Teacher vs. Parent

This has been the week from hell - thank goodness it is over. This is how I feel today: half tired/half stabby. Meow.

{Warning: this post is turning into a fairly epic story. Read on, friends.}
For the first time in my teaching career, I had a parent make a complaint about me. I found out in the most round-about of ways, and it's really thrown me for a loop. I pride myself in being careful and empathetic with my parents, so this has been a real blow to my teaching pride. And add in the fact that both {yes, both} of the alleged 'incidents' are a complete lie/misunderstanding, and, well, it just stinks. And I'm exhausted.

Let me share a little background information with you first.

Student X comes from a blended religious family. Mrs X {mum} is Christian. Mr X {dad} is Muslim. Student X is on the Autistic spectrum and has been diagnosed since she was three, and we are currently awaiting a report to see if she also has Aspergers. She is a lovely little girl and has no behaviour problems at school; her Autism presents itself in other ways. There has been talk all year of moving Student X to an Islamic school nearby, as Mrs X admitted that her husband would prefer her to have an independent religious school upbringing. I've worked with Mrs X all year, as Student X is quite a high maintenance child, and I have always done my best to make the parent/teacher relationship as amicable as possible. Fast forward to this last term, and we've still not been told what's going on - so our principal got in touch with Mrs X to touch base and to have a chat about the following year.

That being said, it's onto the good stuff.

Complaint 1: During this phone call, Mrs X informed the principal that I had made an inappropriate comment to Student X about her clothing, that I was disrespectful to their religious beliefs, and that they were pulling her from the school as a result. Say..... what? The words spoken by Mrs X were as follows, in summary: 'Mrs D told Student X that she was not allowed to wear pants to school anymore.' Er.

The reality? We had 36+ degree weather out in the suburbs last week, and it was a stifling heat. I had kidlets in my classroom who were playing outside in the heat with their jumpers on. Of course, they'd come in after playtime, sweating, red faced, feeling ill, and looking like they were about to pass out. As part of our sun safety program, we talked as a class about being smart in the sun - and I informed the class that it would be a good idea to take all their jumpers off before heading out to the lunch and recess, making sure their hats were on as well.

Somewhere in this scenario, Student X has either been a) completely confused and not entirely listening {which is common with students on the spectrum} or has b) taken the jumpers/hats information and misinterpreted it as her long pants needing to be removed as well. Student X has gone home to her parents, relayed the incorrect information, and BAM. Complaint made.

I was gutted after hearing this remark. As a teacher in modern times, you have to be so careful when dealing with different religious beliefs and practices and all that jazz - and I am really sensitive about being on top of this. For Mrs X to go over my head about this issue, without even checking with me first to clarify what had happened, well, I just felt sick. Did Mrs X honestly think I would say something so blatantly disrespectful? This is me, the teacher who just last week approached her after school to seek her approval/permission for Student X to participate in the end of year Christmas concert. Why would I go to the efforts of asking her advice/seeking her opinion as to not offend any religious beliefs, if I were going to slander her religion the very next day? It just makes no sense. I felt like I'd been slapped in the face. I went about my week, and that was that. Until yesterday.

Complaint 2: My class was having their talking & listening news time in the morning, when the principal popped by to have a chat with me. He'd had a second complaint from Mrs X about something I had allegedly told Student X, and wanted to clarify with me what had happened. To summarise her next complaint: 'Mrs D told Student X that all pizzas were halal and that she could eat whatever she wanted.' Again, eh?

To cut another long back story short, last week our class won a school competition run by our parents/community committee. The prize was a class pizza party. I had nothing to do with this: I didn't order the pizza, I didn't arrange the notes being sent home - it was all organised by this committee. The one thing I did do was to make sure I requested an allergy/ingredient listing so that the kids in my class could observe what was in each pizza and make the choice as to whether they could eat it or not.

