Pointing fingers: When parent complaints about teachers hit close to home

In this essay, education writer and advocate Patti Ghezzi looks at the top complaints parents make about teachers. Read all the way through because this is more than a lament about teachers.

By Patti Ghezzi

With a new school year revving up, I thought I would jot down a few peeves I hear over and over from parents.

Art for story on kids first day back to school

My career as a repository of parent complaints started when I became an education reporter in 1996. I left that job in 2006, and today I’m co-chair of the parent group at my daughter’s school and on the governing board of another charter school. I hear gripes at Publix and at the pool. I have joined in and initiated the venting on many occasions.

I believe teachers can resolve a lot of parental discontent by yielding on some of these smaller issues. Compromising on little things would make it easier to work with parents on complex issues like motivating unmotivated kids and getting disruptive students to stop disrupting.

Here are the top five complaints I hear from parents about things teachers do:

1. Showing movies. Even a quality film tied to the curriculum can hit a raw nerve. The parent may view the film’s content as inappropriate, but more likely the parent and others think watching a movie during the school day is a waste of time.

2. Letting kids play games on the iPad. Screen-time is a sore subject, and time spent playing games on the iPad feels like time squandered. Claims that certain games are educational often do not hold up under scrutiny.

3. Handing out candy and junk food. Parents get especially peeved when candy is offered as a reward. Two documentaries streaming on Netflix, “Fed Up” and “Bite Size,” may be cited as further evidence that teachers should not contribute to the overfeeding of the American child.

4. Staring into a smartphone. Parents notice when a teacher is engrossed in his phone, especially when the teacher is supposed to be supervising kids on the playground or when he could be walking around the classroom helping students.

5. Taking away recess as punishment. Teachers sometimes cancel recess for the whole class because of the misbehavior of a few. The parent most likely to get annoyed is the one whose innocent child gets caught up in the sweep. And that parent is all parents, because we all believe our kids are innocent. Teachers tell me they are using the leverage they have. Parents note that kids need exercise and might behave better in class if they have their time on the playground.

I can’t ignore a theme with these complaints. I could just as easily title this list, “Strategies I Turn To Every Single Day to Maintain My Sanity.” I plop my kid in front of Netflix or suggest iPad time when I need to jump on a conference call. I say yes to chips and cookies, because I know that while my kid is devouring junk she at least won’t be asking me for anything.

I scroll through my Facebook feed while my kid and her pals climb a flimsy, half-dead tree as if it were a sturdy oak. I resort to discipline tactics that don’t work but give me a temporary feeling of control.

A big part of the reason I don’t want teachers using these tactics is because I want to employ them for my benefit. I feel entitled to these strategies. They are mine. I feel guilty enough for the time my kid spends in front of screens. I don’t need the added guilt that I’m letting my kid watch a feature-length movie instead of sending her outside when she already watched a Disney movie at school.

We parents want school to be what our households would be if we weren’t so busy/lazy/interested in kicking back and relaxing. We want school to be a place where our kids are constantly engaged at the highest level and where their intellectual growth is always top priority.

We give into screens and junk food because we need a break, but we don’t think teachers deserve a break, even though they have 20-plus kids to manage.

So I started writing this hoping teachers would be inspired to address these complaints, all of which I believe are valid. The message I was going for was something like, “Hey teachers, quell parent grumblings by not doing these five annoying things.”

Seeing the list typed out, I can’t do it.

I would be thrilled if my daughter’s teacher vowed to never do any of them. But, would I be willing to make the same promise?

Maybe the path to better communication and more respect between parents and teachers is for us all to understand where the other is coming from, acknowledge that we’re imperfect and give each other a bit of a break.

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Reader Comments 0

54 comments
retiredtooyoungteacher
retiredtooyoungteacher

What is really sad is when parents complain about the way you try to make their child complete classwork and homework assignments. When the child sits doing nothing for hours at a time and then the teacher talks to them, offers individual help and peer help and they still do nothing. Then the child goes home and complains that the teacher is nagging them. Then the parent comes in to say they are weary of the teacher nagging the child. The teacher gives a zero for the work and then the parent complains about the zero. What do you do then?

