Middle School Parents

This is actually a pit-by-proxy – my wife has this first-hand experience, so I’m pitting on her behalf.

We live in a medium sized city, a bedroom community in the Bay Area. My wife works in the office of a middle school in the public school district, and is forced to deal with parents on a daily basis, especially now at the beginning of the school year.

These parents are largely a royal PITA.

First…they lie. There is a perception that some of the schools in our district are “better” than others, so parents lie about their home address, trying to get into one of the “better” schools (despite the fact that they’re all run by the same school district and have the same curriculum).

And they’re pushy. On the first day of school, the parent of a 7th grader (entering the school for the first time) called the office to demand that her little darling be moved from one math class to another, because she didn’t like the teacher he was assigned. How could she possibly have an opinion? She’d “heard from her friends.”

But mostly it’s all about Honors classes. Entrance into the school’s honors classes is based on a combination of the student’s scores on standardized tests; their GPA; and their teachers’ recommendation. But that doesn’t matter – these parents are *hysterical *that their kids’ get into honors. Parents call the office to demand that their scholar be placed in honors, despite all indications that they have little chance of success. If the registrar doesn’t give them what they want, they call back and ask to speak to the vice principal. If that fails, they call back and talk to the principal. And then the district office. Eventually, they usually get their way.

(One school in the district has implemented a parental consent form that says, in words these blunt:“I understand that my child will be placed in an honors class despite his prior performance, and that there is a high probability that he will fail. If my child fails, he will not be moved to a non-honors class. Signed….” and parents snap up these forms as fast as they can print them)

The mindset appears to be: if the kid gets into middle-school honors, then he’ll get into high school honors. If he gets into high school honors, he can get a 4.5 GPA, and will then get into Harvard, Stanford or Berkeley. Then they’ll graduate and be a success in some profession. Game over – they win.

First off, some of those schools most liekly are better curriculum or not. Since when did curriculum ever have the slightest impact of the quality of education?

Second it’s not entirely their fault that schools are so competitive now. You have to Miss Perfect to get into the best colleges. 4.5 gpa, fantastic out-of-school activities and after-school activities, “leadership experience,” and proven athleticism. Unless you know someone who can help, that’s about all you’ll ever be able to hope for. If you can’t present yourself as Captain America, there’s no point in applying anymore.

So are you saying that some schools aren’t better than others with the same curricula? 'Cause I’m part of the Chicago Public School District (ugh) and I can tell you there are certainly differences between the faculty, test scores, supplies on hand and student drop out rates in our schools, and I did fight like hell to get my kid into one of the better ones. Why on earth wouldn’t I? As it turns out, our efforts failed - of nine lotteries, the highest he placed was 59th when there were 30 slots, and his test scores weren’t high enough for selective entry schools. I’m not willing to do the lie-about-my-address thing, although my brother-in-law offered his address, but I can certainly understand the parental desire for a good school for your kid. As it also turns out, I’m happier with his “bad” school than I thought I would be - so far. It’s been two weeks, I’m not making any endorsements yet.

As for the honor level thing, yeah, I’d rather my kid be in “regular” classes and do well then honor classes and fail. But frankly, most schools’ honors classes around here are barely equivalent to “regular” classes elsewhere. If I didn’t know my kid was the laziest snot to even sit in an algebra class, I’d have pushed him into honors. 'Cause yes, it does affect where they end up in high school, which does affect where they can apply to college (or even, in the case of AP courses, get them out of some college courses altogether). You don’t get into AP calculus senior year by taking basic arithmetic in 8th grade.

That mindset started in preschool and you think it’s going to change now?

There are better schools within a district. I’m glad we live where we live and my kids attend the better of the elementary schools here. I base this on parental involvement, volunteerism, teaching staff and (this is the weakest link) administration. Notice I didn’t mention curriculum. IME, I have found the teaching staff to the deal breaker, with volunteerism.
We only have the one middle school in this district, so we’re stuck there. But I have to say that the kids got shafted there. Honors=more homework at this school, not more complex work. Sadly, this is not an unusual case. School has been dumbed down quite a bit. (although there ahve been improvements, too-they now introduce algebra in elementary school).

There were limited “seats” available in the middle school gifted program, so even if your child qualified, they didn’t neccessarily get in. (UNlike special ed, gifted programs are NOT state mandated). So, my daughter was given essentially independent study in history/social studies. We endured, and the HS is much more capable of addressing the student’s needs.

All that said, parents can and are very much a PITA. Some of them have very unrealistic expectations of their child; others just assume that because they have money/prestige/power that they can control the school. Ugh.

My-mother-the-teacher (6th grade, “good” school) insists that parental involvement is the *single *biggest factor in school success - both on an individual level and the school as a whole. This year, she has what she says are her single highest ability reading/social studies group and also her very, very lowest ability reading/social studies group (in 20some years of teaching in the same district). Each group has 30 students. At the Open House last week, she had 29 parents from the high group show up and 6 from the low group.

