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Parents Have More Power Than Admin. How Did We Get Here?

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On the second day of my first year of teaching—young, fresh-faced, and 21 years old—I found myself thrown into the deep end.

An ambiguous email from the guidance counselor popped into my inbox, simply telling me to call a student’s mother. Without much context, I asked for clarity from the principal. I don’t remember his exact wishes, but I essentially had to “sell” my worth as a teacher to this parent, assuring them I wasn’t as “tough” as their daughter might have perceived on the first day.

For 20 minutes of a planning period I could have definitely used, I tried to convince a parent and student that I was the right fit to be their math teacher. I hung up and thought, “Man, is this the norm?” I had heard “the parent is always right” horror stories in college, but I didn’t expect to discover it for myself this soon into the school year.

I wish I could say that was the last time I had to establish my value with a parent. How did we get to the point where parents hold all the power and we just rush around to placate them? This Reddit post posed the same question:

Below, we summarize the ideas that Reddit teachers pose as reasons for how we got to this point. They are pretty interesting to consider.

The pendulum swung too far

Maybe we’ve arrived to a place where parents have more power than administrators because of parenting style changes.

Shifts in parenting

Bulldoze any and all obstacles, am I right?

Money talks (and it rules)

Are all parents giving administrators and teachers a hard time? Does this only apply to parents with means?

Parents’ reactivity to their own schooling

I actually had this thought when I was thinking about why parents have more power now. Maybe they really and truly believe that teachers are lying and administrators are lying because they had terrible prior experiences with their teachers.

Teachers: everyone’s favorite scapegoats

Somehow, some parents don’t want to receive any blame for their students messing up. Its easiest to just blame the teacher, school, or administrator.

Standing up to parents = fast lane to burnout

Maybe parents have more power because principals are plumb burned out. Dealing with argumentative people all the time has got to be hard.

“The customer is always right” model

No matter our years of experience, surely the parents know more about education than we do?

Hard relate from healthcare workers

Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this issue of the parents are always right. Didn’t like the facts? No big deal—you can find alternative facts.

A culture of skepticism

I’m glad people are using their noggins! But yikes, not everyone is out to get you, especially the competent teachers and administrators at little Johnny’s school.

Fear of lawsuits

I can vouch for this one. My husband just finished his Ed.S. program, and all they did was threaten the whole time that you really just don’t want parents to sue you. Do whatever you need to do so parents don’t sue you.

The commodification of education

This is a refreshing perspective. Society has changed in how it approaches schooling, and educational buildings are now more like businesses competing for students’ (or ultimately parents’) school choice.

School choice

Speaking of, maybe parents have more power because schools really need them to fulfill enrollment numbers for funding. Interesting thought!

“Families are our clients” 😳

Not sure about that last part, but this is a reason. This is why parents might have more power than administrators. This.

Education can be bought and sold

Along these same lines, if society continues to view educational rankings as the end-all, be-all, education will continue to be viewed as a business entity.

The pressure to achieve

Maybe times are different now because the economy is different now. This teacher proposes that our economy is driving so many children to college, so parents demand more from administrators because their kid needs to get into college.

A shift in the purpose of school

A lot of problems we see in schools happen because people just don’t respect teachers and administrators anymore.

Reflecting on these insights and experiences shared by the Reddit teachers, it’s evident that the landscape of education and power dynamics is not what it used to be. Societal changes, economic factors, and evolving parent expectations have shifted the power dynamics. We all agree that parental involvement is crucial to student success, but there needs to be a balance of power. Administrators, teachers, and parents can together ensure the focus is on student learning, not parent capitulation.

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