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

1. Showing movies.   I don't have a problem if used properly.

2. Letting kids play games on the iPad.  See #1

3. Handing out candy and junk food.   Probably not a good idea.

4. Staring into a smartphone.   That's getting to be a problem in all lines of work.

5. Taking away recess as punishment.   If circumstances warrant.  I don't like it as a general rule.


Here's my pet peeve:  You're supposed to be an educated professional.  Make certain your communications to parents and to the public (newsletters, email, announcements, and verbal) are error free.  Nothing worse than a list of spelling words with a misspelling....

JFlem1988
JFlem1988

Useful article and discussion! Totally agree that the conclusion is spot on -- we need more trust between parents and teachers! We need to know that our children see (and report) with the eyes of their age. I show Spartacus in 7th grade to Latin classes. Yep. It's long -- but American Classic cinema might belong in classrooms, I'd argue, if curated. A girl did go home and tell her mom what I said about Republicans (during that time I stop the movie and draw diagrams, timelines, maps to explain history, politics, issues of ancient Rome and slavery). In response to her mom's question, I swore it was clear that the setting was 2000+ years ago. We didn't laugh, but rueful smiles for sure. And I dialed back my Roman political

scene presentation.

I am so sad in this article and ensuing debate that I'm to gather this: Patti Ghezzi has given countless volunteer hours to 2 schools. What happens next is she hears at the pool and grocery from the other parents all about 'what's wrong with Ms. ----' I hope she gets a thank you slid in sideways, somewhere. Meanwhile, how was the teacher, child, family, school community helped at all in this conversation, I do wonder?

Teacher seems tired or overwhelmed? How about an offer of help? Resources or time? Recess dysfunctional

In bad weather? Offer of decks of UNO cards or pick up sticks and to keep the tourney bracket and deliver prizes (events are better than stuff). Ask the child nightly about tourney updates. Curious about ipad games reported? Research and ask to play before concluding. I use iPads for a 3D 'game' that is an awesome tool. I'll stop here. In teaching since '88 and my sons' experiences in public, private and charter schools, I never saw effective and helpful teacher or parent bashing.

Patti's article is so well titled and highlights a key problem in our public (and private) discourse about education. As ever, thank you, Maureen. And thank you, Patti.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Inasmuch as conflict between us teachers and parents hasn't done much to improve the academic achievement levels of our kids, what impact might cooperation between us teachers and parents have on that achievement? Furthermore, what impact might cooperation between schools and the communities in which they operate have on the academic achievement of our kids?


Related questions include: Why hasn't GaPubEd pushed such cooperative endeavors? Why haven't folks hired to involve parents in the educations of their kids done so? Why haven't external auditors "called" educrats on their widespread "lip service"-only approach to parental and community involvements?

BKendall
BKendall

Interesting... I am reminded of the difference between Parents and Teachers. Teachers go to school to become teachers, have Professional Development training, supervision and evaluations for their profession; Parents do not. And when I write parents, that also includes teachers who have children. 


If somebody knows of a school for parenting, please let me know!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@BKendall School of Hard Knocks.  But by the time some folks wise up, it is too late.

BearCasey
BearCasey

I'm a retired high school history teacher.  I agree with all of the complaints except #1.  I seldom showed entire movies but quite often showed short clips as discussion starters.  It worked.  When I did show an entire movie there was always a "critical thinking" essay that went with it.  Big deal grade.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

During my teaching time, I rarely employed the movie for entertainment.  For example, we watched selected scenes to compare to the written story, or as an example of how things used to be (Anne of Green Gables--the school house scenes.).  We watched short clips as examples or ways of talking about more abstract skills (use of silent e from Electric Company).  In a class of 32 in a room designed for 17, on a rainy day (or too cold day, or too hot day--cannot believe how schools restrict weather suitable for outside for 60-70 degree, gently sunny only days) with no PE for 2 more days, I understand a teacher turning to a short movie for recess so the kids can have a break.  I taught mine to play board games. You would be surprised  how little experience some have.

Ipads--for math games while waiting for classates to finish testing.

Cell phones-usually had mine on; rarely got more than an occasional doctor call.  Young folks seem much more tightly wired. I HATE seeing a "professional person" texting back and forth!

