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WHEN PARENTS DON'T DEMAND THE BEST

Q. As an elementary teacher, I require that my students complete assignments and behave appropriately to earn the privilege of playtime and fun activities.

Because of this, there is no shortage of parents who think I'm "mean." They seem to think it's worse for their children to miss a party than fail to do an assignment or 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. Even though most people are notoriously oblivious to their own faults, I'm going to take you at your word.

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 there are consequences for being irresponsible.

If all that's true, then you're the very sort of teacher children need.

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

The problem, as you've discovered, is that if children complain about a teacher, today's parents often take the complaints at face value. Then, when the parents complain to the principal, principals will often do whatever they must to mollify the parents. End result, the teacher is reprimanded.

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

To give an 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'd have a stronger backbone. The problem, in short, isn't principals, it's parents who won't demand the best of their children, and 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, then stop complaining about the inevitable consequences of being an educational freedom fighter.

Or if you can't take the heat any longer (and I wouldn't blame you if you decide you've 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.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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