When students misbehave

It’s not hard to imagine this scenario: A student acts out in class – it could be hitting another student, disrupting lessons or taking something.

The teacher reaches out to the child’s parents, who can react in a couple of ways.

There’s the parent who denies that their child did anything wrong and demands to know why the school is picking on their kid.

There’s the parent who is skeptical of their child’s involvement but agrees to speak with him or her.

And there’s the parent who readily admits their kid did something wrong and basically turns in the child.

Which situation is more likely to occur?

How should parents and schools handle situations when they know a child has done something wrong?

NOTE: A colleague is working on a story about these types of situations. If you’d like to participate in the story please email: jgumbrecht@ajc.com

32 comments Add your comment


April 29th, 2009
9:08 am

As a teacher of many years and in different schools and school systems, I can honestly say that it is really a mixed bag. One cannot tell from any aspect how parents will react. Race/ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, religon, whatever….. parents are individuals and will react on their own.

The only real “trend” that I have seen is that foreign born students/parents will respect teachers and value education much more than our own. And, that is a shame in my opinion.

Now, over the years, I have also notice that American parents and students have been declining in their general respect to teachers, to administrators, and to authority in general. This is a social trend – and not one that I like.


April 29th, 2009
9:34 am

Depends on the parents and how well they know their child — probably a little of all three scenarios. One one hand, you want to show your child that you trust and believe in them. On the other hand, kids will say/do anything, sometimes, to avoid consequences. People will surprise you. One of the reasons my mom realized it was time to retire was a conference with the father (mom had run off years ago) of an obstreperous child. All teachers were present for the conference. Father listens to descriptions of incidents, and then shrugs and says, “What do you want ME to do about it? If you can’t control him at school, that’s your problem, not mine.” — at that point, Mom realized that it was only downhill from there.

I’m still shaking my head, five years later, over a good friend of mine. She is kind, generous and loving — but she has a blind spot a mile wide when it comes to her daughter. Our daughters are good friends, but my daughter has learned not to believe a word that her friend says, because she is more likely to lie than not. Every week, my daughter has another tidbit of this girl’s latest fib. She got caught in a big one at school about five years ago, and my friend went ballistic, claiming that this particular teacher never liked her child, and that they had just misunderstood, and they had it “in” for her. There’s no reasoning with her on this subject. A recent fib involved the girl lying about having mono. I called the mom to commiserate, and she said, “Oh, no, she doesn’t have mono, the doctor was very clear on that.” I was surprised, and blurted out, “But I overheard her when I helping with (a class project), she told everyone she has mono!” The mom actually told me that I needed my hearing checked! Maybe she’ll figure it out one of these years — or maybe she’ll go her whole life believing her angel can do no wrong. *shrug*

Just wondering

April 29th, 2009
10:09 am

How is this for an answer? It depends on the parents and the situation. We have such a diverse culture in our school anything can happen. You did however, forget to mention the parent who ignores the request for a confernce and just pretends nothing happende.


April 29th, 2009
11:11 am

There is really no wonder why parents (and public) has less respect for teachers when so-called teachers make ignorant and idiotic comments, is there?

V for Vendetta

April 29th, 2009
11:17 am

To whom are you speaking, Reality 2?

My rather simple take on the matter: If school disciplined students consistently and fairly then it wouldn’t be a problem. Because of inconsistencies and inappropriate punishments, schools cannot be regarded as impartial arbiters of discipline. If they were then the parents’ arguments would be irrelevant. However, because so many schools cast doubt on themselves by being weak or unfair, the end result is an endless and infuriating case of he said/she said–if that makes any sense.

AP Teacher

April 29th, 2009
11:36 am

I’ve had situations in all of the categories you’ve described. Ultimately, when the parent is an enabler, and thinks that the world is out to get his/her child, we will see his/her picture on gwinnettmugs.com!

Unless and until

April 29th, 2009
12:03 pm

Unless and until we restore the authority of teachers to maintain discipline, we will continue to have disasterous results in public education. Unless and until we address this, EVERY other issue is merely rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

It really IS that fundamental.


April 29th, 2009
1:20 pm

Let all the hating begin now. The disruptive kids usually make up about 10% of the school population, but 90% of the teacher’s time is spent on them. I have seen behavior problems that cross economic, social, and racial boundries. One is no better than the rest, but the parents that simply make excuses are the ones that make me the angriest. I have a student this year that uses the race card EVERY chance she gets and the parents have already sued the district several times because we “pick” on her. I have another kid who is a walking time bomb. I hate to stereotype, but if there’s a blue print for a serial killer, this kid is it. He hates the women teachers on my team and he is very aggressive with them. They are in constant fear of this kid. His father is an angry man and considers the kid’s teachers just wastes of time. That attitude has been successfuly passed on to his kid. Ultimately, the responsibility lays with the parents as it always does and always should. When schools started to take the responsiblities away from the parents for everything from feeding to washing, some parents gladly abdicated that responsiblity and gave up the discipline as well. Our schools suck as a result.

jim d

April 29th, 2009
1:22 pm

This is a two edged sword, that cuts both ways.

Not only will SOME children stretch the truth but with all of the pressure on teachers to provide results in the form of some bogus test in order to maintain employment, SOME teachers have been known to stretch the truth a bit as well.

So, what is the answer? Since granting teachers autonomous authority in the classroom isn’t likely to ever happen again.

Harper's Mama

April 29th, 2009
2:12 pm

I think that the onus is on the parent and on the school to produce (for lack of a better word)students of substance. The parents lay the groundwork and maintain the responsibility of holding their children accountable for their actions. The school should also consistently hold the students responsible for thier behavior, and, in turn, the parents should be backing the schools’ decisions. Every school has a code of conduct and a discipline cycle for behavioral infractions. All it needs to do is follow it. I do think that it is a partnership between the school and the home, where each party is responsible for the child and the child’s wellbeing.

Lisa B.

April 29th, 2009
2:25 pm

We are in the process of extending our Response to Invention (RTI) to include behavior. Perhaps that will solve all our problems :-)

Teacher, Too

April 29th, 2009
2:28 pm

I agree with Unless and Until. This is a societal problem. Kids emulate their parents and what they see on tv. The disrespect towards authority is appalling. Today, a student was walking down the hallway eating a poptart (this is not even an hour after lunch). She wouldn’t throw it away when asked because she was hungry and kept on walking. Huh? A teacher asked another student a question, and the child put her hand out (as if to say, get out of my face) and kept walking.

Just look around you to see the erosion of common decency and respect. Girls come to (my) school looking like they should be dancing (and not at the prom) and boys come to school with clothes so enormous they can’t even walk properly. They come with an attitude the size of Texas and then “dis” you if you don’t show them respect?

Parents aren’t much better. For each parent who do instill a sense of discipline in his/her child, there seem to be two parents who don’t. I have had a many parents this year who have believe everything their children say. No matter what. You could videotape their children and still those parents would deny any wrong-doing.

Just look at that young lady who killed those people on Easter Sunday. It’s been reported that her mother helped her cover-up her accident. Where is the accountability?

Yet we expect teachers to be able to discipline this population of kids (regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.).


April 29th, 2009
3:04 pm

Interesting question. I myself have two children – one involuntarily honest (IH), the other a facile liar (FL). IH always gets high marks for conduct, while FL has occasionally had conduct issues which we have dealt with.

If FL’s teacher and FL disagreed on the facts of a situation, I would choose the teacher’s version of events all day, every day, and twice on Sunday.

If IH and IH’s teacher presented me with contradictory information (this has never happened), I would be hard-pressed to support the teacher.

Same parent, two potentially different responses due to inherently different kids.

jim d

April 29th, 2009
4:09 pm

Ms. B,

DREAM ON sweetheart!


April 29th, 2009
5:18 pm

Teacher, Too, were the two student you mention referred to the office, and if so, what happened?


April 29th, 2009
5:34 pm

My experience: in the last 15 years less and less support from the parents on discipline issues. Some won’t answer the phone or even respond to a registered letter. Except for the Latino parents who overwhelmingly (at my school) support me. I have had 2 parents who did not out of about 400 students, few of whom have given me any trouble anyway. We have no black kids so I cannot comment about that. Our school is a Title 1 school, and serves low-middle and low income students primarily.

A few years ago I had a white 5th grader whose mother told me that I was prejudiced against her (little monster) son. In fact, she related, EVERY YEAR since kindergarten his teachers had been against him! I said, TIC, “What rotten luck he has with teachers” and it went right over her head. Apparently the police are prejudiced against him to–he has been in trouble since he was about 14.


April 29th, 2009
6:07 pm

Caution: Omnivorus blog monster eating entries.


