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Parents must parent before teachers can teach

Published Sep. 29, 2005

I have a friend who teaches in a public high school in the Tampa Bay area. Sometimes we talk about what is wrong with our schools, and he says it is a lot of things, but mainly it is fear.

In fact, there is a saying among teachers at his school: The teachers are afraid of the school administration. The administrators are afraid of the parents. And the parents are afraid of their children.

At first I thought he was joking. Then I read the July 27 story _ "Band director burnout" _ by Times staff writer Shelby Oppel.

It told of five school band directors in Pinellas County who are quitting, part of a national trend. In addition to putting up with low pay and long hours, band directors are subjected to abuse by parents.

The Seminole High School band director in Oppel's story has had angry parents stake out his house, call him a "white supremacist" and threaten to hire a private investigator to dig up something to get him fired. All of this because their children did not get the role they wanted in the school band.

Fear takes different forms. Some parents are physically intimidated by their children, although I don't think that is too many parents.

Other parents are afraid to accept their responsibility. They fear that their children won't like them or will do something to embarrass them or fail.

If a child isn't picked for the school band, it is probably because he isn't as good as the one who was picked. When it comes to passing out musical talent, life isn't fair. If you don't believe it, listen to me try to play the trombone.

A parent's proper response should be to encourage the child to work harder. It is even possible that the child will give it his best effort and still not make the band. In that case, the parent should praise the child for doing his best and encourage him to find another outlet for his creativity.

Threatening the band director to promote the child should not be one of the options for a parent who is trying to teach the child values that will carry him successfully through life.

The school administrators share the blame in a situation like this. If they weren't afraid, a band director would never have to put up with a threatening parent more than once.

The proper responses from an administrator would be to act as a shield for the band director, warn the threatening parents and take action if they persist. The action could include calling the police if the threats violated the law or removing the child from music classes if the parents keep it up.

Parents who get their way through intimidation disrupt the education process. School administrators would be wise to deal with that problem sooner rather than later. Otherwise, good teachers either resign or lose their motivation to be good teachers.

I had another interesting conversation with another high school teacher recently. She had read my July 25 column about the need for a student dress code _ "Middle ground on school uniform debate: Dress sensibly" _ in public schools.

She agreed with my message, saying some clothing is a distraction in the classroom. Then she told me this tale that I can only describe as a horror story.

One day in her third-period class, a female student showed up wearing a brassiere. It wasn't a bikini top or a jogging bra (which also would have been inappropriate in school); it was her underwear, and she wore nothing over it.

The teacher couldn't believe that the teenage girl had made it through two prior classes without a word said. Explaining that a bra wasn't acceptable clothing in her class, the teacher sent the girl to the office.

Now, let me give you a multiple choice test on how you think the mother responded when she found out her daughter had worn a bra to school and had been kicked out of class.

The mother: A. chastised her daughter, thanked the teacher and sent her daughter to school in appropriate clothing for the rest of the year. B. got mad at the teacher and threatened her, saying the daughter could wear whatever she damn well pleased to school.

If you guessed A, you probably grew up in the 1950s or earlier, and you would be wrong. If you guessed B, you probably read the first part of this column, and you would be right. If you are like me, you would also be depressed.

What's to be done? The problem seems too overwhelming at times. If a parent won't parent, what hope is there?

Here's a start: We could all stop being afraid to say and do the right thing when it comes to raising children into mature adults and turning our schools into effective institutions of learning. School administrators can stop being Casper the Friendly Ghost and start enforcing the rules and protecting their teachers.

And we should all recite this pledge every morning: I have rights and I have responsibilities, and I should live my life so that the two are balanced.