Civility


I have been a teacher for almost 30 years (wait, what?!).  I have been to a thousand team meetings at least. I have reviewed test results, planned IEP’s, talked about progress, planned for the summer. In 90% of those meetings, the feelings of the parents are understandable, reasonable and touching.

Even in the few cases where I have felt that parents were being unreasonable or illogical, I could almost always empathize with them.  After all, nearly every parent is acting out of love.  Nearly every one is motivated by a desire to protect and support and provide for her child.  I understand this motivation, and I feel enormous sympathy for parents of children who are struggling to fit in, to succeed, to learn, to grow and thrive.  I almost always find a way to reach out to those parents, to offer my help and support and to let them see that I am truly on their team.

But once in a while, once in a very rare while, there is a parent who’s motivations are too bizarre to earn my support.

I never refer to parents as “crazy”; that is just too easy an out, too glib a comment in nearly every case.  In 99% of cases, I just don’t think that parents are “crazy” .

But every once in a while, like once every 20 years, I meet a parent who is clearly and unquestionably mentally ill. And perhaps so angry and so disturbed that he or she is acting in a way that is very nearly evil.

I have a meeting with a mother like that tomorrow.  And I am feeling sick at the thought of being enclosed in a room with her for two hours (or more).

And I wonder why I feel such angst?

This woman is not a physical threat; she will not hit or kick or throw rotten tomatoes at us.  She will not curse or rant or storm out of the room.

So why do I feel actual fear?

Because this woman is cold to the point of iciness.  She is rude and loud, talking over every expert, speaking in a tone that is loud and forceful and absolutely unyielding. Her eye contact is challenging and her facial expression is a permanent grimace.

She is, in a word, rude.

So why is that so scary?

I guess its because for those of us who are sane and civil, it is a shock when someone breaks the rules of common courtesy.  We fumble around, we blush, we try to remain calm.  And I wonder why.

I would love to have the internal fortitude to challenge this woman, to treat her as if she were a child in my class. I would love to say, “Excuse me. You are being rude. You may not talk over others. You may not interrupt.”

I wish I could challenge her anger, and ask her “Why aren’t you happy that your child has made a good transition into my classroom? Why can’t you celebrate her success?”   I would like to ask her, “When was the last time that you told your child that you were happy for her?”

I wish that we could call a spade a spade, and that we could identify the mentally ill person in this family; the mom wants us to believe that it is her child who is unwell, but I am sure that it is the mother who needs the psychiatric help.

I wish that the rules of civility would allow me to be uncivil.  Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so afraid to go to an educational meeting.

Advertisements

12 responses to this post.

  1. My sympathies on your meeting. But I don’t think it’s wrong to say to a parent, “I need you to stop talking and listen or else this meeting is over.” I had a very disturbing incident with a set of parents who had spent 4 years bullying every teacher and administrator in the building. One day, after they had threatened and swore at the vice-princial, I finally had it. I raised my voice and said, “You will not speak to us that way anymore! If you continue to do that, this meeting is over.” The father was in shock and I was afraid he might hit me but he didn’t. I had to repeat this sentence a few more times over the hour but things eventually improved. This child is having a much better year this and his parents are much more civil. I, on the other hand, am off on (unpaid, self-imposed) stress leave for the year. But it was worth it.

    Reply

    • You’re right! You’re so very right! I am always amazed when I DON”T speak up at times like this….I’m not the one who runs the meeting, so it isn’t really up to me….but I may just try to channel your good advice and speak out tomorrow!

      Reply

      • Good luck. It’s so hard. I left that meeting bathed in sweat but I felt better than I did at previous meetings when I said nothing. I wasn’t running the meeting either but it was pretty obvious who was…the bullying parents! And since my VP didn’t have the guts to say anything, it fell to me.
        Good luck.

      • Thank you! I’m going to keep you in my mind as we meet!

  2. My only concern about “stopping” a bully in that setting would be that the person in question might take it out on their child when they get home. But, there’s only so much for which you can take responsibility, and odds are, if they’re the sort to bully their child, they’ll do it whether they get to bully you or not.

    I’d say go for it!

    Reply

    • In this case, just listening to the child makes it clear that Mom is manipulating every reaction. She won’t let this child succeed, and the fact that the schools have been cowering in front of her for the past 5 years clearly hasn’t helped.
      School was cancelled this morning (phew!!) so I have a few more days to think about this, but I’ve decided not to accept any behavior from an adult that I would accept from a ten year old. I’ll let you know how it goes!

      Reply

  3. I hate that you are feeling such anxiety, just over mean rude parents. That is one horrible part of this profession, the need to be nice no matter what. However, I draw the line at profanity and have hung up on more than one occasion because of it. Good luck to you!

    Reply

    • Thank you!! Its so strange what we accept behavior from adults that we would never take from kids!
      These parents (really, its only the Mom) are not profane or overtly threatening: I have walked out of meetings because of those behaviors. That’s so overt that its easier! In this case the Mom just talks over us, is dismissive, negative, accuses us of lying…..just a bully!

      Reply

  4. Oh my word. That IS crazy! I think that dealing with the parents is probably the worst part of teaching. I’m a teachers aid at an Elementary school on my campus, and I have had one of the parents tell me, “I am a lawyer, you should be intimidated by me.” I mean, come on! Who do these parents think they are? Why do they think that they can talk to a teacher like that? Good luck with your meeting, I wish you the best. Kill her with kindness 🙂

    Reply

  5. What a great thought! “Kill her with kindness!” The hardest part for me is that I really have done fine with 99% of parents for the past 30 plus years in education. This lady is just sort of beyond me…..And that meeting was postponed twice, so it is still out there hanging over our heads! Thank you for your good wishes!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: