Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

If you'd like to submit a question, please click here and be sure to include your name and home town. Answers to the best questions will be published here.

How Can I Manage parents who are "too helpful?"

Dear Barbara,

I had a parent who was "helping" with a Valentines Party in a first grade class I was subbing in.  This class was rowdy for me, another teacher from next door and the principal, all of us had difficulty getting them to behave. They were better after media specials, and I had threatened to not let them have their party. Except this one parent took it upon herself to take a kid who was mouthing off to her (he was not her own child) and have him sit in front of the class with his back to the class. 

I did take a second when he complained to tell him about the schools of the 1800's and even early 1900s and how the child who was acting up would have to stand in the corner with his back to the class with a cone shaped hat on his or her head that often said "dunce".  I did not feel comfortable enough to do anything during the class to show any discomfort with what the Mom had done.

I had taught in a morning care program as a permanent teacher where my assistant and I started out the year by writing a child's name on the board when misbehaving and we got a complaint from a parent who was a teacher and informed us that that was "too negative". So I was a little uncomfortable with what this Mom did on Valentines Day.

It was my first time subbing in a first grade and for this school, and I have very mixed feelings about how the mother handled it, on one hand this discipline worked on him, but I imagined parents complaining, and too, I was the sub teacher.  I did not say anything about it to the helping mom except I did let her know that I was letting the teacher know what happened.  I am a good sub,  just had a tough time with this class. It was pretty much noise as the main issue. When the principal came back down during the party, I had them all quiet and well behaved, the previously mentioned mother had stepped out for a little while.  A class came from next door to watch a Valentine video and I told them to be good examples and see which class could behave better, and they were actually better than that class.
I talked to my friend who teaches first grade in the district and just said I subbed for a first grade and what school and that the school looked really nice, and I had a class that was overly excited about Valentines Day, she guessed the teacher and let on that she knew this teacher well and had issues with how she always ran her classes and that it was probably not the first time the principal had been down to the room or the other teachers.  Anyway, what do you think of what happened? 
I had felt bad that another teacher had come down and then the principal.  I have been a sub since December. I just purchased your book on Sunday and I can tell already that it is going to be a big help, and also that it is OK to ask for help from teachers and such. I had even felt bad when I had to get help from a janitor to hook up a VCR/ surround sound system that I was unfamiliar with for another class ( All this stuff had to be plugged into the system)!  Thank you so much for writing this book! I am excited for my next assignment and trying what I have learned from your book!

Karen in Ann Arbor

Dear Karen,
Your letter tells me that you are a caring and conscientious teacher. Being a sub is never easy, and it’s clear to me that you walked into a difficult first grade class on a difficult day. Valentines Day tends to be a day of excitement, which begins as soon as the students enter the classroom.

You brought up two different issues.

1. The principal was doing his job that day. It was important that he check up on your class.  Principals know which groups are difficult.  He was probably happy to have a capable sub in that room, and was not surprised that the noise level was high. When he returned during the party, you had quieted them down.  That showed him that you were capable of taming these first graders. It takes a special person to do that! The other teacher that helped you will not be judgmental. She also knows this group.

2. The “helpful” mom was wrong to use a punishment that could potentially humiliate the child.  I can understand your discomfort about getting between the mom and the misbehaving child. However, after a moment or two, you could have released the child back to the group. If the mom questioned you, you can tell her that the class is your responsibility and you felt her punishment was not appropriate for a first grader, according to school policy, but thank her for help anyway. It’s best to handle these issues by being professional, and not confrontational.

Each day of subbing is a learning experience.  The next one will be easier!

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