Powerful Bully-Parents Can Be Dangerous

bullied-on-computer-76082840If you’ve been in the classroom for any length of time you’re no doubt all too familiar with parents who bully teachers and schools. A parent, one you would never suspect could act in such an aggressive manner, can suddenly behave like a mama bear protecting her cub.

We’ve all experienced or heard horror stories about powerful parents who toss their weight around, insisting exceptions be made for their child in the form of grade inflation or dismissal of consequences for poor behavior. The parent-bully married to a board member, like the wealthy and/or powerful parent, is equally threatening because they, too, see themselves on the inside track to receiving special consideration for their child’s behavior problems or deficient academic performance. Today, with the popularity of social media, we’re faced with a new plague: the parent-bully with no clout or status but who uses social media to smear teachers/schools they believe have wronged their child, who in their eyes can do no wrong.

In 2015 the NASUWT, which represents teachers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, reported that 60% of the 1500 teachers they interviewed said abusive comments had been posted about them on social media by parents and/or students. This was a sharp increase from the 20% figure reported in 2014. The rise in bullying incidents has been  attributed to an increase in parents bashing teachers and schools on line. Teachers report posts calling them “bitch,” “slime ball” and even expressing hope they develop cancer and die.

In the United States the same 60% abuse statistic has been calculated, the prime offenders being “helicopter parents” named as such because they constantly hover over their children, blaming their child’s shortcomings on schools and teachers. A number of teachers report physical threats from such parents.

If you’re currently teaching in an International School you know firsthand that these schools are not exempt from parents who bully. A disproportionate number of ISR School Reviews contain accounts that tell us “the kids make the rules.” Or, as one Review aptly put it, “the inmates are running the asylum.” When admin refuses to stand up to bully-parents, the kids take the upper hand.

A particularly distressing bullying episode outlined in an ISR School Review relates how a teacher was disciplined after giving an “honor” student an “F” grade. This student rarely attended class and the teacher had reported to admin on various occasions that this student was seen in the school parking lot smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend during class time. Her influential parents at this South American school had intimidated the school director into “massaging” the girls grades to honor roll level. The “F” grade did not stick and the girl remained on the honor roll. The teacher was placed on probationary status at the request of the girl’s parents.

Another upsetting instance demonstrating what a powerful parent-bully is capable of is illustrated in a startling ISR School Review. This particular Review tells how the author of the Review sent a high school boy to in-school detention. Then, months later, found herself detained at immigration due to a previously unknown, yet pending, court case levied by the child’s parent. The parent in this Middle Eastern country claimed in-school suspension was excessive punishment for fighting on campus. Powerful bully-parents can be dangerous in unforeseen, far-reaching ways.

It’s clear bullying parents who pressure teachers and administrators into backing down and compromising their principles are doing their children severe harm. The sad reality is they are setting their kids up for an extremely hard fall. This is especially true when a bully-parent takes their child’s “A” grades won through intimidation, and parlays them into acceptance at a prestigious university. Unable to do the work, the kid returns home after one or two semesters, a complete failure. Unearned academic status comes with a price and unfortunately it’s the child who ultimately pays the toll.

There are methods for dealing with bully-parents, but to date no approach (that ISR has seen) has been successful in helping such parents realize this:  The use of force to make a child appear, on paper, to be something they clearly are not, is simply setting the child up for failure in all aspects of life.

ISR encourages you to Share how you and/or your school cope with parent-bullies. Have you found any techniques or conversations that help a parent-bully accept that their child hasn’t been singled-out for punishment? Has being a good listener and allowing a parent to vent, with no resistance, served as the cathartic experience they needed to come to terms with the reality of the situation?  We all have different ways of dealing with tough parents. Here’s your opportunity to Share what works!

