much as anyone. It's a problem that will never be overcome unless good teachers and good parents work together to make it happen.


Blogger M said...

Amen! Honestly, don't they have anything better to complain about? Parents these days fight a lot of their battles for their children. The children never end up learning to accept the consequences for their own actions and then learn from them.


I'm like you, I have dealt with so many great parents who are assertive and with good reason. I like those kinds of parents.

I have dealt with parents who fight every single battle for their children and let me tell you - those kids..they DO NOT benefit from this at all.

It's a product of our times, I fear.

When I was at school if I got into trouble my parents were like 'suck it up, next time do better'. They were right. Those rules like your tardy rules are there for a reason, they are not unreasonable!

3/21/2007 11:45 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Can't say I disagree with you on this one, Dennis. If nything, schools need to toughen their policies to show that there are consequences for students to do what they are told. Schools need to get back in charge.

3/22/2007 5:40 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Parents sometimes get a bit loony about what they'll fight over. I think most parents know this. It's wrong, of course, but in their defense 1) kids make parents emotionally loony, 2) a lot of evaluation later in life is shallow and on a paper basis, so getting one tick mark off a record can be an accomplishment, 3) many students with these kind of parents probably become more assertive in defending their own rights, and 4) most parents have no training in education or parenting.

"approach these situations with the presumption that the people in the school are competent and want to do the right thing."

However, I've never approached school officials with this presumption. I start with the presumption that most in the schools are self-interested, and have at least marginal skill at whatever it is they actually do. With administrators, this would be understanding policy implications and enforcement. With teachers, it would be managing a classroom (at least at the elementary level -- perhaps at the high school level it's something else, though I have not considered what yet). Perhaps with this in mind, parents would be self-interested (and, in this context, child-interested) and have a minimal skillset in individual child management.

Unfortunately, we cannot filter out who can become parents. Making the changes necessary to do this in our society would likely be considered ethically unsound. We even have problems limiting child abusers and violent criminals from becoming parents, so just filtering those who will make bad judgements is impossible (unless we just filter everyone). We can, however, filter who becomes a teacher or administrator and thus actually hold them to a standard.

"And "idiot parents" should not just be a concern to teachers and administrators; they should be a concern to every good parent, as well."

Yes, I'd agree. Idiotic parents dilute the pool of complaints and cast doubt on all of them. But, can I ask how the good parents are supposed to intervene, Dennis? Complaints do not go through the PTA, do they? I suspect if an idiot parent were complaining I would have no way of knowing, and then telling them not to be an idiot.

3/22/2007 7:57 AM  
Blogger Independent George said...

If anything, "Idiot" might be too kind a description. On the plus side, at least they didn't go into full Little-League mode and start a drunken brawl.

My apologies for resembling a Monty Python sketch, but if my parents were to discover that I'd gotten detentions for repeated tardiness, their reactions most likely would have been, "That's all?"

3/22/2007 12:39 PM  
Blogger Anonymous Teacher said...

I can relate. Teaching Pre-IB English 9 last year, most of my students came from the middle school's gifted/talented population. The students -- and, for a small group, their parents more so -- came from a culture that cherished the GT label more than anything else, and almost exclusively they were straight-A students (whether as a consequence of or a prerequisite to their GT status, I don't know).

When some of these freshmen landed a B first semester, my e-mail inbox was clogged. (Thank goodness -- in this instance -- non-school phone numbers can't go straight to my extension.) These parents had a harder time than their child grasping the idea that not doing an assignment would penalize their child's grade; that doing so repeatedly would actually reduce it. I had two kids apologize to me after the conference or e-mail exchange (guess the kid was privy to it from the other end).

While these were by far a minority of parents, they were a pretty loud lot. Many of them are the vicarious lot who live through their kids academics and extracurriculars, and get defensive about a B maybe not as much for their kid's as for their own.

3/22/2007 4:40 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I want to comment on some things that Crypticlife said.

First of all, my impression is that you believe that people being eager to assert their own rights is a good thing. It can be, but I would argue that it can also be bad, because many who are the most anxious to assert their own rights don't care at all about anyone else's.

