The English Teacher

Parent/Student Caused Discipline Problems [1]

Parents' actions cause discipline problems also. Teachers need to be aware of and address the other causes of discipline problems [if possible] before addressing this one. These other causes of discipline problems are more under the teachers' control. And if they are taken care of, often parents, even difficult ones, will not be a negative factor in the educational process.

There are several types of parents to deal with who cause discipline problems. They are the ones that are most susceptible to their children's complaints about the school setting and the classroom. Most parents with complaining children would probably be surprised if they could see their children's actions in the classroom.

Some parents are concerned with their children's complaints, but when they come in for a conference and can see that the report is not accurate, they can accept reality and work things out. Often times their concerns stem from the poor educational experiences of their own childhood and they feel that they want to prevent their children from having the same type of experience.

Some parents are the ones in deep denial of problems regarding their own relationships with the child. The relationship problem most obvious to the teacher is with parents who can not discipline the child. Then the school system becomes the scapegoat for any behavior problems. In the younger grades the response may have been the 'the schools aren't teaching them how to behave.' By the time the child reaches high school and the child's behavior is less acceptable in the classroom, the parents completely deny that the child has any behavior issues that they need to address and control. Then they go to great lengths to contend with school behavior policies rather than simply tell the child, 'no, you can't do that.'

The mistake, in my opinion, that parents most often make is to give the child a specific type of complaint that will justify the child in being rude, disobedient, disrespectful, or disruptive to the teacher in the classroom. Once children learns the 'magic terms' that will allow them to act as they wish, they will simply lie about the teacher and classroom situation, or they will manipulate the teacher into a behavior that somewhat resembles the 'magic term' behavior that excuses disrespect, etc.

For example, I talked to a parent about a student who was rude and defiant in a study hall because I was insisting that the student be quiet and study. I phoned the father and his response was, the child felt singled out for rules that no one else had, and he wasn't 'being heard.' The father said this as if justifying his child's behavior in the above circumstances. My response was that the rules were equally enforced, no one talked without permission and when they did, they studied together quietly at the front of the study hall. I then added that his child had angrily told me that he, I, and his father 'were going to have a talk about this!' I told the father that I was not going to have any talk about whether or not a student should be quiet in my study hall without the vice-principal involved and that if he wanted a meeting about that, he should contact the vice-principal. The result of this discussion was that the student was quiet in the study hall and no further meeting was held. However, teachers should be aware that if I had not had clear rules which were stated and fairly enforced from the beginning of class, and had a working relationship with the vice-principal the results of this incident might have been much different.

In yet another incident a parent complained that I had used 'excessive force' because her child had brought an open pop container repeatedly into class when the school rules were against it and I had finally sent him to the office. Actually, in the incident in question, the student had stood outside the classroom until the bell rang to begin class, and then he left and went to the soft drink machine and came back seven minutes later with his soft drink in his hand and a smile on his face. That complaint was followed up with a meeting with the child, both parents, the vice-principal, and me. In the meeting I explained and proved, because I had documentation, that this was not a new situation, that the student had been told before, and that finally if he did it again, I was going to send him to the office again. The vice-principal supported me, and there were no further incidents, but the child should not have been led by the parents to think that they would justify that type of behavior.

For teachers who are 'in the middle' of the demands on the classroom teacher: papers, planning, meetings, goals, standards, student needs, and parent conferences, there is perhaps no time for learning the psychology of parent behavior. However, as the teacher is as professional and knowledgeable as possible, those parents who cause discipline problems in your classrooms, should be dealt with by administrators. And the administrators should have the training to recognize and deal with those parents whose children are disrupting the education of the rest of the students.

Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline