Job Description – Developing a Cooperative Relationship With Parents and Students

Students, unfortunately, come equipped with parents.

Most parents, to be fair, are alright.  In fact, I go most of the year without hearing from most parents.  Trouble is, I spend the rest of my year hearing from the crazies who have mistaken the Right to a Free Public Education for the Right to Be An Absolute Looney.  

“What is the difference,” you ask?  Weeeeelllll……back to the ol’ JD (Job Description, for those of you a few blog posts behind…)

1.  Teacher will develop with parents and students a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and objectivity*.
*  NOTE: for Job Description Purposes, “mutual respect and objectivity” is hereby defined as respect and objectivity on the part of the teacher, and, apparently, only the teacher.

As a teacher (or an employee of the public education sector in any capacity,) one must relationship-build.  Conscious relationships provoke trust and through trust comes cooperation, thus allowing all parties involved to work toward productive plans for the student.  Still, relationship building can be tricky.  Teachers navigate an unpredictable world of race, religion, and political views.  We must encourage  students to think while simultaneously walking the fine line of respecting an infinite number of worldviews and life circumstances.

A reasonably good teacher will find it easy to relationship-build with students.  Walk in classroom, act like idiot, know the material, crack poop jokes, maintain control, give high fives.  You have now earned student respect.  Those little squirts (poop pun totally intended) will do whatever you ask.

Parents, however, are a tad trickier.  And as they come in a number of shapes. sizes, and levels of looney,  the ideal candidate for teaching will rate “highly qualified” in the skill set of Parental Winging It.

2.   Teacher will effectively deal with the clincally Balls to the Wall Crazy.

In reality, this subset of parents could be divided into sub-subsets.  You have your drunken crazies, mentally ill crazies, your wealthy entitled crazies, creepy crazies and your We Don’t Know What the Hell is the Matter With You But You Are Crazy as Hell crazies. For JD purposes, however (and in the interest of saving myself material for a future blog post on types of crazies) all severely crazy parents receive the Balls to the Wall designation.

Cooperative Relationship Skill Set #1:  Avoidance

Nobody can change crazy, so in most circumstances the best weapon is simple Avoidance.  The difficulty with Avoidance, however, is that a parent first must be identified as crazy which is easy only at the highest levels of crazy.  At parent-teacher conferences one year, my principal booted a parent before she could even get in the door.  Imagine, if you will, the level of insanity you must exude in order to actually be kicked out before you get in.  Hell, your crazy just defied the laws of physics.

But those crazies are rare.  

Most parents can mask the crazy in order to slip into contact with a teacher, then scare the bejeesus out of everyone involved.

Take the Crazy Bitch crazy (another Ball to the Wall sub-designation.)  In my case, this was the mother who, when I  ran into her in the hall after school seemed quite pleasant, thanking me for giving her daughter make-up work after being ill for a few days.  

“No worries,” I told her.  “I just hope Isabel is feeling better.”

“Oh, she’ll be fine,” the mother told me.  “I told her she should be glad to have the stomach flu.  At least she’ll loose a few pounds.”

The fatty in question wore maybe a size 4.  On a good day.  Which allowed me to easily designate this mother as nutso and begin my avoidance.  Apparently, however, her daughter had the same idea, which complicated things a bit, thus forcing me to rely on the second essential skill of the teacher dealing with Crazies:  

Cooperative Relationship Skill Set #2:  Passing the Buck

The beauty of being a classroom teacher and not an administrator is that at some point, your crazy quota expires.

“Hey, Sra,” Isabel greeted me after school one day.  

“Hey Isabel, how’s it going?”

“Oh, alright.”  she hung around my desk awkwardly.  Then my door banged open.  Isabel’s mother barged in with a small boy of maybe four in tow.

“There you are you stupid little…Where the hell have you been?!”

“Um.  I told you I’d be at office hours today.  And it’s earlier that you usually pick me up anyway…”  

Mom didn’t hear.

” I’ve been calling you for an hour!  What do you think I have nothing better to do than chase you around all day? What the hell  were you thinking??  You are such a pathetic student! Don’t pretend you care about your work becauseyourgradessuckAndyou’reaprettylousydaughtertoo!!”  the tongue lashing reached epic proportions before I could a) avoid the situation or b) indicate to Crazy Bitch that while she was busy ripping her perfectly sweet high school daughter a new one, her hellion of a son had already torn papers off my bulletin boards, knocked my dictionaries off the front table and was now making a move for the markers and a white wall, all the while shouting “mom, mom, mom, mom, MOM!”  

At that moment, the Dean of Students entered having, apparently, heard the ruckus.  He stared.

“Ma’am.  Is there a problem I can help you with?”  I asked in hopes of diffusing the situation, as my skill set of Avoidance was no longer an option.  

“And YOU!”  Crazy Mom turned on me.  “Didn’t it occur to YOU that I might be looking for my daughter?  YOU should know…”

In the spirit of mutual respect and objectivity, I interrupted her.  “I generally hold office hours on Tuesdays after school.  It’s perfectly normal for students to show up at this time.”

“Yeah but not MY student.  If she showed up to actually work she wouldn’t have the HORRIBLE GRADES SHE HAS AND YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT IF YOU WERE ANY KIND OF TEACHER!”

Hellion Boy threw a marker across the room.  Isabel cowered.

Years of teaching make one a master of subtlety.  I cocked my eyebrow ever-so-slightly, which my Dean (also a Master Teacher) immediately recognized as the international sign for “Get this Crazy Bitch out of here or I’m going to punch her in the face, then explain to her why she shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce.” 

“C’mon, Ms. X,” he said calmly.  “Let’s take this conversation in the hallway.”  

Mission accomplished.  I was successfully able to 1)  objectively identify mom as a Looney 2)  treat said Looney with objectively undeserved respect 3)  Maintain future cooperative relations by effectively Passing the Buck before punching mom in face (the key here, truly, is the timing of the buck-passing) and, most importantly, 4) Maintain respectful and cooperative relations with Isabel who, as my student, is really the person I’m meant for in the first place.  

“Hey, Iz!” I told her the next day, “Good to see you!  I’m glad you’ve been working so hard in this class. I’m really proud of your B.  And you look so nice today.  You’re such a pretty person, inside and out!”  

Take that, Crazy Bitch.  

Even if, in the end, you won.  

Because as any good teacher knows, Crazy is contagious.  So when, after being a perfectly normal freshman year, Isabel ended her high school career with an eating disorder, short skirts, stiletto heels and slipping grades I relied entirely upon Cooperative Relationship Skill Set # 3 in order to maintain my own personal sanity.

3.  Teacher will take no student or parent interactions personally realizing that, in some cases,  respect and objectivity will not change the world.

But in a few cases, it might.  

So let’s see what you’ve got, Crazies.  Because I’ll make a bet that I’ve got more faith in your kid than you’ve got Crazy in your head.  But in the interest of both of our personal welfare, I’m keeping my Dean on standby.

Just in case.

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