Crypticlife, I can't judge your attitude toward teachers and administrators because I'm not where you are. Maybe you have good reason to feel the way you do. I do think, however, that it's a dangerous approach for your own kids. If they read your attitude, it's going to be harder for their teachers to motivate them to perform as well as I'm sure you'd like. I have probably seen this most clearly in sports, but the same principle applies to classwork. Kids whose parents were supportive of a coach almost always ended up playing more up to their ability than players with parents who acted like the coach was a fool.

Finally, what parents who want their schools to have good discipline can do is to be a little more vocal about it. I actually heard about the "idiot parents" from parents who supported what the school was doing. But they didn't say that to the parents who were complaining. I've said before, and I'll say it again: schools do care about what parents think and say. If the only parents we ever hear from are the ones who complain when their kids are disciplined, and we never hear from those who want us to be firm, there is going to be less discipline.

And finally, as I've tried to make clear in the past, when it comes to the idea of weeding out bad administrators and bad teachers, I'm with you.

3/22/2007 7:04 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

One more point, Crypticlife. I have three grown sons, so I did have the experience of seeing them with teachers that I didn't think were very good. I did everything I could, however, to keep my opinions on those teachers to myself. They were perfectly capable of figuring out which teachers were crummy, themselves, but there was absolutely nothing to gain by letting them know that I thought that. All it would have done was to give them an excuse to combine bad instruction with a bad effort.

On a side note, all three of them say that their worst teachers were certain professors that they had in college.

3/23/2007 2:41 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"It can be, but I would argue that it can also be bad,"

Sure. It depends on the kid. What a parent does with one child may appear completely irrational to the rest of the world, but may have a very good reason behind it. If the child is very reluctant to assert themselves, modeling the behavior for them may help.

I don't think teachers are stupid generally, Dennis. On the contrary, they are all college graduates, which means they've already been filtered to a certain degree whereas parents have not been filtered at all (this was my actual aim in mentioning the filtering -- parents have a greater tendency towards idiocy because they have no training -- though we should filter bad educators/admins, and it's easier to do so, it wasn't my main point here). Teachers as a group should be expected to be better educated than parents as a group (yes, this varies by location, of course). Maybe we should work on filtering out bad parents.

All I mean by saying their minimal skillset would include classroom management, is that it's what they do all day and has obvious immediate reinforcing results for them if they do it well. Teachers may have other skills as well, and some are teachers are excellent. I just don't expect it. Note that you just did a backtrack, by the way -- initially you indicated I should not even presume such things of teachers because my sons might "read" my approach, but then you note that you yourself made private judgements of your children's teachers.

I'm not relying on teachers to motivate my sons to learn, and don't really know how much teachers actually do in this regard anyway. Most of what you've posted previously to this suggests that you don't think it's the teacher who should be doing the motivating. If it were usually the teacher motivating the students, would schools not be better than they are now? Motivation is a complex and broad topic which isn't suited to a blog posting, but I'll agree that it's best not to generally foster animosity between student and teacher.

"schools do care about what parents think and say" Yes, you've said this a number of times. Personally, I've never seen any evidence that schools generally care about what parents think and say. Certain teachers and administrators might, but the bulk of them seem to be largely indifferent. After all, there are no actual incentives for them to listen most of the time, are there?

I'm still a bit confused on how I'm supposed to know when other parents are complaining. If they discuss it with me, sure I know, but if they don't then there's no reason for me to go to my son's school and ask for greater discipline. Not to mention the general school resistance to changing policy to suit parents.

** okay -- I admit, the last two posts are partially just to play devil's advocate. I completely agree lots of parents are idiots, these particular parents sound like idiots, and they likely aren't doing their kids any favors with this behavior.

3/23/2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Stupid Teachers!!!!

Seriously, we back our teachers 100%.

We may not agree with everything, but bottom line at the end of the day is our kids will meet the teachers standards. Just like in real life.

