Since I posted my initial series on teachers and bullying two weeks ago, the response has been amazing. Thank you all so much for your insight, concern and stories. Your comments have also led me to explore one more avenue of teachers and bullying: parent-bullies.
The Modern Reality
The idea of a parent as bully, like so many other adult-bullying issues, can seem absurd at first. I mean, we all know those “helicopter parents” who feel it is their right to intervene in every aspect of their child’s life and education, but how does this constitute bullying? It’s the parent’s job to advocate for the child’s well-being and make certain that the child is given every opportunity possible to succeed, especially in the case of special needs children who are at a decided disadvantage as compared to the rest of the class, right?
I agree that parents who are involved in the educational process can be an asset to their child and the classroom environment, but when that involvement is borne of entitlement for that parent’s child above all else and to the detriment of others, the involved parent can become a bully parent. Often, especially in the case of special needs situation, we are afraid to call the zebra a zebra, but the actions of a parent exist independently of the circumstances of the child, no matter how hard those circumstances may be.
The Fine Line
As educators, we walk a fine line between surrogate parent and authority figure, professional and employee. Because we are paid for our duties, there is an expectation of service and results, and this attitude is exacerbated in private and higher educational environments where tuition is paid. But really any taxpayer these days has a stake in the public school system, and most have no problem asserting it. In addition, the nature of education as a graded system, meaning that payment does not ensure success, puts us straddling a line between the different realities of entitlement and achievement.
With special needs students, their additional requirements, though ensured through the Individuals with Disabilities Act and their IEPs (Individual Educational Plans) still set them apart. A parent who struggles with the reality of the challenges presented by a special needs child may find that lashing out at those supposed to help “normalize” this child, is her only recourse for the endless frustrations that parenting that child can create. Also, the atmosphere of parent-as-advocate within the special needs community can be taken to the extreme in the wrong hands.
How Parent Bullying Occurs
It is the very nature of the involved parent that actually sets the stage for teacher-directed harassment and bullying. With the increase of email communication, social network interaction and the ever-present nature of town gossip, feelings of personal affront can be taken to the masses with ease and quickly become libelous if left unchecked.
In extreme cases, teachers are contacted by bully parents daily, subject to continual unannounced visits and expected to treat the bully parent’s child with extra care in order to better reflect the success that the parent expects. A bully parent will not see grading flaws as her child’s, but as the teacher’s. The bully parent will question the teacher’s curriculum and assignment choices, grading technique and qualifications. He may complete his child’s homework himself and expect the teacher to accept the submission as the child’s own, all in an effort to elevate his child above the rest of the class.
The Need for Research
The research on parent bullies is slim pickings to say the least. When I entered the term “parents bullying teachers” into Google, majority of the results were bulling resources for parents and teachers. As a teacher as well as an SEO writer (i.e. one who writes for search engine results) this disturbed me on more than one level because it says two things:
- No one is honestly discussing this issue of parent bullies
- And no one cares.
How the Internet Changed the Game
What makes this lack of research problem even worse is that all the anecdotal information that I could find about the parent-bully issue revolves around how the internet has made bullying behavior easier than ever. Nowadays, teachers give their email address to parents in an effort to open the lines of communication and many schools offer services that post grades online as the semester and year progresses. For the concerned, engaged parent without much time, this is a Godsend. However, for the parent bully 24/7 communication channels offer an environment ripe for harassment.
No matter the circumstances or justification that a parent bully has for his or her actions, the fact that this behavior can continue to occur outside of school through online channels increases the stress on the teacher-victim. The attitude of the parent bully contributes to the teacher’s dissatisfaction with her job, affects the rest of the class, and, ultimately, short changes the child whom the parent bullywas trying to protect because it steals away reality by sheltering him.