If 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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