Carolyn Hax: Being ‘That Parent’ Versus Speaking Up For Her Child

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Dear Caroline: Our sixth grade student has mentioned that one of his classmates is constantly disruptive and disrespectful to teachers and classmates. Our son reports that this classmate misbehaves almost daily and the behavior is so disruptive that at least once a week, this boy is sent to the assistant principal and/or suspended for a day or two.

This week our son was crying in frustration at how upsetting this child’s behavior is. They are in a cohort, so they are in each class together for the whole day, with no breaks. I’m worried about this classmate. They clearly need more helpful intervention than getting into trouble, and maybe they’re getting that help, I don’t know, but I doubt it. I am also concerned about my son’s interrupted education.

We have encouraged you to accept this as an opportunity to practice mental discipline, stay focused on your work, etc. This seems to be working; our son has excellent grades. His complaint this week is that he feels he is missing out on what he is being taught as his teachers deal with this classmate.

Do we let this happen? Is it time to talk to the teacher? And what do we say? I don’t want to be the parent who adds to the burden of a teacher after the two years we’ve all been through. Lord help me, if I am “that” father right now, please tell me!

Father: “That” parent is the one who attacks by hearsay, angry and criticizes the teacher for not orienting the entire school day around their child or their vision of the world.

But that doesn’t mean you sit around feeling uneasy about what’s going on in the classroom.

You meet with the teacher, yes, and you start by asking them questions, assuring them that you know they’ve been through the wringer and that you come in peace.

Once you find out the teacher’s and/or school’s part of the story, to the extent they can share it, you share your child’s part of the story. That is valuable information for the school to have. Meeting the many different needs of many different students at once is a dynamic process, and if the way teachers handle the disruptive child has unacceptable consequences for other students, then their approach needs to change. Grades alone do not prove readiness.

From what they know, teachers have asked for more support from the administration and parent advocacy would help them get it.

Whatever your process, it will work best in association with calm, rational, and open-minded parents. They can report what part of their children’s school day is impacting at home and, this is underestimated, reinforce at home what teachers have found helpful for their children at school.

I can feel the splash of a collective eye roll at the thought that a school can, or will be, so receptive to parental input in a disciplinary emergency. Especially given the burnout and understaffing forced by covid and the ever-increasing list of expectations piled on schools. Teachers are already police officers, psychiatrists, babysitters, food pantries, office supply stores, first responders, political footballs, and targets of uninformed mobs. But: Rational, boundary-aware adults who want to help them figure out what works and what doesn’t, who have some sympathy for troubled kids as well as their own, and who respect the expertise of teachers? Adults who remembered to put on their ears this morning and remove their blinders? Yes, yes, come in. See how you can help.

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