Megan Monsen, the 2013 Bammy Award Middle School Teacher of the Year, said in a YouTube video: “Accept the fact that you are going to have parent complaints—at least two a year. So when you have a parent complaint say ‘Uh, this is my time.’ You’re not going to have 100 percent customer satisfaction and you have to accept that. Even the best teachers—the Bammy Award-winning teachers—have issues and it’s okay.”
Her words comforted me.
I had a rough landing to the school year. As a middle school writing teacher, I served 90 families, and they all seemed satisfied or highly satisfied with me—all except two. The two dissatisfied families were close with each other, which I suspect made matters worse.
I’ve only been physically threatened by a parent once—which occasionally happens when one works some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. But the tongue-lashing I recently received from one of my mothers pushed my buttons so much that I went a little “ghetto"* on her. I didn’t say anything inappropriate, but my tone and body language told her exactly what she could kiss.
This mother was upset because she felt that I didn’t communicate with her enough that her child was failing. She said I should have told her the next day after each day her son did not do his homework or classwork.
I told her that to avoid penalizing students for writing at varying paces, I give them a week to turn in a packet of drafts and essays. I reminded her that I updated the online grade book every week, so she was never really out of the loop. To produce such a fast turn-around, I added, I spend six hours every weekend grading student work--plus two to three additional hours lesson planning.
“That’s your job!” she tearfully yelled, flinging her hair. “Am I supposed to applaud you for just doing your job?”
I told her that I’m still learning, but in the ten years I’ve been teaching, I’ve figured out a grading process best works for me, though it forces me to work six full days a week.
“Maybe after ten years it’s time for you to get out of the classroom,” She shot back. “Now that you have a baby, you can’t seem to handle the workload!”
Oh, no she DID-INT. She just dragged my six-month-old son—the love of my life ... my innocent, miracle gift from God—into the discussion. I couldn’t control it: my neck began to roll and my voice lost all pretense of patience.
“All I ever did was try to help your son--even at the expense of time spent with other students,” I exclaimed. “He is an exceptional writer, yes, but there are kids way less talented than him who made A’s and B’s in my class. Even when I gave him extensions, he just played around and didn’t do his work! I told you about this two weeks ago! More importantly I constantly told him!”
I helped her son’s poem get published in a national anthology of young writers this year—plus win a cash prize. And she thanks me by calling my teaching practice “unacceptable” in front of two of my bosses?
I wanted to tell her that driving her son to school late 92 of the 180 schools day was “unacceptable.” I did not.
When the administrators, the mom, and I agreed to this meeting, I knew it would be tough. I had already told the woman to stop emailing me because her tone was rude and offensive. I let all parties know that my after school time was limited; I could only stay for 15 minutes. Forty minutes later, we were getting nowhere.
My son and his baby sitter were parked in front of my school, waiting for me to pick him up. It was hot outside, and I knew her air conditioning had stopped working. I had to go.
As I was excusing myself from the meeting, the mother blurted out, “And you yell at the kids all day!” I turned around and said “Whateverrrrrrrr,” then walked out.
My unprofessionalism shocked me. I hadn’t been that upset since my husband forgot to pack his pants for the Bammy Awards in D.C. last year. Even then I managed to remain calm.
How could I—the founder and president of a faith-based nonprofit organization called Teachers Who Pray—have been so disrespectful toward a parent, albeit an insolent one?
Ashamed, I quickly apologized to my instructional leader who had followed me out of the conference room. She just wanted me to know that she had my back.
I apologized to the mom a week later, at the year-end report card conferences. I told her as humbly as I could that my tone and body language were completely out of line. I even validated her feelings that I could have done a better job of communicating her son’s struggles to her, though, I still secretly felt that what I did was, at the very least, adequate. I asked for her forgiveness.
As I spoke, the mom sat stoically, peering into my face. She didn’t as much as flinch, though her son nodded and said he should have done better.
When I finished, she sweetly turned to the social studies teacher who was sitting next to me. She smiled and profusely thanked my colleague for being such a wonderful teacher who made a profound impact on her son. Oh, how he enjoyed her class!
Then she slid a brightly colored gift bag across the table—not for me, of course.
It was a brilliant display of passive-aggressive resentment. At that moment, I accepted the reality that this parent would probably never grow to like me or consider me a good teacher. I was at peace with that. I politely excused myself and went over to greet an incoming parent.
Thank you Megan Monsen (wherever you are) for sharing those wise words that helped me cope with a difficult parent. I guess it was just “my time.” After all, 97.7 percent customer satisfaction isn’t all that bad.
*Forgive me for using the slang form of ghetto, but it’s the best way I can describe the situation. At least I’m talking about myself, and not someone else.
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.