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'Monster mom' -- how to avoid being one

  • Story Highlights
  • Spend time reading information that comes home from school, teacher says
  • Remember your child is probably only telling his side of the story
  • Principal: Ask school to conduct an investigation if teacher is unprofessional
  • "Teachers want parents to be involved," middle school teacher says
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By Jacque Wilson
CNN
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(CNN) -- Last year you were feared. Teachers whispered behind your back. Several times you stomped out, threatening to go to the school board. The principal ignored more of your calls than she picked up. You were "that parent."

Teachers are often most strict at the beginning of the year to set the ground rules for students.

Teachers are often most strict at the beginning of the year to set the ground rules for students.

Middle-school teacher Dick Thompson from Westminister, Maryland, understands your anger.

"I think it's only natural that parents are going to act that way initially," the 37-year veteran said. "You're talking about something that is probably the most important thing in their life. Indirectly they're threatened because their kids have been threatened."

But believe it or not, abominable parents are not the norm. In fact, the vast majority is pretty reasonable, he said.

So if you have a reputation as a "monster mom," this year can be different. Follow these "dos and don'ts" to ensure the upcoming school year is a positive one. Back to school by the numbers »

DON'T ignore the material sent home.

Every year, Daniell Middle School teacher Helen Arrington gives out a packet of information, which her 7th grade science students are required to have their parents sign.

And every year, she says, half of the parents sign the paper without even looking at it. Then when there is a problem, many of those same parents say, "Oh, I didn't know you had help sessions."

"Spend the time to read the information," Arrington said. "Let the kids know that what the teacher has written is important enough for you to read carefully."

DO make contact early, whether it's at the school's open house or just with a simple phone call.

"Even if there's nothing wrong, make that contact," Thompson said.

Arrington agrees that even an e-mail to say, "How can I help?" can go a long way toward kicking the year off on the right foot. Sometimes it even improves behavior when students know that line of communication is already open, she said.

DON'T send an email when you're mad.

Or make a threatening phone call. Or storm into a teacher's classroom during a lecture -- a situation Bryant Primary School principal Patrice Moore says happens frequently.

"Going directly to a classroom to question a teacher pulls time away from instruction, goes against most school visitation policies and can cause a parent to be permanently banned from being on campus," Moore said.

Her suggestion? Take a few hours to calm down after your child tells you about a problem, then set up an appointment.

DO remember there are two sides to every story.

Thompson, Arrington and Moore all say your child will tell you only part of the story -- leaving out the stuff that could make him look bad.

"I did that when I was a kid," Thompson said with a laugh. "You don't want to get in trouble, so you don't exactly lie but you don't exactly tell the story as it was."

In your initial phone call to a teacher, be clear that you want his or her side of the story, Arrington said. And take your child's perspective into consideration.

When Arrington's daughter Nancy came home one day and said her teacher hated her, Arrington immediately called to get the teacher's point of view.

"The teacher said, 'I just thought I knew Nancy well enough to tease her.' She didn't realize that Nancy was interpreting it that way," Arrington said.

DON'T bring old problems from the past into this school year.

If parents didn't have a good experience with the school system, or a past teacher, they shouldn't assume the same problems will crop up again, Thompson said.

Also, allow for a bit of leeway at the beginning, when teachers are often most strict to set the ground rules for students.

"I always say, I don't care what they say about me the first day of school, but what they say about me at the last day of school," Thompson said.

And if you still don't see eye to eye after a few months?

"Chalk one up for education," Arrington said. "If the teacher thinks differently than your parental philosophy, your child is learning more than you can teach her."

DO follow up with higher-ups.

If things didn't go as you would have liked and you still think the teacher did something unprofessional, feel free to contact the administration.

"If something doesn't feel right, take it to the principal and ask that they conduct an investigation," Moore said. "Give the school a chance to get to the bottom of the situation and find a solution."

If everything is resolved, follow up with a thank-you note.

And most important: DON'T forget that everyone is on the same team.

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Everyone -- that's you, your child and your child's teacher -- are working toward the same goal. Fostering a sense of cooperation will get everyone working together instead of pulling in opposite directions.

"Teachers want parents to be involved," Thompson said. "Problems occur with a lack of information or miscommunication."

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