Well, this is what parental involvement looks like. I’d rather piss off the secretaries and teachers if it means my son will get a better education. Sorry.

Yup. A friend of mine told me the other day about when she started out teaching kindergarten. She was in a poorer school district. The first year she taught, she had the kids (like most K teachers do) make an art project for Parent’s Night.

Not one parent showed up.

Jesus-if they don’t show up for Kindergarten, will they ever?


As a victim of educational malpractice, I have to say this sounds pretty damned reasonable to me - my parents warned their friends to keep their kids out of one of the worse teacher’s classes. And the ones who didn’t often ended up regretting not taking the advice when the poisonous harpy latched on their kid for her whipping boy/girl.

You can say that most teachers, administrators and staff at schools are dedicated professionals, but there will always be bad eggs.

I’ve got nothing but sympathy for the other complaints your wife has mentioned, especially the honors one - but switching from a poisonous teacher’s classroom makes a Hell of a lot of sense. And better to do it sooner, rather than later, and avoid being stuck in that kind of Hell.

This…is why I am no longer a public school teacher. Cannot handle idiot parents on top of all of the bureaucratic bullshit. And people wonder why there’s a high turnover rate with teachers.

Since this is a general school rant.

My daughter had 29 kids in her second grade class. They figured out that class size was a little high so they went from 3 second grades to four - THE SECOND WEEK OF SCHOOL. A lot of the stay at home moms volunteer from our neighborhood, so we know that everyone knew in early August the classes were going to be 28 or 29 students (unless they got really unlucky with kids ‘just showing up’ the first day). So seven or eight seven year olds from each class left the teacher they were just getting to know and the friends they just made to start a new class. We asked my daughter stay in the same room (so did all the other ‘involved’ parents, I feel very sorry for the new teacher who got the worst kids). But the reason we made the request is that my third grade son had teacher switches mid-year in both first and second grade (I looked at this teacher with him and said “too old for maternity leave, too young for retirement - jackpot!”). The day the switch was announced, they told the kids, not the parents. And a bunch of the kids got timeouts because they started crying that their “best friends” were going into a different room. Way to go!

I do feel bad for teachers who have parents that are pests - two of my girlfriends have been teachers (one still is) and we hear horror stories from the Entitlement Family regularly (lets call the teacher at 10:30 at night at home to rant that my kid deserved an A and not a B+ on this assignment!).

You know, I went to one of the more “ghetto” schools of the 15 in Kern County for high school- while I was from a much better area next to one of the “nice” schools, I transferred in because the school surprisingly had one of the best engineering programs in the state (I hate engineering, so I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking there).

Anywho, not only did I go there, but I also coach the debate team there now. There are two things I notice:

  1. While the kids at the nice schools have beautiful suits to debate in that their parents bought without question, the kids at my school can barely afford a pair of slacks that don’t have holes in them, let alone an entire suit. And I mean, that small thing really does effect the kids when they are debating. Confidence that should be there because of their God-given talent is completely diminished because their opponent is in a beautiful suit. I never really thought of this when I was a student because I was lucky enough that my parents could afford to get me what I needed, but now as a coach I see it all the time. I know their parents WANT them to have that confidence that gives them the edge, but the parents just can’t afford it.

  2. When the other, “nicer” schools have tournaments, there is an ARMY of parents there helping run things- bringing food, putting up hand painted signs, etc. Usually, though not always, most of the parent volunteers are mothers who don’t work because their husband’s have great jobs. At our school, we have next to no parental involvement in tournaments. It’s not that the parents don’t want to- we’ve talked to them about it- it’s that they can’t . If mom is working literally 3 jobs to feed her kids, how is she going to find the time to spend the day at the tournament? If she can barely pay her bills, how is she going to send a tray of food for us to serve?

So, I don’t necessarily think it’s that the parents don’t care- though I’m sure some don’t. The primary problem is that the bad schools tend to be economically disadvantaged parts of town and people that live in those areas can’t afford the time to be involved, even if they desperately want to.

Fair enough–but this is for Kindergarten. Who is home with these kids after school or in the evening? I understand all about shift work, having done 12 hour shifts, both nights and days for years.

If Mom or Dad can’t be there, surely Auntie or Grandma/dad could. Someone.
The uniforms/debate team stuff-I hear you. But school is as much a child’s “job” as any adult’s. I can’t believe that NO parent/foster/step/grandparent for any of the students couldn’t come.

Teachers have high turnover?

Virtually every teacher I ever had taught coming out of school until death or retirement. I can’t think of any who quit teaching except one or two to become homemakers, and very few who got into it late.

Parental involvement is wonderful, and a key factor in the success of the child and the school.

