It’s the proverbial family cliché; a child doesn’t like what mom has told him so he goes and asks dad. It is the nature of (some) humans and certainly seen in children. I’m sure that parents are well aware of this tactic and, in families that teach a consistent message to their kids, mom and dad agree on the responses. They know each other well, you see, so it doesn’t even matter if they discussed the particular question ahead of time, they know the answer. They can be queried independently and the child will receive a consistent response.
The same approach is seen in school settings, I have personally experienced it often over the years, and it involves parents. Let’s say a parent has a question about something that transpired with his/her child’s teacher, Ms. Doe. (all identities are fictitious, of course) The parent contacts the teacher and discusses the situation. This particular parent doesn’t like what they were told, or disagrees with any resolution that was offered, if one was. In effect, the parent didn’t hear what they wanted to hear.
Many parents would stop here, realizing that the teacher runs the class, works fairly with all children, and that what was asked of the child and how the issue that arose were both within the teacher’s discretion, and that there were valid reasons for the outcome.
But you know where this is going, that is not how all parents react. No, unfortunately, many parents next call will be to the hall principal to express their discontent. This is usually presented in some form related to the teacher being unfair to their child. There could be other reasons as well, but the majority of complaints always seem to focus on equity. Specifically, their child is not being treated fairly.
This is where an administrative cohesiveness is crucial to good schools. My hall principals are good listeners, but they’re also on the same page, with each other and with me. We do not second-guess what teachers do. Teachers need to be shown that we trust them, that we put faith in them, and that we know they work hard to provide a fair classroom experience for all students. We will not substitute our judgment for theirs because we are not the ones running the class, they are. We respect that truism and respect their responsibility and competence to make decisions that won’t be upended just because a parent complains. If one of the hall principals has a question as a result of the parent discussion, it will be raised with the teacher after the fact as a consideration for down the road.
Let me be clear, if an obvious mistake has been made it will be corrected. Hopefully this would be recognized by the teacher and corrected there, but if not, the hall principal would discuss it with the teacher and allow the teacher to address it. This does not happen often; teachers making mistakes that need to be corrected is rare.
Again, many parents would stop here, realizing that they have heard the same message twice now, once from the teacher and the other from the teacher’s “boss.” It would seem the smart thing to do. But, no, I wouldn’t be writing about it if that were the case. Every now and then I am contacted. Usually I have a heads up from the hall principal that a parent wasn’t satisfied with their discussion. I have trouble with this approach. Really? Do parents seriously think that calling me will bring their hoped-for resolution? I can’t fathom the mindset that you just keep calling people, hoping that eventually someone will agree with you and disagree with everyone else they have already talked to! My philosophical approach is such that I’m not going to say that both the teacher and the hall principal were wrong, partly because it would be poor practice to do so but more so because I trust our teachers and my hall principals. In these conversations, I usually refer the parents back to what they were already told, reinforcing the message.
Can you imagine what kind of school we would have if hall principals second-guessed teachers, or I second-guessed teachers AND hall principals simply because a parent complained? My phone would never stop ringing and I would constantly be over-turning classroom decisions…and I would quickly be working in a school where everyone was looking over their shoulders, no one felt supported, no one would make decisions as they would all be deferred to me, and no one would trust anyone. Wouldn’t that be a terrible environment to work and learn in?
Teachers know what they’re doing. Hall principals know what they’re doing. It’s my job to help them do it. And that’s my perspective.