Parents Behaving Badly

Keyboard warriors, leave those teachers alone

It’s friday night, and darling Stephanie has stomped in home from school—nanny in tow.
“Yes, darling.”
“Mrs. X did…”
You don’t hear the rest of it. It doesn’t matter. You’re one glass of wine down already—hey, it’s Friday—and the iPad is on the table, looking at you lingeringly. Pick me up, it taunts. Go on—you know you want to… Sod it, you think. I do want to. I’m allowed to—it’s my kid and I’m paying for it. So you bash out an angry email to Mrs. X telling her exactly what you think of her. You sign off, “I shall expect to hear from you first thing tomorrow morning.” You delete the “or I’m pulling Stephanie out of school and then write it back in. It’ll be fine.

We’ve all done it: fired off an email after a glass of wine or two, not thinking of the consequences. Of course, a parent-to-teacher communication is not the only scenario in which this kind of behavior goes on. Whatever industry you’re in, whoever it is you need to be annoyed with in that split second, the invention of email has created an environment for passive aggression that can so easily go awry.

But according to member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), helicopter parents are increasingly inflicting grievances on their children’s independent school teachers via email. These missives range from “WHY HASN’T SALLY BEEN MADE A GOALIE???” to “HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE JOHNNY OF SKIPPING GAMES!” with everything in between. Teachers tell of having their bosses copied in—heads of year, head teachers, heads of houses—and some of other parents being added to the conversation to stir up a gang. Some teachers have described these emails as akin to road rage—taken out on whoever happens to be in the way at the time, projecting their own stressful lives onto the teacher. The teacher is often an innocent bystander, and always the one tasked with putting up with the horror-child in question. And skiving games is just not on.

The recent summer holidays presented another sort of crisis. You’re glad they’re over because not only has Cynthia now gone back to school but you can get your educational woes answered again on demand. School holidays are hell for badly behaved parents, because teachers—rightly—won’t respond to emails while they’re not being paid to. Of course, the problem, whatever shape it may take, hasn’t gone away in the meantime.


Guidance in these areas depends to a degree on your child’s school. A housemaster or housemistress at a boarding school may well have a different schedule to your Year 4 math teacher. But whatever the age of your child, parents, your pain is felt. You work full-time so after dinner, with kids’ bedtime and other assorted chores completed, 9pm (or, let’s be honest, later) is the only time at which you are able to pick up any personal jobs. And, you might add, trying to get hold of Mrs. X is difficult; during school hours she’s doing the teaching that you’re working so hard to pay for.

But that ‘pay for’ bit doesn’t mean you can send angry, snappy emails just because something hasn’t gone your way. If you feel there’s been an actual miscarriage of justice, then fine—email. Politely. Which we’re sure you’d do anyway, but just for the avoidance of doubt, the answer, as with everything, lies in good manners. Most people are grown-up enough to understand that the time you send the email doesn’t necessarily dictate what time you’ll be expecting a response. No one is so cross about a lost football match that they want a reply immediately, and anyway, not everyone checks their work emails out of office hours. Quite rightly. You just wish you could stop yourself.

So, the rules for communicating with your child’s actually quite wonderful and not at all mean or Miss Trunchbull-like teachers? Be kind. Don’t drink and type. Be realistic about how quickly you expect a response. One to two working days is probably fine, unless it’s really urgent, if you send an email on a Friday night, you’re looking at Tuesday. Don’t be too keen. Consider your child. No, it’s not fair for the teacher at the end of your irritation to penalize your child for their overbearing circling-like-a-helicopter parents, but it’s only natural that they might feel a little resentful if you’ve been a total nightmare. We’re not saying any teacher would take action to that effect, but it’s probably best to play it safe, eh?

Equally, play the long game and pick your battles wisely. Complaining about prefect selection probably isn’t the most important thing in the world. For senior school parents, come GCSE and A-Level results you want a good relationship with your child’s teacher. For prep schoolers, your time is only just beginning. If you were in a restaurant, you wouldn’t complain during the starter, in case the waiter spat in your pudding. As one teacher put it, school lasts at lot longer than one bad dinner. You don’t want to become that parent.

If you’re feeling on the edge, step away from the iPad. You know it’s the right thing to do. Whatever it is can wait until tomorrow morning.

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