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15 thoughts on “Powerful Bully-Parents Can Be Dangerous

  1. I worked at an international school as support personnel. In this role, I was commissioned by the middle/high school principal to observe and assist three grade nine teachers with a certain group of male students who challenged every rule and assignment. Within 3 months, these students were on task, time, improving in grades and attitude. One morning in April, the one boy who was more of a challenge than the rest of the students, blatantly went against the class rule of water only as a drink by pulling out a carton of chocolate milk, inserting the straw, and proceeding to drink. I called him out on it. The teacher went to him and said, put it away. He challenged her for another two minutes or so to the point she sent him to the office. In his statement, he claimed I slammed my fist on his desk. In her version of events, and mine which we did not share, we both said I was on the other side of the room. Now, domino affect. Neither the Director nor the Principal were in the building. The Office Manager was in charge and she sent said student to the HR personnel who took his statement. He was then sent to the school counsellor and then the other support personnel. I was tasked with making sure he was in the office so went to make sure and he was with the counsellor. I went back to the class and to my room to write my statement. Upon returning to her class, said student was on his phone. The teacher went to speak to the student and upon returning to the class, told me the student was talking with daddy. Daddy called the school to file a complaint against me. Within 24 hours, I was suspended and within one week I was told to resign. The Director told me several lies saying fellow teachers didn’t like me and neither did students. I knew this was false because I worked with 9 teachers who all welcomed me into their classes. As for students, well, when they are required to speak English and purposely speak another language out of defiance, of course they don’t like me. The Director did not care that this group of students had changed completely in the past 2-3 months. Since leaving, the one teacher said these students are right back to being belligerent, lazy, disrespectful, etc. The Principal has no control over them because they know they are in charge. Having said all this, teachers in this school are fantastic, dedicated people. Nothing as been shared about my sudden disappearance. Thank goodness for the group of teachers with whom I shared meals and trips. They are furious at the management. This was handled completely wrong and I was thrown under the bus by admin and a fellow teacher who defends students over teachers daily. Okay, my rant is finished.


  2. This is rife in both the international schools I have worked in (10 years abroad) . It is a very small percentage of parents, with time on their hands who make 99% of the complaints about all teachers. They will start with one teacher and then simply move on to another when the teachers life is a misery and their confidence is in tatters due to the management throwing them to the wolves through no support for their staff.
    I naively thought that that what these schools were interested in was Grades rather than a good education for their students. Shame on them. But I was wrong. The ‘Prime Directive’, make no mistake is that the ‘parents are happy’. Happy parents keep paying fees. Happy kids = happy parents. So although we are told to report problems home, actually certain parents really really don’t want to deal with negative feedback/grades about their child. If you do that then expect some backlash or witch hunt depending on the power wielded by the parent.
    A good school should not allow this minority, in my experience to cause so many problems. You would only have to set a few precedents to get the message across. We as a school won’t be bullied. (I understand this is difficult when the parents concerned are staff or board members…. Add in here anyone else who can influence school policy……) 😉

    My advice? Quietly collect lots of electronic evidence on all students to cover yourself for the inevitable day when it occurs. There are enough programs/websites out there now to do it. Although it may not change the outcome of what the school decides to do with the student, it is usually unexpected when you turn up to a meeting with it and covers you. Server access times, time stamped login, quiz grades, etc, details highlighting how this student has behaved electronically for the past few months and didn’t know you recorded. Despite students using devices all the time they always seem surprised when their behaviour can also be traced.
    It gives them the chance to tell their lies and half truths at a meeting. Then you can say in your nicest and most friendly manner that ‘it seems strange as all this evidence suggests differently. Bring your laptop in next time and we can check to make sure everything is working for you’.
    Don’t call them out and cause confrontation. No point. Smooth it over. Let them save face in public.
    But basically, ‘we just proved your kid a liar in front of everyone in the meeting, now go and bully a different teacher because this one isn’t green behind the ears.’
    Better get good at looking after your reputation because this problem is going nowhere.