When the pizzas and allergy sheet were delivered, I called my students up with food allergies, religious beliefs or food aversions first, so that they could have their choice and/or head outside with their regular lunch. If they weren't sure about an ingredient, I asked them if they would be allowed to eat this sort of meal at home. Several kids opted out {including one another Islamic student}. Student X chose a pizza slice with no qualms or questions, and that was that. At no time was anything mentioned about our pizzas being halal, as this information wasn't on the allergy sheet I was given. In fact, I made absolutely no mention of that subject at all.

So, two complaints. Two allegations. Two skewed truths and/or blatant lies. Way to kick a tired teacher in the teeth.

Now thankfully, the rest of the staff have filled me in on previous years dealing with Student X and Mrs X. Her teacher last year was a teaching Assistant Principal, and is one of the best leaders I've worked with. By the end of the year, she had tallied up a total of four complaints made against her, on a variety of topics.

The good news is that the rest of the staff, including my principal, are on my side. The bad news is that this ever should have happened in the first place.

I've spent this week flipping from emotion to emotion - anger {as if I would ever say any of these things, bitch please, who do you think you are?}, frustration {why didn't Mrs X just come and speak with me first, so that I could put her at ease}, panic {what if these allegations put my job at risk for next year?}, terror {what if my principal suddenly thinks I'm this awful person?}, empathy {dealing with ASD kids is hard work, poor stressed out Mrs X} and tears {I cannot believe that someone could think I'm capable of being anti-religion} or {I've put so much work into Student X this year and this feels like a slap in the face} or just {I'm suddenly not wanting to be in the same classroom as Student X any longer for fear of bawling}.

I know it will all be ok. The school year will end, Student X will move on to her new independent school, life carries on. But after working my arse off all year and having such a positive, wonderful experience back on-class, this week feels like it was all for naught. For the teachers out there: you are wonderful. Your job entails so much more than just the '9-3' babysitting of kids - you are a carer, a social worker, a lunch lady, a play supervisor, an exam marker, a parent liason, and a rock star. I salute you.

Now, someone please pass the vodka & the shot glasses.

19 Comments • Labels:  


Britt said...

How awful. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that hullabaloo. You're a fantastic person and a fantastic teacher. Don't let one cranky lady let you think otherwise.


Hotpotatokate said...

Being a teacher is awesome enough, and the way you handle kids with so many different needs is amazing. I've learned in the past year of lawyering (seriously- no complaints til now, but this year...??) that some people complain, and some people will hang onto their own incorrect versions of things to avoid responsibility, or share blame or whatever. And it's hard to ignore, because even though you KNOW THE TRUTH you're scared that others won't, and they'll just think you're being defensive. Or that even though they believe you, they are thinking "well, part of her must have done SOMETHING to end up in this situation."
Anyway, it's great that your colleagues and principal support you- but I know it won't always feel like enough. Hope J stopped being an arse, and that the end of the school year gets here soon!

The Modern Gal said...

My husband is a teacher here in the states, and if there's anything I've learned through him, it's that there are many parents out there who will never think anything ill of their child and will never admit to themselves that a teacher might have a better sense of how to teach their children than they do. I'd imagine there's probably some insecurities for the parents involved, especially with the extra challenges austism can bring. That said, considering this family's record of complaints, I think it's safe for you to trust their complaints have nothing to do with you or your talents as a teach. It sounds like you're a great teacher and always looking out for what's best for your students.

audrey said...

First, I'm sorry you had to deal with this, but very glad the staff and principal are on your side, where they should be.

Second, I bet you and Tim could have a great time swapping crazy student and parent stories. His coping mechanism of choice is whiskey, but I bet he'd toss back a few vodkas with you anyway. :)

Karen said...

So sorry you had to go through this, you shouldn't have to. At least the principal is on your side but I also hope the mother of your student will eventually come around.

Jane said...

Ohhh you poor thing, what a shitty thing to happen! Especially so close to the end of the year when everybody is just over it.

That's great that the rest of the staff are on your side and they know exactly what Mrs X is like... clearly if she made four silly complaints about another great teacher last year, it's HER problem, not the staff's problem.

Chin up. Drink lots of vodka. And just remember that the end of term isn't too far away! xxx

The So-Called Wife said...

