Originally published on September 12, 2019
I recently spoke with a mom who is very active in her child’s school community. Unfortunately, the parent said she felt like she had a “Scarlet Letter” on her chest that caused people to retreat when she came near because they thought, “Here she comes again.” I used to fear that response too and have felt like, at times, that’s the reaction I have caused as a parent.
Before I became a parent, I used to think that because I was an educator and my husband and I both are relatively intelligent people, that it wouldn’t matter who my kids got as their teachers because everything would be okay. Then one of my three children had a teacher that was a great teacher but not a great fit for my child. It was the first time as a parent that I had to communicate with a teacher because of concerns that I had. At that point, I was already an administrator and I felt very uncomfortable about having the conversation. I didn’t want the teacher to know what I did for a living because I didn’t want the teacher to be intimidated. I used to say, “I’m here to support you as you support my child.” The teacher probably thought I was crazy.
For those of you who are parents and educators, I wonder if you have felt this way? Did you think that no matter who your child’s teacher was, everything would be okay? Have you struggled to have conversations with your child’s teachers because you didn’t want them to be uncomfortable when you raised a concern? If you're not a parent, how do you feel when you know the parent is in education? Is there any level of defensiveness?
There’s such a fine line between being an involved and engaged parent versus something else. We call parents who hover over their children and step in on their children’s behalf, “helicopter parents.” We call parents who insist that their children be the very best “tiger parents.” We call parents who don’t respect the chain of command and go right to the highest person they can contact, “bulldozer parents.” These titles are negative but I wonder what the underlying issue really is. The 5th of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits is “Seek First to Understand and Then to Be Understood.” It’s the notion that we should listen to learn rather than to judge, assume, or defend. This is a lot easier when you are on the side delivering the message; it’s a lot harder when you are on the receiving end.
I’m thinking of this because the mom who was worried about the “Scarlet Letter” was more worried about getting her child what he needed than she was about how that would make her look. However, shouldn’t that be her concern? It’s very easy for me to empathize with her when I think about my role as a parent, but not as easy if I step into my educator role. When I’m in that role, I can see how a parent asking questions can be seen as a reason to be a little (or maybe even a lot) guarded.
If I’m being honest, I feel like I shouldn't have to distance myself from the fact that I’m a parent—an active and engaged parent who wants the very best for my kids even though we’re not perfect. So, I have had evolved. I am no longer the parent who is hiding my profession or knowledge about teaching and learning. It’s not that I am using these as a weapon, but I’m no longer pretending I’m someone I’m not. I’ve decided I will not be worried about someone giving me a Scarlet Letter. They can’t. The reason why is because rather than worry about a big “A,” I’m going to think of myself as Superman who proudly wears his emblazoned “S” so that everyone can see who they’re dealing with (before they realized they’ve brought a knife to a gun fight). After all, and I know I'm mixing metaphors here, like Spiderman said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Parenthood, like teaching, has a tremendous amount of power, and should also have a tremendous about of responsibility to use that power wisely and in service to others.
I know this year you’re going to have a least one parent who is a little tricky…someone with some questions or ideas that you would rather not have to deal with. I hope that when you communicate with them you recognize that, like me, they are reaching out not because they’re worried about you, but because they’re worried about their child. If a parent can’t advocate for their child, then that’s a bigger problem. In other words, please don’t let a Superman Parent be your kryptonite. At the same time, you don’t need to be their Lex Luther. Instead, I would encourage you to form a Justice League to fight together for the betterment of all.