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Parent, teacher relationship is tricky

Three years from retirement, Donna Dansby of Wesley Chapel has been a teacher and an administrator.

She gets thank-you notes in the children's planners. She has her fan clubs, she has had parents tell her their children need "another Mrs. Dansby."

But, she said, "a lot of parents don't ever go on the record by saying to the principal, 'This is a great teacher.' Then again, in today's society, every once in a while you get a parent who is struggling to cope and everybody is wrong in their life, including the teacher."

After just 20 minutes of conversation, I was convinced the teaching profession needed more Mrs. Dansbys. Clearly she possesses that all-important combination of competence and compassion. Her kids are lucky.

But Dansby also articulated the perception we suspect lies in all teachers' hearts — that behind every door on conference night, there lurks a self-absorbed, unreasonable whack job of a parent.

It often goes unspoken, but we all know it is understood. Some teachers feel superior to some parents. They expect the worst from us and are rarely disappointed.

You might have experienced the sneering attitude. Maybe you just imagined it. Maybe you felt you deserved it because Junior does his homework in front of the television, or you haven't been digging through his book bag, or in so many other ways you just don't measure up in this parent-teacher partnership.

It's a complicated relationship. You might have friends who are teachers. I do. But it's like being friends with a police officer. It's always a little bit stilted. There are lines you cannot cross, things you cannot tell each other.

It's little wonder that some voters have embraced the nationwide assault on teacher tenure.

Or that Republican lawmakers in both houses have filed bills that would allow teachers to grade their students' parents.

Granted, the debate over tenure and collective bargaining (I've heard it called "collective begging") is muddied by politics, as Republicans seek to neutralize the power of labor unions.

But I do believe some parents resent the job security that teachers enjoy.

Ask anyone whose child ever had a truly awful teacher. Yes, they exist.

A Hillsborough woman wrote to me that a teacher sprayed cologne at her child's head. She complained and her child was punished. Another teacher wrongly accused her child of missing an assignment. Again, the mother complained. Again, she said, the child was punished.

I didn't hear the teachers' sides of these stories, and that's why I'm not naming names.

But you hear these stories — and I could tell you worse.

As Dansby explained, there are essentially four kinds of teachers: Unconsciously competent (the best), consciously competent (still very good), unconsciously incompetent (not so good, but very trainable) and the deliberately incompetent, who need to go, for everybody's benefit.

I'm glad the brightest minds are applying science to the daunting prospect of separating them out. Hillsborough County school officials are working heroically through this Gates project. It's tedious work, but they seem determined to do it right.

That said, the opinions of parents ought to count for something. They can sneer at us, but we are the customer, right?

So here's a homework assignment for parents who are reading this. What qualities do you look for in a public school teacher? I'd love to print your responses in a future column.

E-mail me at sokol@sptimes.com.

Parent, teacher relationship is tricky 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 4:30am]
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