Dear Kid Whisperer,
I teach 6th grade in Toledo. We have a tough group, but my colleague and I manage them well. My question, though, is about parents. We have a student who is disrespectful, mean, etc. etc. I had a meeting with the parent who stated that her child has freedom of speech and he’s allowed to disrespect adults if he feels the need to. What does one do when the parent reinforces the child’s behavior? – Michelle, Toledo, Ohio
This is such a great question because it illustrates so many facts about teaching and parenting that no one ever talks about. First, parents, as they relate to schools, are most certainly the customers, but the customer is not always right. In this case, the customer (parent) is teaching her child to be a sociopath, under the guise of letting him exercise his “freedom”.
This leads to a fact about functional civilization. Students in a classroom and people in a society are not free to do whatever they want. Out in the world, your freedom to do what you want ends where my freedom to have a functional life begins. In classrooms, students have exactly as much freedom as their teachers wants to give them. As you are fully aware, the teacher is there to set limits and create a functional learning environment. You can set the limit the same way you always did with the kid (for other effective limit-enforcing methods go to http://askthekidwhisperer.com/category/educator-blog).
Here’s how I would handle this gem of a parent:
Kid Whisperer: Thank you for coming in. I understand you have some concerns.
Parent: I think my kid Damien should be allowed to say whatever he wants to whomever he wants whenever he wants. It is a free country and in our country that’s the way it is.
Kid Whisperer: (After writing down what Parent has said) OK. Tell me more.
Parent: Uh. Well, that’s it.
Kid Whisperer: So you are saying that Damien should be able to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. Do I have that right?
Kid Whisperer: Would you like to know my thoughts on this?
Parent: I guess.
Kid Whisperer: In my classroom, the only rule is that you can do whatever you want as long as it does not cause a problem. Arguing with me and being mean to others hurts our learning environment for the other 29 students, so those things are not allowed to happen. Consequences will continue to be put into place for Damien just as they are for any child who exhibits these behaviors.
Parent: That’s $%^*&#*%!!
Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Damien knows that if he disagrees with the way something is done in class he is free to whisper to me that he doesn’t think that it is fair and that we will discuss it later at a time that is convenient for me. He has chosen to yell at me and others instead, kind of like what you are doing now.
Parent: You are a %$@&! I am going to your principal and I’m going to get you fired.
Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Here is her phone number, or you can just go to her office. I will email her your position that Damien should be allowed to say whatever he wants whenever he wants just to save you both time in your discussion. Thanks for talking with me. Have a good day!
Parent: &%#$ you.
You can imagine how the conversation with your principal will go for the parent. The limit is set and you maintained the dignity of all parties, including yourself. Perhaps this parent will take her child out of your school in order to find a school that subscribes to the “students may do anything they want” theory of classroom management.