- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

As an elementary teacher, I require that my students complete assignments and behave appropriately in order to earn the privilege of playtime and fun activities. As a result of my classroom policies, there is no shortage of parents who think and even tell me I’m “mean.” They seem to think it’s worse for their children to miss a party than to fail to do an assignment or to misbehave in class.

When I take a privilege away from a child, the child’s parent may call the principal to complain, at which point, his backbone collapses. With no support from administration, it’s becoming more and more difficult to enforce what I consider reasonable academic and behavioral expectations. What can I do?

A: You’re not mean, you’re strict. On the other hand, you’re gentle, understanding, loving and kind. You’re not unreasonable, impatient, anxiously intolerant; you just want your students to do their best, in every sense of the term. You’re not a punishment freak, you just want your students to learn that there are consequences for being irresponsible. If the foregoing is true, then you’re the sort of teacher children need.

Unfortunately, I hear from lots of teachers who tell me, in effect, that the sort of teacher children need is not the sort of teacher children want (which has always, to some extent, been the case).

The problem, as you have discovered, is that if children complain about a teacher, today’s parents often (more often than not, it seems) take the complaints at face value. Then, when the parents complain to the principal, today’s principals often do whatever they must to mollify the parents. End result: The teacher is reprimanded.

In all fairness to principals, they tend to be highly apprehensive, and rightly so, about the possibility of litigation. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, as they frequently are, principals often take the path of least resistance.

To give but one example, a principal recently told me that two parents brought their attorney to a first conference concerning their first-grade boy’s misbehavior. I’m not sure that, given the circumstances, I would have had a stronger backbone.

The problem, in short, isn’t principals, but parents who won’t demand the best of their children and who freak out when someone else does.

So, back to your question: What can you do? Well, you can stay where you are, stick to your guns and take great satisfaction from those few parents who support you and those students who rise to your standards. If that’s what you decide to do, stop complaining about the inevitable consequences of being an educational freedom fighter.

If you can’t take the heat any longer (and I wouldn’t blame you if you decided you have had enough) resign and find a job at a private or parochial school that welcomes teachers like yourself. It’s not as if you don’t have choices.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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