3/23/2007 4:51 PM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

It's been a while since I stopped to comment, but this one stirred the "rant" pot.
The main problem that parents have is their inability to look objectively at their children. We see it in the classroom and in athletics.
And to add to the problem, too many administrators do not have the spine to support the very policies that the school puts in place.
If there is any issue that will ever drive me away from education, it is the pandering to "idiot parents."

3/24/2007 1:27 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, you devil, you! I think I owe you a response on your point about motivation, because I have complained frequently about student motivation. That does seem to imply that teachers aren't responsible for that. Actually, you may have answered your own question when you point out that motivation is very complex.

I do believe that teachers must try to motivate students, but there has to be something there to be motivated. I do various things myself in an attempt to do that. The most important thing I do is to set my classes up in such a way that I know every kid can be successful if they will just make a reasonable effort. I don't know if anyone knows how hard I've worked to do that. I also try very hard to make my classes as interesting as I can. One thing I haven't done enough of is having one on ones with students, but it's tough when I have six classes, and they all have seven, and we have five minutes between. That gives me about 30 seconds to talk to a student individually. My point when I complain about lack of student motivation is that some of them don't respond to anything. No matter how hard teachers try to motivate, something has to be coming from the student, and sometimes it just isn't there.

Rory, I can't wait until you join us. Are you still thinking of doing that? I'd love to see you get together with some of those college of education professors!

Mr. McNamar, welcome back, and thanks for your rant! I know how hard it is to be getting to other people's blogs during the school year.

3/24/2007 5:58 PM  
Blogger 40 said...

The title grabbed me because I have a parent-teacher conference at 7am on Monday morning. I am not looking forward to it. It's one of the rare cases of parents expectations being 1,000's of miles above what the student can do. The conference is more to cool the parent off than it is to put a fire under the student (although that would be nice to see him try a little harder).

I have read a few other blog posts recently on parents & student motivation... this is the best one.

3/25/2007 6:09 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, 40! You're a gentleman and a scholar, and there aren't many of us left!

3/25/2007 8:04 AM  
Blogger rightwingprof said...

We are prevented by law from talking to parents (anyone, actually) about their kids' performance or grades. If you have a kid in college and his professor talks to you about his grades, he can be prosecuted for it.

I don't like telling parents that over the phone, and few know it. No, I'm sorry sir, I cannot discuss Johnny with you. Yes, I know he's your son. Yes, I know you're paying for his tuition. Take it up with your Democrat legislators, sir.

3/26/2007 7:13 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Dennis: You could try telling parents that kids who don't experience consequences for their misbehavior are more likely to become criminals as adults. Ask the parents if they'd like their kids to become criminals.

3/26/2007 7:58 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Meant to respond earlier:

Dennis, keep in mind that merely removing barriers doesn't motivate. Put a mouse in a box and open the door, and he won't leave. Put a mouse in a box and electrify the floor, repeat an hour a day for 30 days, then on the 31st day open the door, and he still won't leave. I imagine it's the same with students.

Though I encourage you to make your class as interesting as possible, keep in mind that you're just guessing about what might be interesting to them. Also, what purpose does making your classes interesting serve? If it's attendance or pay attention, you have a measure of whether it's working. However, that might not motivate them to do homework or study.

One on ones might actually demotivate them. Certainly the idea might frighten some students.

All except the dead respond to something. Okay, that's overstating the case a bit -- you might not be able to provide whatever they'll respond to, and I'll give you that. Motivating study and hw is difficult because you have a hard time reinforcing their behavior (timing issues -- reinforcement should really be immediate). This can be probably be overcome with a bit of creativity.

3/30/2007 10:48 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, I think if you ever speak in front of a group, you get a sense of whether or not what you are saying is interesting to them. In other words, I think you can tell whether or not you are succeeding in making things interesting for them. The problem is that work is work, and it's easier not to do it than to do it. Some kids simply choose not to do the work no matter how interesting you make things. It really comes down to self-discipline and a willingness to accept delayed gratification. I find that there are just too many kids these days who have no sense of these things.

3/30/2007 6:45 PM  

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