Oh Aly, reading this post made my heart hurt for you. I have so been in your position before, and it's just terrible to have parents go above you and start misconstruing things that you've done/haven't done. I've worked in education for four years, and only one of those did I ever have to deal directly with parents, and it's so incredibly difficult. My heart goes out to all of you awesome teachers who do it every single day. I have no doubts that you are an spectacular educator, and I'm so sorry that these situations were mishandled and affected you. Know that you are wonderful, and don't let this get you down!

~stinkb0mb~ said...

there are no words honey but i'm SO glad that the principal and the other teachers are on your side.

some parents just look for trouble even if it's not there.

you're a fabulous teacher, don't let one parent make you doubt that.


Kira said...

Ugh, sorry you're having to go through this. I had a similar situation last year (I'm a behavior therapist for children on the autism spectrum) where a parent made a complaint about me, but the huge difference in my situation was that I was NOT supported by my supervisors and they made the decision to take me off that child's case. You're very lucky that your principal and staff at your school trust and support you, because let me tell you, THAT was definitely the most disheartening part of the whole situation.

Anonymous said...

Oh I know how you feel. For many of our parents it is their hobby. It hurts but you will get over it and sadly eventually it won't upset you at all. I have a kid in my class who just calls out all day, nackchats me, yells and is so abusive to otehrs. believe me he calls kids words I don't use. and creative versions too. he is from an abusive home. dad has spent weeks in a psych unit this year. WELL he comes up on Friday and starts - Why are you picking on my boy, why do you get him in trouble, why did you stop him being a school captain, why do you stop him taking part in class rewards. I told him how much his sons behaviour had changed - wanted to add he was fine until you pulled a knife on your wife, held it to her throat and threatened to kill her in front of child but didn;t. Blood ass.
Worst thing is i am so used to this crap now I didn't even get upset

Anonymous said...

Sorry by Kathy

Kelly said...

I'm so sorry. Some people will find anything to complain about!!

terra said...

Wow. Sounds like a tough and frustrating situation. I understand there are a lot of sensitive issues at hand, but I'm so frustrated that the mother didn't come to you first and get your side of the story. I mean, kids don't always get things the way they were meant and for the mom to just assume something, run with it and go so far as file a complaint against you seems ridiculous. You're a great teacher. Don't let ridiculous things like this make you think otherwise.

Old Guy. said...

Mrs X may not be the complainant.
Mr X may well be "causing" the child to be transfered to the school of HIS choice.
Go easy on he vodka.
Primary Teachers my favourite people.

Old Guy. said...

Mrs X may not be the complainant.
Mr X may well be "causing" the child to be transfered to the school of HIS choice.
Go easy on he vodka.
Primary Teachers my favourite people.

Unknown said...

Oh honey, there are no more words, you covered them all comprehensively! (That said, I'm still sitting at ANGER for you!)

Jacinta said...

Aye aye aye! You poor thing. So frustrating when you have gone the extra mile all year and feel like there is only acknowledgement of any problems (even though they aren't even real!!!)
Sounds to me like little X may well have had to defend own actions (dress and pizza) by saying you had said it was OK... as you said - misunderstandings. And lack of trust on the part of the parents. The least the could have done, was come and spoken to you about it first.
But it hurts. And I feel bad for you, because you obviously care and are attentive.
Enjoy the vodka! The holidays are just around the corner...

Anonymous said...

That's awful! At least the principal and other teachers know your side of the story.

I'm with the Modern Gal. Some parents just don't think about their children messing up the story.

Lindz said...

Ohmygosh do I understand this post. Ours is such a hard job - there are so many sides to every story and so many perspectives to always be thinking of. Not to mention how many people we are always trying to please and satisfy.

From this post alone, I am amazed at how thorough and patient you are... granted I deal with more, much older students but you my friend, are incredible.

I've been through similar complaint scenarios that are completely false and the hardest part for me is to continue treating the student as I had before... you become fearful and almost detached because you worry any and everything will be misconstrued!

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