Parent trashed teacher on social media: Should she speak up?

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Q: I’m a third-grade teacher, and my students’ parents have formed a Facebook group for themselves. For the most part, it’s been a tame, pretty boring group. I’m not part of it, but because I have a personal Facebook page, some of the class parents have friended me there, and a few will often direct message me for answers to questions that they’ve posted on the group’s page. They’re generally about organizing parent volunteers to help with kids’ costumes for the Halloween parade, or to bring in snacks for a class party, or to collect permission forms for field trips — that sort of thing. But last week, a parent told me that a mother wrote, “Anyone else get stuck talking to [insert my name] forever at the Chipotle fund-raiser?  I personally find [insert my name] SO boring. It took me 20 minutes to shake her so I could eat my burrito. I would rather write the school a check than get cornered by her!”  

OK, first of all, I gave up an evening of MY free time to support the school fund-raiser. Second of all, WTH? She wrote that publicly, to a group of parents. Granted, I’m not personally in the Facebook group, but really? I’m so mad, and I have no idea what to do with my anger. The parent who told me about the obnoxious comment asked me not to let on that I know anything, so I’m just stewing. I normally would tell my principal about an out-of-line parent, but in this case, I worry that it won’t reflect well on me. The comment makes me sound horribly boring and annoying. At the same time, I want my principal to protect me and shut the whole thing down. Honestly, I just want to quit. And give the woman a piece of my mind on my way out the door. Ugh! What now? Thanks. 

 

A: There are two levels of immature behavior here. The first parent’s comment was unnecessary and mean, but the second parent erred by choosing to tell you about it. There was absolutely no reason to spread the toxicity. On top of making you feel bad, she’s wrong to ask you to pretend it never happened. That isn’t fair, and it’s contributing to your sense of powerlessness. So know that you’re under no obligation to keep the incident to yourself. You don’t have to disclose the name of the informant, but if you’d like to ask for support from someone, your hands aren’t tied. The second woman ran that risk when she chose to share the insult with you. 

Whether you confide in a friend or talk to your principal is your choice, but don’t hold back out of fear that it will reflect poorly on you. Your sense of shame is misplaced. The parent who posted the derogatory comment to a group page is the one who should be embarrassed. She’s also foolish and short-sighted. Who publicly trashes their child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year? For what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like anyone engaged. To me, that suggests the other parents are judging her far more than they’re judging you. 

Plus, even if your principal concludes that a parent here or there finds you boring, so what? You’re not teaching the parents. I suspect she’ll help you put the whole thing in perspective. She’s probably heard far worse. She also might offer to intervene if you’d like an assist, or she may have some good ideas to streamline communication. The parents’ Facebook page is inefficient if they have to direct message you all the time with questions. Once you process your feelings and put a plan in place, I think you’ll feel less compelled to give the parent a piece of your mind. And that’s a good thing, because it certainly won’t change hers.   

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Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email contactphyllisfagell@gmail.comAll names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers.

PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; phyllisfagell.com) is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog. She is also the author of Middle School Matters, available at https://bit.ly/2RNXVu3.

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