  3. Interesting to notice how much of a victim mentality permeates this thread. I don’t advocate being a perpetrator, don’t misunderstand me on that, but I stand my ground: Bullying behavior is not welcome in my classroom. Period. End of story. However, I don’t automatically condemn parents just because they act like bullies. Everyone has their story, even bullies, and I do make it a point to keep an open mind to even the biggest a****les. That strategy has usually served me well. Also, I am lucky enough that my home countries (I have two) are well developed and have functioning legal and diplomatic systems. As a last resort, the threat of legal or diplomatic hassles for bullies in admin or among parents, can be a good venue. Don’t discard that option. I’ve seen it work.


  4. I have no solution so maybe I shouldn’t add my two cents worth. I have been the victim, especially in Egypt and the Gulf of bullying parents and administrators. Some of the administrators privately sided with me but wanted to keep their prestigious jobs. I would say the problem is especially common in schools that are “for profit” businesses. No one is going to say to parents, “Take your little angel elsewhere.” Such administrations are not going to say, “We don’t want your $100,000 this year.” I would disagree that the students whose parents bully teachers and admins into inflated grades which will get them into prestigious universities, end up as total failures. They will come back home with “attended Harvard or Oxford” on their CV and be shepherded into the family business or into that of a close friend where they will continue in their incompetence, never suspecting that they may be inadequate for the position. Remember, you, the teacher, failed at instilling critical thinking into their little brains. So they will earn money from Baba’s business, or one set up for them, buy a lovely apartment or mansion, get married and raise their own offspring in the same way. No child left behind.You may have been forced to call them “learners” but they never were. And this is part of the reason why third world (whoops) developing nations (whoops) lesser economically developed countries remain so, despite the elite who could afford decent education, if they knew what it was.


  5. Actually, a lot of these bully-parents are wealthy, will be hiring tutors and bribing their kids through universities, then bequeathing them top positions in companies, from which these same kids can bully their workers. That’s how it works


  6. I was probably fortunate, because I never had an abusive parent to deal with. Some had concerns, and met to discuss them, and seemed satisfied with the results, so life went on.

    However, the issue of “grade inflation” is something else. Personally, I don’t care if the grades are to be A+, A, and A-, as opposed to A, B, and C. My primary concern is to teach the students as well as I can, and to grade them relative to their results, with some allowances for effort. The appropriate grade range may in fact be determined by the broad international pool of students, not just those at one’s own school. If your students are in that top 7th percentile in performance, then their grades should reflect that, and conversely. Then again, I am not a great fan of grades or “standardized” tests, so maybe my position is unduly biased. ###


  7. When I was teaching in China, Chinese parents were fine but it was some of the American and South American parents who demanded special privileges because their kids were “better” than the locals and were “native speakers” so should be getting top grades and more attention. Mostly these spoilt brats who would be barely a C grade in the USA were given highly inflated grades by lazy teachers who didn’t want complaints from parents and were told to comply by the director who courted popularity. Left after one year of this nonsense and a run-in with a dominating American mother who tried to poison all the parents against the two or three teachers who gave “genuine” grades. He/She who shouts loudest……….


  8. Depends on the issue but the buck stops at the top. Working in a positive school culture which is respectful to all; has confidence in its teachers and how they work and award grades; monitors how school practices are being used and works with whole school community on outlining ‘it is what we do here’ needs to be in existence. Sometimes, the parent may be modelling behaviour that already exists in the school or this behaviour has yielded results before or for someone else.If they are trying to subvert school practices then admin need to step up and not leave the teacher hanging out to dry. Suggesting they take their child elsewhere may work but again it depends on your admin and Board. If your admin and Board do not support you or school policy- then get out as they won’t change and you will be the scapegoat or will have to fall into line. Do you really want to compromise your professionalism and values? If the money is good or there are other overriding reasons to remain, then you cannot fight a two front war: parent and unsupportive admin- so , sorry to say, you will have to choose. In an ideal world, good schools have published appeals processes for all sections of the community; but some international schools do not operate within an ‘ideal’ or professional framework. Letting the parent vent; being a good listener; offering strategies to help the child raise their grade may help but it still comes back to your admin. If parents threaten to take it higher- let them- at least let admin act unprofessionally and take responsibility. If the parents threaten legal action or show intimidatory behaviour and you are in a situation whereby they do have power within the community and legal processes are known to be ‘flexible’ in favour of the local then consider your options carefully. The reality of international education is that some administrators don’t support staff when warranted and so you need to again reconsider if the school is the place for you.