Candy and treats--see this more in sped classes.  I used food as part of developing an experiential background (making smores, tasting pickled figs

heyteacher
heyteacher

@Wascatlady


My daughter's 3rd grade class watched movie clips during recess quite a bit this year when the weather was not cooperating. But, you can't build a gym just for the day so I completely understood -- other parents not-so-much. Either we increase our taxes to build that gym or you put up with the videos -- or, let the little darlings play in the rain. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@heyteacher @Wascatlady Or find a way to fit 32 into such a small room and still move around safely  It would also mean dealing more substantively with the aggressives.  And, for goodness sake, if it isn't lighting or raining sideways, let them run around back under the awning for a bit!  Also, put on coats and go out unless there is a below freezing windchill--even then! or move out into the hallway!


My longtime principal was from North Dakotq and he fully expected them to go out every day unless it was raining too hard.  If a parent wanted their child to stay in, he would say they were too sick to be at school--to take them home.  And if a kid came without a coat, he found coats or called  DFACS!

hssped
hssped

Teachers are allowed to use their cell phones during when they are with kids?  In what school is that allowed? 

JFlem1988
JFlem1988

I've been teaching since '88, and life has changed! Cell phones can be a convenience. We rarely use them in the classroom, but we might text each other to say 'field is too muddy. If we come back early, is the plaza free?' Or we might look up a special schedule to stay on track. I question any assumption that we always use our phones for evil, never for good.

BCW1
BCW1

I bet most parents sat in classes that teachers showed the old 16 mm films back in the day and loved it!!! Please give teachers credit for being professionals. They know what they are doing and the resources needed to provide a quality education. It all goes back to trusting your school and their process.

You will never have the perfect teacher...did you???

heyteacher
heyteacher

I also think that kids can be unreliable narrators.

I showed clips from one novel last year (The Great Gatsby) so students could compare the text to the film(s). We did not watch any version all the way through. A parent e mailed me to ask about this assignment because her student claimed that "all I did was show movies". I post my daily lesson plans so I was able to show her it was just clips but I apparently all my student got out of my class was Leonardo DiCaprio.



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Teachteach 

But, as many have noted, this letter is directed to parents of elementary school students. I am unconvinced that children at that age can understand the complexities of the artistic genre of the film. It's simply entertainment to them at those ages. 


The problem with showing the whole film is that films are so long--2-3 hours--and take up so much class time that could be instruction time.

Teachteach
Teachteach

Personally, I would defend your right to show the whole film -- if it were tied to the unit, students were discussing it, writing about it, comparing it to the text. Film and media literacy is important -- and part of the English/Language Arts standards (both in CommonCore and the previous state standards) -- and films can be a great teaching tool. Using films tied to curricular goals is very different, IMO, then plopping six-year olds down in front of cartoons. Parents need to understand that distinction.

Christie_S
Christie_S

@OriginalProf @Teachteach 

Actually, in my school my 5th grade team compared/contrasted the live action/animated movie for The Phantom Tollbooth and the novel during one of the extended text literature units.


We did, however, break the movie up into sections that matched the chapters in that day's lessons.  We didn't watch the whole thing in one day.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@heyteacher Excellent point on kids as unreliable narrators. A parent once attempted to enlist me in a complaint letter she was sending to a principal complaining our children's teacher was turning off the overhead fan to punish the kids. (My older child attended a Decatur elementary school without air conditioning so fans were vital.)

I could not understand why the teacher, who was middle-aged, would turn off the fan because the heat was more likely to bother her than 8-year-olds. Turns out the report from the child to the parent about the silent fan was way off base. 

The fan was broken. 

It was a shock a parent would even consider making a complaint based on a questionable account of an 8-year-old without seeking any corroboration.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @heyteacher Parents will complain about obvious lies there kids have told, and then attack the teacher when the lie is proven.  Or they will back up their child's lie, when it is obvious that it is a lie.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Latest news on what's happening in Georgia's legislature regarding education via T.R.A.G.I.C.:


https://www.facebook.com/groups/TRAGIC4GEORGIA/?multi_permalinks=519175448235566¬if_t=group_highlights

"P.S. The Teacher Recruitment, Retention, Compensation subcommittee will discuss teacher retirement at their meeting on August 24 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. in the DECAL Hickory Conference Room, Suite 854. If you are available, please plan to attend. If you aren’t available, watch for ACTION ALERTS where you can share your BOLD IDEAS!" 

popacorn
popacorn

One? Lol. 

