Teachers are well versed in the helicopter parent. The helicopter parent hovers at all times picking at small things, meddling, and is generally over-involved. They will usually try to solve each and every small problem their kid encounters by asking the teacher to get involved or blaming the problem on the teacher. This new type of parent, however, is worse. The new parent bully is delusional and absent.
The delusional parent takes a perfectly normal situation and spins it in a way that is completely removed from the realms of reality. The delusional parent might also look at hard facts and interpret them in a way that is wildly inaccurate. This parent will do or say anything in order to do anything to “protect” their children or to save face. The effects of the delusional parent are exacerbated if the parent is absent and truly has no idea what goes on at school. Such absent, delusional parents tried to sue me my second year teaching, and it has left a scar.
That year I had a particularly difficult class of 25 hyperactive students in a tiny, hot classroom. I was working at a bilingual school in Honduras and was extremely underpaid. It didn’t matter because I loved the kids and my life in Honduras. This year, I faced challenges that made me question whether this field was for me.
Five of 25 students were on behavioral probation and had to drastically improve their behavior or face expulsion by the end of the year. One of those students had severe issues relating to his classmates and would play by punching other students. He worked poorly in groups, and would verbally abuse other students whose ideas he deemed inferior to his. He was incapable of compromise and unable to admit to mistakes. This student hit me twice that school year, yet I didn’t even meet his parents until the first time the student hit me.
I worked hard with this student from the beginning of the year. I showered him with positive reinforcement but stayed firm on non-negotiable classroom procedures. The student was assigned classroom jobs that required skills he excelled at (like maintaining our class blog and creating videos) so he would feel ownership of his classroom environment. I sung his praises when he worked well in a group and provided strategies for compromising with classmates. Throughout all of this, his parents were never there. We had grade night twice a month, and they never showed.
The year continued, and though I saw small improvements in this child, he would revert back to his old ways when he felt like something was unjust or simply didn’t want to do as I had asked. He began to work poorly with the few students who would put up with him. I began to receive many reports from other students that he was bullying them. I conducted many interventions in my classroom, and we had community talks about how to treat one another. We did simulations, workshops, and community building activities. Nothing worked.
I was berated for showing concern for the student, and the parents angrily denied their child had a problem with behavior at school. Click To Tweet
Finally, towards May and after the second time this student hit me, I finally met both parents. The meeting did not go well. I was berated for showing concern for the student, and the parents angrily denied their child had a problem with behavior at school. They claimed if their child was behaving poorly, it was because I was unqualified. The father went on and on about how as an engineer, he was smarter and more qualified as a professional and lectured me about what good teaching looks like. I have a Master’s degree in Education. And yet, I was treated not only as if I had no idea what I was doing but treated as though I were a peasant, somehow below him professionally. This three-hour meeting solved nothing, and it turned into the beginnings of a lawsuit.
These parents, instead of working out a solution, were so delusional they decided to stake a claim their son was being bullied and that we had done nothing to stop it. While I was aware other students had called this student names and, in general, had issues with him, I had done a lot to address it in the classroom, as had our school psychologist. However, the incidents in which this child was the victim were isolated at best and could hardly be considered bullying. Their child, however, had punched and verbally abused his classmates all school year. The parents refused to acknowledge this, and instead dragged us all to a litigation hearing. It was the worst experience of my short teaching career.
For days before the hearing, I was wrought with anxiety and grief. I felt like my whole being was under attack, and that I was worthless as an educator. The day of the hearing, the parents put on wild theatrics. The mother cried and made up wild claims about how we had neglected their poor son who had suffered bullying all year, even bullying from me. The father called us worthless. He said he would even encourage his son to stand up in class and call us worthless. These parents ignored the hard data that showed that it was their son who was actually the class bully and that we had done everything we could to positively help their child. They denied their son had hit me, even though I had proof they had apologized for it.
I just kept thinking, “Why am I here? Why am I being subjected to this?” It made me feel terrible about myself. I started to believe maybe there was something more I could have done. After the meeting and a lot of crying, I realized there truly wasn’t anything else I could have done. There are simply people out there who are not emotionally capable of admitting they’re wrong. There are also people out there who simply want to place blame and not work towards solutions. As teachers, we are going to have to deal with these people time and time again, but at what cost?
I felt hardened after that year, like something in me had died. Though I still continue to fight for the students with behavior issues and try to make their experience in my classroom a positive one, on the inside I shrink at the thought of another encounter like this. How is it that teachers, who get paid so little and yet do such important work, are constantly berated and belittled by these delusional parents? Why do these people want to fight us instead of work with us, and what can we do to avoid these issues?
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