When Parents are Angry at the School: Tips for Parents

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In almost every family, there comes a time when parents get mad at the school. It’s normal. Every so often, parents come across a teacher, principal, or other staff member who they believe is doing their child wrong, misunderstands their child, or doesn’t care about their child. Are there education staff who behave like this? Of course, but it is rare. I almost never come across educators who genuinely dislike a child or don’t care about them.

When you see something going wrong with your child’s education, it’s easy to get caught in a spiral of assumptions. You may recognize this scenario:

  • You get one of those infamous phone calls from the principal. Your child’s been getting into conflicts at school with the other kids lately and keeps getting sent to the office.
  • You do your part and talk with your child about it and give consequences for his behavior at home. You also talk with the principal and teacher about some ideas that have worked for you to help your child’s behavior.
  • The next week, you get another phone call, then another, and another… It starts getting old. It’s interfering with your work.
  • You start getting angry with your child because he can’t seem to control his behavior and you start feeling like a bad parent.

Then you start to wonder: “What’s going on up at that school anyway? My child isn’t bad. I don’t have any problems controlling his behavior at home. Sure, he’s no angel, but can’t that teacher figure him out?

Then you start to assume things about the teacher’s motives:  “She must not know how to control behavior very well. She doesn’t like my child. She’s never going to give him a real chance and has washed her hands of him. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” At this point, conflict with the school usually ensues.

The way parents and teachers react to one another during this type of situation is key to helping the child be successful. Below are some tips for parents when navigating these challenging situations. See Tips for Teachers  for advice for educators.

Tips for Parents

Schedule a meeting or conversation. The first step is to schedule a time to meet with the teacher or principal to discuss the difficulties your child is experiencing. Some teachers feel threatened if you include the principal when scheduling an initial meeting, so it may be better to wait to involve the principal until after you have exhausted all efforts with the teacher.

The principal should be viewed as a partner in your child’s education, not as the teacher’s boss. Yes, the principal does supervise the teacher and can help hold the teacher accountable, but the focus of your conversation should be on helping your child, not on disciplining the teacher. It’s important that parents work together with the school to solve any issues.

Come prepared to present your concerns in a calm and reasonable manner. If it helps, you can even practice stating your concerns to a spouse or trusted friend. Coming in to the meeting angry will only put the teacher on the defensive and may actually slow down efforts to help.

Be careful what you assume. Most teachers didn’t go into the profession of teaching because they just wanted a job. Most of them got into it because they love kids and they want to make a difference. Our schools are by no means perfect or all they could be, but positive change takes time and there are many hard-working, dedicated educators who only want to help your child succeed.

Enter into the conversation with your child’s teacher with the assumption that they genuinely care about your child’s success. This assumption will go a long way in helping you have a positive attitude toward the teacher and school and will make the conversation go more smoothly.

Be flexible and open-minded. It’s quite possible, even likely, that the school is doing everything it can to help your child. Behavioral and academic problems can be difficult to figure out. The school will first try simple methods to see if they help before moving on to more complex interventions.

For example, if a child experiences difficulty with aggressive behavior towards other students (e.g. hitting), the school may try talking with the student about why he was hitting (there is usually a cause) and what a better choice would be. At first it may not seem like these simple interventions are working, but give it time. It may take 6-8 weeks of consistently applying an intervention before it starts working. Sometimes it takes years.

Academic interventions also take time. A student who is having trouble with math may need to participate in an intervention group for awhile. It doesn’t mean he will always need help, or that the student has a disability. Some variations in a student’s learning progression are normal.

Find an advocate. Sometimes, despite all your efforts, you don’t see your child progressing. You may not feel the school is helping enough or maybe you don’t understand the methods they are using. The principal should be your first advocate. Have a talk with her and politely explain your frustration. Ask her to help you repair the relationship with the teacher or to explain what is going on in a way you can understand.

If the principal isn’t helping, or you don’t feel like you can trust her, try someone at the central administration office, such as the superintendent, special education director, or a district coordinator like a Process Coordinator. If you approach administrators first, they will refer you back to the principal or teacher, so don’t be quick to go to these individuals. You should have exhausted all efforts at the school first.

If all else fails, find an advocate outside the school district. A trusted friend who doesn’t have an emotional stake in the situation can help you ask questions and keep you in check if you feel yourself getting too angry.

There are also professional advocates available for free or pay. When choosing an advocate, be sure to choose wisely. Some advocates take an adversarial approach, which may or may not help the situation. School personnel can feel threatened when you bring in an outside advocate. Remember, in the end, you still have to work with the school and damaging the relationship with the staff will not help your child.

See Tips for Teachers  for advice for educators.

What is the purpose of this site?

purpose

Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations with families and teachers about disabilities, schools, interventions, and special education. What I’ve come to learn through those conversations is that the public’s understanding of disability and how to navigate the school system is low. I believe that children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in our society. They and their families deserve advocacy and compassion.

What I hope to do on this site is give insight to parents, students, and teachers on navigating schools, especially around disability. These are my thoughts based on my experience and my intention is to provide help and smooth the way for others. There is bound to be someone who disagrees with what I have to say. That’s fine. These are only my opinions based on what I have seen work and not work in the public school system. If you read something on this site and decide to leave a nasty comment, I will delete it. It’s not worth my time or the time of those looking for helpful advice to read unproductive or unhelpful comments.

Why am I qualified to create and run this site? I have been in the education field for 15 years, working in the public schools. My original training is as a school psychologist. I am a nationally certified school psychologist and have worked in elementary and middle schools, and at a school for kids with behavior problems. I am now a central office administrator at a local school district. One of my favorite things to do is to help families who are struggling to achieve success for their student. I am also the parent of a child with a minor disability. I have sat on both sides of the table as an education professional and parent and it has broadened my perspective in ways I could never have imagined.

I have some future posts planned out, but please feel free to ask questions on topics not posted. If I can help, I will. What I post on this page is in no way representative of the school district I work for, but I will be honest and tell you what I think and have experienced. Some of what I will write has to do with interpretation of federal and state regulations, so that readers can better understand the system. Please know that regulations and laws differ from state to state and certain courts have set precedent that applies to different regions of the country. I happen to live in a state that is served by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. States, Circuit Courts, even local school districts, will interpret rules and laws differently. What I write might be correct where I live, but may not be correct somewhere else.

I hope what you find here is helpful. If not, please let me know what I can do to help you. Here are some future posts I have planned.

  • Navigating Special Education
  • What do I do if I disagree with the IEP team?
  • What about private/home school students?
  • Should I get an advocate?
  • IEP vs. 504 Which is better?
  • Does my student have a disability?
  • ADHD: is it a myth?
  • I don’t want my kid in special education
  • Discipline