A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Treating teachers like #&*$!

Earlier this week I posted about the increasing amount of cursing that students are doing in school. That very day, a student was talking to me about bands that he likes, and in ONE sentence, he used three rude words for anatomical parts of the body and one curse word. I want to give him credit that after I gave him "that look" he immediately stopped, realized what he had said, and apologized. But for the rest of our conversation about Stevie Ray Vaughan, he had to keep catching himself.

Then a colleague told me about a parent who called him up and began remonstrating with him about giving her child a detention for an obvious violation for which he had been warned beforehand. This student and two other classmates were given detentions at the same time. As this parent continued to talk, she got louder and more overblown in her rhetoric and vituperation. Within three or four minutes, she was shouting into the receiver, claiming that her child was being singled out and discriminated against, and about how my friend obviously was racist. This tirade went on for a few minutes, until finally my friend realized that the longer this woman talked, the more out-of-control she was going to become, and mildly suggested that this woman should call the assistant principal. My friend them hung up the phone-- while the woman was still shrieking and cursing.

Luckily, he gave the assistant principal the heads-up, and sure enough, the mother called her up and began the same pattern: first simply complaining, the getting louder, then shouting into the phone and making all kinds of absurd claims and creating hypothetical situations, and so on. So the assistant principal eventually stated that the conversation was over and hung up on this woman, as well, after suggesting she call the head principal. She then called in the kid, who admitted that he had violated the rule and that he had been warned. He felt that the detention was justified, and wasn't all that upset about it.

The AP told the principal the story, and a few minutes later the mother called the principal. Same story. Forceful language, rage, threats, shouting, loss of verbal and mental control and finally random barrages of verbal abuse, until finally the principal stated that the conversation was over and had to hang up on her. I am sure within another 40 minutes, the mother had called the assistant superintendent and the superintendent and followed the same pattern. Perhaps she got to some of the school board members before the day was done-- who knows?

This woman spent more time yelling, screaming, and cursing about the consequence assigned to her son than the son is going to spend in detention. And untold professional people had to listen to her insanity so that later they wouldn't be accused of refusing to listen to her side of the story, so that her voice would be heard. And a rude, abusive voice, it was.

When teachers are expected to endure any sort of verbal vomit from the public, it is just another example of how the level of discourse in our society has been degraded. It is further proof of the point in the previous discussion about how these kids are hearing and seeing this kind of self-expression modeled at home, and not just from parents, but from video games and movies and their MySpace pages and on and on.

The problem is when parents like these feel that they are entitled to speak to teachers and administrators that way. Her child was spoken to politely but firmly throughout the entire experience. Imagine if a teacher had unleashed a fraction of her rhetorical spew upon a student-- or simply betrayed a similar amount of emotion towards her or her child. Such an action would be unprofessional would be condemned, and rightfully so.

But I have a feeling that having to tolerate this kind of behavior simply encourages it and even drives it to further extremes.



At 2/28/08, 3:59 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

You are 100% right about this - having to tolerate it DOES encourage it. At some point, we've got to start hanging up and refusing to deal with people who cannot find it in themselves to speak politely and respectfully to others - ANY others, from professionals to strangers on the street.

So, how do we start shifting the culture so that it becomes acceptable to not tolerate this sort of abuse?

At 2/28/08, 4:04 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

In my younger days, I was in a very volatile parent conference with my assistant principal. The parent had a reputation for being whacko, so I told my a.p. ahead of time that if it got out of hand, I was going to leave. It did, and I did end up walking out of the conference.
We can't allow abusive language.

At 2/28/08, 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's some sort of something, a personality/mental something in some people. If you don't respond more loudly and join in arguing, it sets them off. The less you respond like them the crazier they get. I'm not sure what the solution is though (phones that cut off at a decibel level? a time limit?!)

I've been going to a lot of our school board's monthly public hearings. You sign up, you get three minutes to speak and then the microphone cuts out, someone firmly says THANK YOU and you are done, very efficiently.

There is one woman who comes every month. She starts calmly and sort of rationally and then the same thing, by the end of her time she's completely worked up, yelling, screaming.

I've learned to take a bathroom break as she gets up. You can hear the crescendo at the end from the bathroom.

At 2/28/08, 8:50 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

People are getting ruder by the day.

However, something about this reminded me about a workshop I took a few years ago on poverty. The facilitator made the comment that many parents in an abusive situation (usually a single parent who lives with an abuser who abusers both her and her kids) will use the tactic of going postal on teachers, the principals, etc., to "prove" to their child that even though she can't stop the abuse (need that place to live), she can at least stick up for the child at school. It sounded nuts, but those of us at the conference started to take a more critical look of the parent behavior we saw and darned if she didn't pretty much hit the nail on the head with that one. These people will invent things to go nuts over simply so they can go to their child and say, "see, I do love you - I proved it by yelling at your principal, teacher, etc."

That being said, there's no excuse and no reason why we have to put up with such boorish behavior. My principal is great - as soon as a parent starts acting like this she simply looks at us, says, "You're excused," and deals with the parent herself.

At 2/29/08, 6:59 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Early in my career I worked for principals who believed we were NEVER to hang up or walk out on an enraged parent, EVER. And that's completely wrong. It makes us the only profession that is expected to serve as whipping boy.

Ironically, some of these principals could go off the deep end too, and so you see where that is going.

But the comment about parents in an abusive situation intrigues me. It flabbergasts, me, too. But still, there just might be something to that in this situation.

At 2/29/08, 1:14 PM, Blogger Rebecca Haden said...

My guess is that the person in this example does this to everyone, not just to teachers. The idea that teachers deserve special respect may be outdated, but it doesn't sound like a specifically anti-education situation.
Still, I think that teachers generally face more of this kind of thing than people who don't deal with such a broad spectrum of the public. I think teachers will find that reading Elgin's The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (it'll be in your library) will be a good investment of time.

At 2/29/08, 9:29 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

I think anyone who works in any type of "public service" job has to put up with too much of this. Before I taught, I spent some time working for a municipal gov't. It was actually worse there--more whackos to choose from, instead of just whackos with kids.

Part of getting respect is earning it, and I don't think that just sitting there and allowing someone to degrade you is respect-worthy. Walking out after a point, is.

At 3/1/08, 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And didn't we see the ultimate end of this when we read about the Man with No Temper getting mad at a coach because his daughter didn't start in a ballgame and attacking the coach?

It seems like too many people have the adolescent problem of mistaking "being heard" for "being obeyed."

At 3/1/08, 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

forgot to add, thanks for the comment.

At 3/6/08, 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"many parents in an abusive situation (usually a single parent who lives with an abuser who abusers both her and her kids) will use the tactic of going postal on teachers, the principals, etc., to "prove" to their child that even though she can't stop the abuse (need that place to live), she can at least stick up for the child at school."

Very true, Mrs. Bluebird. I work at an urban elementary school in the 'hood, and we see this ALL the time. But I don't think the reasons are limited to abuse, because I've seen parents who are NOT in an abusive relationship do the same thing-- however, it's due to some other factor that causes them guilt. Whether the guilt is over drinking during pregnancy, or not being able to afford that new Xbox, the thought process is similar: "If I stick up for my child and scream at his teachers, it'll prove to him that I love him."

Oh, and at my school district, if a parent gets verbally abusive with school personnel, the police are called and the parent gets a ticket. I've seen it happen and it's a beautiful thing. Don't put up with abuse, ever.


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