Read: My retirement takes precedence over all else in the universe. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn 

Make that, our retirement. Nearly all of the teachers reading this blog belong to TRS, their retirement service, and are quite interested in this announcement since the state legislature has been trying to change the rules for TRS. You aren't interested because you aren't a Georgia teacher. By posting this brief announcement, MES informed all TRS members as they could not otherwise be done. This is an education blog, remember?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OriginalProf 

Thank you for understanding my motivations, Original Prof, and for your post.  As usual, Popacorn reads "personal" when I am actually thinking "professional communication" with other teachers.  I am grateful Maureen Downey understands my motivations.  I try to keep my important educational information posts spaced far apart, and unobtrusive.

An important meeting is being held on August 24, less than a month away, regarding teacher retirement policies.  People need to be alerted now in order to make their plans to attend, if they wish to be there.

Happy Hippie
Happy Hippie

As a parent, I do my part by making sure my kids are clean, fed, and well rested for school. Their homework and projects are done on time, they know how to behave appropriately, and I have worked hard to instill a deep love of learning and respect for teachers in both of them. I take time off of work to volunteer in school and go to teacher meetings, we participate in school events, and we go to PTO meetings and fundraisers. I buy every item on the supply list and bring extra throughout the year when supplies run low. I don't whine for special snowflake treatment or argue about grades. The least I should be able to expect from my child's teacher is a day spent teaching.

When I plop my kids in front of the tv or a video game it is because they have done their homework, have played outside until they are exhausted, have done their chores, and are getting a well-deserved treat. For a teacher to use a movie as a babysitting tool is an insult to their professional abilities and implies poor time and classroom management. Sorry, but teachers can't complain about how testing is taking away from teaching time and then tune their smartboards to Netflix every afternoon. The candy...same. My kids have way more candy at school than they are ever allowed at home. It undermines my family's health goals and makes it difficult for me to give them occasional treats because they've already had a cupcake and four pieces of candy at school that day. And why would a teacher want a bunch of hyper sugared up kids in class? Taking away recess just seems counter-intuitive. Kids learn better when they have opportunities to move their bodies. I don't have a problem with iPad games if they are educational, because there are some very good ones out there and the kids DO learn a lot from them. It's a nice break in the day for the kids and teachers and can be used as a reward. The smartphone problem is a problem with millennial employees in any profession right now, not just teachers.

giveitup
giveitup

@Happy Hippie Most of the candy and cupcakes I see at school are brought in by parents for birthdays, etc.!

Happy Hippie
Happy Hippie

@giveitup @Happy Hippie Yes - and one of the best teacher's my kids have had allowed only fruit trays to be brought in on birthdays. One school my kids went to banned parents from bringing in anything - the birthday kid got to wear a special crown all day and was perfectly happy with that. A teacher can set rules and expectation for parents if backed up by their administration.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Maybe the path to better communication and more respect between parents and teachers is for us all to understand where the other is coming from, acknowledge that we’re imperfect and give each other a bit of a break."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The only part of this essay with which I concur is the last sentence, stated above. 

I do not believe that teachers nor parents should indulge in the actions Patti Ghezzi describes in this essay.


If I were a critic, I would write, "Fluff."  Sorry.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@straker We also had a majority of people who enjoyed being around their children,who led by example ,and who expected attentive behavior in their kids at school.

straker
straker

When I was in school, years ago, we never were shown movies in class.

There was no iPad.

Candy and junk food were never handed out.

There were no smartphones.

Taking away recess as punishment was never done.


Sometimes, the old ways are still the best ways.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@straker When were you in school?

With the exception of the smart phone and iPad, I remember every bit of this from elementary school in the 80's.


Movies and "film strips" were the norm until VCR's became more popular. In addition to the educational programs, every single Friday in 3rd Grade we got to vote on which movie we'd watch from the reel to reel. I remember this because every Friday it was "Old Yeller'....I cried every Friday of 3rd Grade.

Then in 6th Grade we watched "The Voyage of the Mimi" (starring a very young Ben Affleck) twice a week.