  9. Bully parents? It’s daily bread in Egypt – With one exception in my experience – they did not bother to see their lowly servant-teachers – they always go straight to the top – the Head of school. In Egypt you are practically powerless.


    1. Easy now…that depends on the school. At my school, for example, the vast majority of Egyptian parents are very reasonable. They understand that they are paying such high tuition in order to get the equivalent of a British private school education for their kids and, however they may behave in business outside of school, they adapt within school. When there are parents who don’t wish to comply with expectations of equal treatment for all, the administration quietly deals with it, backed up by clear social disapproval from other parents, if word gets out. As in a big American city, in Cairo, there are private schools and there are private schools. The key is to do your research and choose wisely.


  10. We were house parents at an international boarding school, the requests turned into demands, the demands turned into finger pointing and petty comments. Mostly new money from a large country out east, but I couldn’t possibly mention it.


  11. ‘There are methods for dealing with bully-parents, but to date no approach (that ISR has seen) has been successful in helping such parents realize this: ‘

    That’s because there isn’t a way of dealing with it successfully – anyone who has ever been marginalised, isolated and disciplined by their international school administrators for perfectly acceptable student management will know this…part of the problem is many teachers collaborate with this system, as it’s the ‘easy road’ for them – head down, don’t argue, don’t make a fuss, stay clear of anyone who does…they’re ‘trouble’ apparently. The people inside this process of enabling are just as much to blame as the parents and students. Challenge the orthodoxy at your peril – and if you don’t like it, MOVE!


  12. When I was teaching in the Gulf, a number of parents tried to get their children’s grades moved up: one parent went after me verbally for giving an “A” instead of an “A+”, which her daughter had “always got” before. I stuck to my grade, her daughter was quite happy to accept the grade, but not the parent. Luckily, social media was not in force at the time, the administration accepted my conclusions, but later upped the grade without my knowledge. It was their decision, and I didn’t query it afterwards. For me, I’d done my work and could back it up. I empathise with those teachers and school admins these days who have to put up with such abuse. AS you point out in your article, it’s the students who will ultimately suffer, esp. if they are accepted into a university in an ESL environment (i.e. outside their country) because those universities will not normally give inflated grades if the student hasn’t achieved them.


    1. I share your experience Peggy. I have also worked in the Gulf region for several years. In a government school I worked at, I marked a class load of papers at the end of the first term. Every student failed. I entered the grads into the system and all hell broke loose. I was hauled up in front of the administrators. I showed them the test results and examples of student work. Most of them had zero English skills, including being unable to even write their name. It turned out that they had almost zero skills in their native language either! I was told that nobody is allowed to fail. I asked, rather sarcastically, what marks I should give to students so poor, and to students whom I had never even seen. The answer, un-sarcastically, was 85 to 95%. I did and everyone was happy. The school, the students and the parents. So, the choice for me was to give up a fantastic salary and lifestyle, or to take a principled stand and leave. I chose the former and stayed for another 5 years. I simply took the view that it’s their country, their future and if they don’t give a shit about the corruption, then, why should I? I now work in a proper International School. I love it. There is some subtle pressuring from parents regarding marks, but it’s nothing I have not experience elsewhere. I realise that my comments here will raise some hackles but the fact is, in some places, corruption within educaton is endemic. Faced with being unable to change anything, no matter how much you wish it were so, your only choice is to stay or leave. Make no mistake, your position will be filled immediately by someone who has the same view as me. Their country, their students, their business!


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