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Carolyn Hax: Being ‘that parent’ vs. speaking up for your kid

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn: Our sixth-grader has mentioned that one of his classmates is consistently disruptive and disrespectful to teachers and classmates. Our son reports this classmate acts out on an almost daily basis and the behavior is problematic enough that at least once a week, this child is sent to the vice principal and/or suspended for a day or two.

This week, our child was in tears of frustration over how distracting this child's behavior is. They are in a cohort, so they are together in each class all day long, no breaks. I am concerned about this classmate. They clearly need more helpful intervention than getting in trouble — and maybe they are getting that help, I don't know, but I doubt it. I am also concerned about my child's disrupted education.

We have encouraged him to accept this as an opportunity to practice mental discipline, stay focused on his work, etc. This seems to be working; our son has great grades. His complaint this week is that he feels he’s missing out on what is being taught while his teachers deal with this classmate.

Do we let this ride? Is it time to talk to the teacher? And what do we say? I don’t want to be the parent who adds on to a teacher’s burden after the two years we have all been through. Lord help me, if I am “that” parent right now, please tell me!!

— Parent

Parent: “That” parent is the one who charges in on hearsay, angry, and rips into the teacher for not orienting the entire school day around their kid or their world view.

So you’re fine.

But that doesn’t mean you just sit with your uneasy feeling about what’s going on in the classroom.

You meet with the teacher, yes — and start by asking questions, assuring them you know they’ve been through the wringer and you come in peace.

Once you find out the teacher’s and/or the school’s part of the story, to the extent they’re able to share it, you share your son’s part of the story. That is valuable information for the school to have. Meeting the many different needs of many different students at once is a dynamic process, and if the way teachers are managing the disruptive child has unacceptable consequences for other students, then their approach needs to change. Grades alone don’t prove readiness.

For all you know, the teachers have asked for more support from the administration and parental advocacy would help them get it.

Whatever their process, it will work better in partnership with calm, rational, open-minded parents. They can report what part of their kids’ school day is reverberating at home and — this is underrated — reinforce at home whatever the teachers have found useful for their kids in school.

I can feel the slosh of a collective eye-roll at the idea that a school can, or will, be that responsive to a parent’s input about a discipline emergency. Especially given the exhaustion and understaffing forced by covid and the ever-growing list of expectations heaped on schools. Teachers already are cops, shrinks, babysitters, food pantries, office-supply stores, first responders, political footballs and targets of disinformed mobs. But: Rational, boundary conscious adults who want to help them figure out what is and isn’t working, who bear some sympathy for the disruptive children as well as for their own, and are respectful of teachers’ expertise? Adults who remembered to put their ears on this morning, and take their blinders off? Yes, yes, go in. See how you can help.

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