Note: We are living in “supercharged” times when statements can be exaggerated and accepted as fact. People can speak in unkind ways and it is not only tolerated, but sometimes even applauded. This blog is meant to help ensure that SSDS Bergen remains an oasis; a place where our better selves prevail and our Jewish values are lived. This blog does not suggest that this is a systemic problem, whatsoever. Let’s keep it that way:
In last week’s blog, I wrote about the overuse of the term bullying in schools and how that can be detrimental to promoting the healthy emotional development of our children. This is not meant to deny that bullying happens between children – it sometimes does. That being said, we adults must remember that bullying, social conflict, or mean behavior must be addressed and taken seriously.
There is another kind of bullying that takes place more frequently in schools throughout our country. This bullying is often not addressed and has serious consequences. It is the bullying between adults, and all too often, parents against teachers.
This did not occur frequently at my previous school, and fortunately, it does not happen regularly at SSDS; however, any act of bullying by a parent against another parent or staff member is one too many. Parents who bully are aggressive, intimidating, and often controlling. These parents tend to exhibit the very behaviors they object to in children who are still growing and developing. Because other parents and school officials often do not want to confront their behavior, bullying can continue unabated.
In a society that seems perfectly okay with posting nasty comments on social media, making sweeping accusations and drawing general conclusions without nuance or accurate information, schools and teachers find it more important than ever to rely on our parents to be respectful, honest, and self aware. It requires addressing specific issues, respectfully and calmly, without accusation or generalization.
Psychologists Robert Evans and Michael Thompson wrote about this in an article entitled, “Parents Who Bully the School.” In their article, they identified three types of parent bullies – the Righteous Crusader, the Entitled Intimidator, and the Vicious Gossip.
“The Righteous Crusader is perhaps the most confusing for teachers because she [sic] claims to have identified a moral problem and attacks the school for failing to address it…
“Entitled Intimidators make no bones about what they want: special treatment for their child. They demand that rules be waived, exceptions made, policies upended… The Vicious Gossip has what we psychologists call a character problem, one that plays itself out in continually finding fault with the school or with teachers and broadcasting her complaints, often to a group of vigilantes that she recruits. Sometimes she [sic] has a valid concern and has identified a genuine teacher weakness or administrative failing. It is her [sic] exaggeration of the issue — the relentless, destructive quality of her storytelling to other parents, her [sic] repeated gathering of what Richard Chait, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has called the ‘Volvo caucus in the parking lot’ — that qualifies it as bullying.”
The authors go on to identify parental anxiety, competitiveness, and loneliness as contributing factors to acting as bullies. They also cite other factors such as a rapidly changing world and uncertainty around what kids actually need. All these factors make parents anxious.
Teachers, as a group, tend to be pleasers; they want to see their students succeed, are most comfortable around children, and tend to be conflict-avoiders. “Hence, when confronted with intense criticism and unreasonable demands, they are easily undone. Many teachers — and many former teachers who are now administrators — find themselves repeatedly trying to placate, persuade, convince, and accommodate Righteous Crusaders, Entitled Intimidators, and Vicious Gossips. To no avail.”
Other authors have developed different labels for parents that bully, but these labels actually do not matter. Labels do not solve problems; they identify a problem. Bully parents can do real damage to individual teachers and the school itself. These types of parents — and those always threatening to leave if their demands are not met — more often than not, create, knowingly or unknowingly, an adversarial environment that can make life more difficult and unpleasant for conscientious teachers. It also negatively impacts dedicated and committed parents in a school community, and of course, our children.
We are blessed that SSDS Bergen is a special community. Our school is filled with children, faculty, and staff that strive every day to help realize the school’s mission and to live by the school’s core pillars and values. Like all schools, SSDS Bergen is not perfect and we are all human. Issues and differences arise. Mistakes are sometimes made. And even in an imperfect world, and school, we need to remember that our children continue to thrive at SSDS. The daily acts of Derekh Eretz [treating others with common decency], Yiddishkeit, and the energized classrooms in which our children are actively engaged in learning, truly represent SSDS and our community.
It is crucial that SSDS reflects the sacred Jewish community it sets out to be. This happens when the adults in our community help our children deal positively and in a reasonable, patient manner, with social conflict and the occasional bullying that may take place as part of growing up. It is just as important that parents, faculty, and staff act with respect and dignity, even when issues arise. Children learn more from observing the actions of adults and the tone in which they speak, than from the words being spoken. Raising children is an emotional endeavor; please remember your children’s teachers and the school are on your team. They care deeply and want only the best for your children.
Together we can continue to maintain SSDS as a warm, welcoming and inclusive community for our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as long as we continue to act respectfully, and help our children to learn to do the same. In these times, when respect and tolerance seem to be in short supply, how much more so should we commit to preserving our nurturing, respectful environment, here and now, at our beloved school!