I'm well educated and consider myself fairly successful.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@jarvis1975 @straker 

Maybe, like me, Straker went to elementary school earlier than the '80s! I sure don't remember films in class, sweets given out in school, etc. And taking away recess seems about as counter-intuitive as it can get! It wasn't until I began reading this educational blog 4 years ago that I realized from various posters that schools actually do these things now. If they have become the norm, then I think that this essay is warranted.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@OriginalProf @jarvis1975 @straker I finished elementary school in 1986. That's close to 30 years ago, so I don't think of the movies in school as even being moderately new. As for sweets, dating back to 1979 I remember cup cakes being brought in for birthdays. I also remember us having class parties (far more than my kids have today) for almost every pseudo-holiday. These parties always included punch, candy and cupcakes. 

"You can't go out to recess until you've completed your assignment....You can't go out to recess for (x behavior)" were very common threats and reinforcements in my childhood.

I can only remember one time it being applied to the entire class though (that was by my particularly bad 2nd Grade teacher).

As early as kindergarten (1979 again) I remember the Apple II being brought into our classrom on a rolling desk for us to play educational computer games.

While I'm reminiscing about the good old days being more similar than today than many people remember....I also received a participation trophy every year in every sport I ever played, beginning in 1981. Even when we won championships, we'd get two; one from the league for winning and one from the team to commemorate the season.




OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@jarvis1975 @OriginalProf @straker 

I think, from earlier posts, that straker's elementary school days date back considerably before the '80s, as do mine. As giveitup noted earlier, this list seems directed to elementary school classes. Sorry-- I think that films in classes at that age are an easy way for the teacher to cover class-time, but are not really teaching much. Also that the teacher using electronic devices in class for personal activities is just plain wrong, just as students using their smartphones to text friends in class is wrong. 


But doing away with recess seems short-sighted for the teacher who must manage the class, for all kids--and especially the boys-- need a chance to work off their physical energy after sitting down for so long. Their excess energy will come out in some way.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@OriginalProf @jarvis1975 @straker I agree with your points, especially about recess.
I don't mind the movies in elementary school as a reward (better than sweets). I wasn't saying that things were done 100% correctly when I was a kid; I was just stating that they were done, and I turned out OK (in my own unbiased and completely expert opinion).

Always room for improvement.

BKendall
BKendall

@straker When did you go to school? With the exception of new technology we did the things listed in the 50's.

BKendall
BKendall

@OriginalProf @jarvis1975 @straker The film, candy, and punishment stuff was done in the 50's and 60's in my K-12 school. Yes K-12, two different buildings about 50 feet apart, with common lunch room and gym.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@OriginalProf @jarvis1975 @straker The nuns never gave us candy. However, they did withhold recess from kids. Looking back, I realize the kids who were denied recess were likely the ones who needed it most.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@BKendall @straker 

P.S.  I am imagining what might have happened with cupcakes and sweets given out in classes in that first NY neighborhood ...food-fight!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@BKendall @straker 

Maybe the differences are also due to regional location, Southern or Northern.  I don't know where or when Straker went to elementary school. I attended in the early 1950s, in NY...first in a rather rough neighborhood where the schools probably didn't have funds for films and candy, and the kids definitely needed their recess-time; and second in a more upscale NY area, but still no films or candy.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Pretty petty list.  The complaints I hear most are: 1) doesn't know the material, and can't teach it in an effective way, 2) Doesn't understand how to maintain control of classroom learning environment, 3) Takes weeks/ months to grade student work, and get them feedback.  


I suspect everyone knows who the "great" teachers are in the departments of their school.  It's a shame that these teachers aren't leveraged to train the rest - especially the new teachers.  In reality, it seems most new teachers are just thrown to the wolves, and have to figure all this out on their own.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Point @dcdcdc From what I've seen, the great teachers are often moved into dept chair roles, and removed from the classroom.  One thought would be, if you are going to remove them anyway, to move them into a mentoring role, rather than dept chair spot.   Or make it a key part of dept chair role, and move some of the mundane duties to an AP.


Just an idea - but would IMO be great if new teachers got trained on how to teach, and manage a classroom.  Still amazes me that they dont' get this both in their teacher cert education, as well as in their prep for their first year.

Point
Point

@dcdcdc  Just curious, when do you propose the "great teachers" train the rest?  They have their own students to teach.

giveitup
giveitup

@dcdcdc The list in the article referred to elementary teachers.  It sounds like you are talking about secondary teachers.  That would be another list, I am sure.