Monday, September 12, 2016

Limiting Parent Access

It's fundamental that teachers and parents communicate, and for me as a teacher, parents are my first and best support. The first thing I do when I see a problem I can't resolve one on one is call. And while I get a lot of feedback from commenters and colleagues who say the parents are never home, they don't care, that it's a waste of time, or whatever, I haven't found that to be the case. Of course I am pretty determined to make contact and I search under every rock for that number.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes the parents are frustrated and don't know what to do. Sometimes they are unwilling or afraid to do anything. No one's perfect. But now, after thirty years, I'm hearing about letters to limit parent access. They say they're being used unfairly against parents of color, and that white parents don't even know about them. For all I know, that's true, because I'm a white parent and this is the first I've heard of them.

In fact I know of multiple instances of parents coming to school and confronting teachers. Our UFT consultation committee has addressed this and we now have a procedure. In our school, all non-employees sign in and wear guest stickers. The guests write that they're going to this office or that, but we don't actually have anyone following people around the building.

So if some parent decides to come to my classroom and scream at me for being a terrible human being, or whatever, there's not a whole lot I can do to stop it. And we have indeed had cases where parents sought out teachers while they were working. I'm available to see parents by appointment. I cannot address parental concerns while I've got 34 students in front of me. I particularly cannot deal with disagreements in front of my students. It's especially egregious if the student happens to have done something wrong. Should I discuss it in front of her peers, so that they can talk about it all day?

I'm really kind of gobstruck that there is this mechanism and I've never even heard of it. I wonder how it even works. We have over 4,000 students in our building. When someone signs in, are the security guards expected to check the name against a limited access list? How large do these lists get? I suppose it's viable, but what happens if they have a hit? Does this person, unlike everyone else, have to make an appointment before meeting in the school?

I can understand how that would make a person angry. And it would be particularly egregious if an incompetent administrator (and yes, there are one or two of those here and there) saw fit to just shut out everyone and anyone who reflected potential inconvenience. That seems to be the case in some places. Of course, incompetent administration isn't headline worthy, and the papers are mostly focused on so-called bad teachers, who are evidently the scourge of western civilization.

I think these letters could be used for parents who've been abusive. There's no excuse for a parent stalking or confronting a teacher in a classroom setting. There's no appropriate response for a teacher beyond, "I can't discuss that at the moment," or calling security. I can understand how frustrating that would be to a parent. But there are reasons why administrators are not in classrooms, and a very good one is so they can deal with theses issues while we are.

If they're dashing off letters so as to lessen their workload, well, perhaps they ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. The problem, though, is that individuals who don't enjoy dealing with people often find their way out of the classroom. They become administrators. Quite unsurprisingly, individuals with little or no people skills are miserable administrators. Just as they deal poorly with students, they deal poorly with teachers. And just as they deal poorly with teachers, they deal poorly with parents.

Of course it's to be expected that if you give incompetent administrators a convenient tool like a limited access letter, some will abuse it. It's too bad because there are certainly cases where such a letter is appropriate. Systemic abuse, of course, could result in it going the way of the dodo bird, like suspensions for kids who publicly instruct teachers to perform unnatural acts.

There is another option of course, and that is holding administrators accountable for their lack of discretion, lack of competence, and lack of skill in dealing with humans.

But I'm a dreamer.
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