What Most Teachers Won’t Say: Parents are the Worst Part of Their Job

But we persist, despite the bad ones

Sipping coffee like I do every Sunday morning going over administrative stuff I wonder what a log such as this would have read like had I started it from my first days in May of 2013. Can’t believe it is coming up on six years.

I do a lot of pondering and pontificating on Sundays. It has become a refreshing habit. Self reflection is a good habit I picked up from being a Mormon all those years.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned in all of that time is that small is better, as in, one or two students maximum. Not only does this increase the pace of learning by a factor of five (it feels like, need to measure that), but it makes teaching really fun again.

I don’t have a single student about whom I have doubts or griefs. That is an absolute luxury to any educator.

While I don’t cherry-pick my students (I have three who are autistic) I do make sure — as much as possible — that we have compatible personalities and can work well together — especially the parents.

Parents have been the worst thing about this whole endeavor. My worst memories always involve a parent.

Speaking of memories …

From Defending Your Life

The single worst incident with a parent was watching a downright evil man spitting at his ex-wife as he shouted at her through the window during the pickup custody exchange of their son. These kids, like some others, bring their suitcases with them to class. It reminds me of the brief time I did that with mine and how damaging that constant instability must be on them.

This guy personified the opposite of just about everything I value.

My first clue should have been him spouting his child’s resume of activities and accolades (none of which ended up mattering to me at all).

My second clue should have been him bad-mouthing me and my program on our third week in the lounge I had prepared for parents to one of our best family friends, a mother of another student who became a TA and went from failing math to the honor role (a story I love to tell because it happened accidentally when I said, “pay attention in math class because you need it to program games”).

“Isn’t there anything else?” he asked her with a wink-wink.

“Nope,” she responded, “and you should really be glad you found this place.”

My wife and I laughed out loud hearing that story.

It blows me away that some parents can be so completely and totally disconnected from their children even though they are with them all the time. Even more so, that they can be so completely disrespectful to a guy who took early retirement and a 50% pay cut to teach their children. I have run into way too many of these people.

Am I the perfect teacher? Hell no! I make mistakes and experience frustration — even get angry — like everyone else, but the level of utter cluelessness and lack of empathy exhibited by some of these parents completely confounds me.

One explanation is that somehow, it seems, Americans are trained to look down on educators. Perhaps because some are so completely bad. Finland (according to documentaries on the topic) does not have this problem. Teachers are revered and respected.

Perhaps it is because everyone knows teachers make less money than most. We live in a time where more people are revealing that they actually value money above all. When making more money as a Java developer somehow makes Java the best programming language.

Perhaps it is because they feel quietly insecure around those whom they consider much smarter than them, subconsciously. Americans are particularly afraid of intelligence. They belittle it, devalue it, mock it, and beat it up. That’s ‘merica for ya.

Back to the story …

I tried as hard as I could with this young, intelligent, troubled boy. He had to live with this situation. I sincerely wanted him to have some light his life despite his flighty lack of interest, random swear words, and incredible emotional instability. It was tragic. He was a very disturbed. I confess now I was trying to save him, which I have since learned never works.

After two years (I think) I finally just could not do it any longer. It was a real dilemma because this father had invested a lot financially into his son. I had also invested a lot of time.

But I began to seriously dread having to interact with this parent. I would even have nightmares about it. It overpowered my desire to help this boy. I also felt like he was no longer learning, he was just too distracted. I felt despite the financial investment up to that point that if I did not let him go it would just get worse.

When his father came to pick him up I said, “This will be Joe’s last day.”

There was silence.

I choose to not say anything further, which is unusual for me.

While I was still shaking from the emotional stress of the situation I refunded the remaining $200 or so (which is against my own policy).

Then I unloaded, as I always do, on my very understanding wife. Without her I would never have made it through many of these trials.

I still had to teach some 50 students that day. I owed it to them to be on top of my game. This is ultimately why I let anyone go.

I felt I had failed this boy, but the seething evil of this man was not something I ever wanted to be around again and the boy clearly was learning at a pace much slower than the rest, mostly because of his distraction and despite his raw intellectual acumen.

I can still see that boy’s face. He loved coming. I can’t bear to imagine the heartbreak on his face when his dad had to tell him he would not be returning. It still haunts me.

By the way, his mother once asked if we could be sure not to let him play Minecraft because, and I literally quote, “I’ve heard Minecraft is rather violent.” Having seen what she had to live with, I imagine she is hyper-concerned about her son being exposed to violence.

This boy’s biggest challenge was that he could not fail without completely and totally losing it. I witnessed what it means to never have learned that failure is a learning process, that it is a good thing. He had never learned this important lesson.

Then the story gets interesting.

A very negative — downright slanderous — Yelp review came from the boss of the man (who somehow thought we would not figure it out).

The review stated that I “locked children up in my basement.” and “didn’t do anything you can’t do at home.” I laugh a little now it was so bad.

Of course, Yelp took it down immediately.

There was some truth to the review.

Technically our classroom was the bottom floor of a downtown Cornelius town home, which might qualify as a basement.

And yes, I did lock them in, for their protection.

In fact, it was because of this troubled, distracted 10 year old that I added unreachable bolt locks and bells to the doors. He was the first (and only) child to randomly run out of the building and wander the sidewalks during the minute I was checking on other students.

Because of that incident I also hired a TA to cover the other students so I could give this one student all of my attention (even though there were lots of other students and a TA there).

No good deed goes unpunished.

*Sigh.* Catharsis. Without it most educators would completely collapse.

Every one of these incidents has caused me to relish the luxury of accepting the most compatible students and their families.

I have not given up on helping those stuck in horrible parental situations, only realized I can’t save them all, and often when I try to my ability to help others is compromised.

I’m therefore ethically compelled to only accept the most compatible families for the sake of all who are already here. One bad experience (that could have easily be avoided) could take down the whole thing.

Imagine if every teacher was able to interview and accept his or her students. Obviously that isn’t very realistic, just a curious thought. It always reminds me that humans have been learning using the master/apprentice, guru/follower model since humans first started learning. It is the most natural.

How is it that humanity moved away from this?

Originally posted to my SkilStak Captain’s Log. Names changed.