Letting parents assign children to classes, though, is chaos.

I had no one who could “sub” for me - my parents weren’t available: dad died in 1983, mom had Parkinson’s - his parents were both deceased. My friends and neighbors had their own conferences to attend. My living Grandmother lived in Delaware. Aunts and uncles were in other states too.

There was a time when in Queens, NY all public schools held parent conferences on the same night.

I had 2 daughters going to 2 different high schools. I had 2 sons in grade school at the same time. My husband and I would go CRAZY racing around, but could never see all the instructors. (We only had 1 car, and the schools weren’t within walking distance to each other.)

A girlfriend of mine had 2 sons graduating on the same day at the same time. Kindergarten and junior high. Whichever she chose someone was bound to find her uncaring. it was a very difficult time for her, but she went to the kindergarten graduation.

I wonder if anyone judged me as uncaring if I didn’t spend as much time as expected with each teacher on conference night. It was difficult to weigh who to visit.

I know that I am periodically asked to donate professional wear to organizations that support poor mothers trying to start work. Have you considered looking for suit donations (even in the rich kids’ own neighborhoods), and letting your debaters borrow them for competitions?

I am so happy that my middle daughter left middle school behind this year & that it will be a while before the youngest gets there.

I often wonder why it seems that the teachers that end up in middle school are those that still have wet ink on their degrees when this MUST be the most difficult age of kid to teach. Get that new teacher that wants to be “in charge” combined with kids who are feeling rebellious and you get a bad situation. I have witnessed some of these teachers doing things like melting down in hallways, pulling stuff from lockers onto the floors as a show of their authority. That is when I become a nightmare parent for the administration.

I feel bad for the administrators. They have to put up with union-backed teachers that have to pretty much cause bodily harm before they can be removed & parents that <gasp> expect that they are consumers of services simply because they pay thousands of dollars in taxes that pay the salaries there. It is not a position I envy.

Frankly, I prefer the situation I have with the Montessori school that we use for the elementary level. I write a check each month & the school recognizes it. I am treated like a consumer and I receive a service. Teachers are trained to teach the way the school expects them to. I have my kids there because I want them to learn with that method. Teachers are there because they want to teach that method. If anything changes in that arrangement, the person that does not want to play anymore leaves.

Well, did you set up an independent time to meet the teacher? A phone call? (This was before email, my favorite current way to communicate with my kids’ teachers.) I’ll be honest, I rarely make open houses or parent nights either, because of both logistical issues and the fact that I think they’re rather dumb. I’d much rather have a private 20 minute conversation and really get to know the teacher than listen to some nervous shill designed to make the school look perfect. But I let them know ahead of time that I won’t be there and ask that we set up another time to get to know one another.

It’s not that missing Parent Night is so heinous, it’s that it’s symptomatic of the larger problem - parents who aren’t involved in their kids’ education. Whether that’s because they don’t have the time, money or babysitters is irrelevant. Not being involved, even for a very good reason, correlates with lower performance. It might not make someone a bad mother, but it does mean her kid (and her kids’ schools) are going to struggle that much harder.

Where did anyone judge you as “uncaring”? I didn’t. **eleanorigby **didn’t. We’re lamenting the fact that, for whatever reasons, parents who aren’t “involved” => worse students and worse schools. It’s statistics, not judgment.

  1. Some schools ARE better than others - it all depends on how you measure them. You can look at the test scores at minimum. Those scores reflect the quality of students, parents and teachers.

  2. Some teachers are better than others. The ONLY way to know who is better is to talk to parents whose children had those teachers.

  3. Some teachers are more suited to certain children than others. This is very different from 2) above, however. My neice thrives in a classroom scenario run by former USMC Drill Instructors, while my son dies in that environment. My son thrives in a more laid back, creative environment while my neice goes insane at the lack of structure.

Now, with 1,2 & 3 out there, many parents are going to do their best to maximize the return on their kid’s education. I volunteer at the school, as does my wife. We make ourselves well known to the school as people who can be counted on to help out at any time. The price the school pays is that we will let them know at the end of the year our preference for next year’s homeroom instructor. This preference has been expressed both as a positive (" we believe that teacher X would best suit our child’s learning style"), and as a negative (“we will remove our child from the school if he is assigned to teacher Y.”).

We pay our dues and every year have gotten payback. It is my kid, and it is worth it.

What’s the plural of anecdote again?

From The National Center for Educational Statistics:

I subbed for a while, often in jr. high/ middle school. The teachers aren’t going on crazy rampages because they have power trips, it’s because they have to deal with middle schoolers- 30 at a time. Perhaps if parents could raise their kids properly, it wouldn’t be such a big deal- I went to a private, Christian school, and we had a lot less drama.

So, to summarize, pull your head out of your ass, ASAK.