April 29th, 2009
8:55 pm

The blog monster has still not coughed up the entry I wrote about 6 pm.

Political Spectator

April 29th, 2009
9:41 pm

I challenge teachers to talk about the positive aspects of their job!!!! Teachers wonder why the respect for the job is declining but if you think about it very few teachers are true ambassadors of their profession. Try this teachers, when a person starts a conversation with you and say, “I feel sorry for you, or I would not want your job”, follow up with something positive about the profession i.e ” I love the profession of education or every job has some good and bad, thank goodness mine have more good than bad”.

Lets face it, students outnumber the staff at any school. If a majority of students were misbehaving in an out of control manner, schools would not be able to function. The truth is only a small percentage of students in a school are out of control. Guess what, a small percentage of teachers in a school are out of control; a small percentage of society is out of control.

Instead of lumping what is a normal developmental stage for the average student in with what is abnormal behavior for the small percentage of troubled students, lets disinguish the two and have a productive conversation with parents about their kid’s behavior. I think this one act will go along way with regards to discipline in schools.

Mr. T

April 29th, 2009
10:35 pm

As a middle school teacher, I have NEVER had a bad experience with a parent when telling them that their student misbehaved in my classroom. I think a lot of it has to do with the approach I take. You have to understand that, in many cases, you are giving the parent news that will ruin their day, and be delicate. I am not suggesting that a teacher gloss over the truth, but rather explain the full context of the situation, including any factors that explain why the student acted with poor judgement. Be clear that including such factors does not excuse the behavior, but encourage the parent to help the student make better decisions in the future.

Let's ask Political Spectator

April 29th, 2009
11:48 pm

Political Spectator, it is indeed a small percentage of students who are chronically disruptive, but they are allowed to have a disproportionate influence, because school systems, as a general rule will not enforce consequences.

To put it in terms more personal to you, since you don’t appear to be a teacher, what percentage of neighbors would you find it acceptable to verbally and physically abuse you and your family, while completely and totally disregarding the rules of civilized society that most take for granted in your neighborhood, only to have the police give you a citation that says their behavior is actually your fault because you didn’t manage them better?

If you will honestly think about that question, you will have an idea of what many teachers go through on a daily basis.

Gwinnett Educator

April 30th, 2009
6:54 am

The logic behind..”the teachers/school are picking on my child” kills me. I honestly wonder do some parents believe that teachers and sometimes adminstrators have a meeting at the start of a child’s school career and collectively agree on NOT liking that child and that we will make sure that they are harassed everyday they are in that school? I do not have the time to devote to such. However, if you are hearing the same things from each teacher that your child has had, maybe there is some truth to it.

Im dealing with such a parent this year. It is never and I mean NEVER her child’s fault. It’s the class. It’s the other boys. It’s something he heard on the playground. NAME IT! She knows this because they are ‘religious’ and she prays over her child.

I do agree that this crosses all lines (socio, racial, etc). I view it as society today and more people are suffering from the case of MACDNW (my angel can do no wrong)

jim d

April 30th, 2009
7:30 am

Gwinnett Ed.

I know for a fact that teachers within your system do talk.

Is this a bad thing to make one aware of a potential problem student? I don’t think so. I do however believe that it may have an impact on how a teacher may approach a child on given issues and may cause a dislike before ever really having an opportunity to evaluate the child objectively. (y’all are human)

Not a teacher?

April 30th, 2009
12:34 pm

This argument about “if you aren’t teacher, just shut up!” is another way teachers lose their respects.

Just a teacher

April 30th, 2009
5:01 pm

If a student ever tells me that the reason he / she got in trouble in my classroom is because I didn’t him / her, I respond by saying “That has nothing to do with this.” It doesn’t matter if I like a student or not. What matters is that he or she learns the material presented in class. A child has the right not to learn, but doesn’t have the right to interfere with another child’s education. If you wish to remain ignorant throughout your life, go ahead. Just sit quietly in class as your peers pass you by and leave you behind. The funny thing is that once kids understand they are only hurting themselves, they usually decide to try and learn the material. If Mom and Dad won’t back me up when I do have a discipline problem, their child will end up paying the price by appropriate disciplinary measures. Again, put it on the kid. It’s his / her life, not the parents’.


April 30th, 2009
6:26 pm

A few random thoughts:

The generation who chanted “Question Authority” as teenagers are now the parents and grandparents of today’s students.

We are bombarded daily with stories of people in a position of public trust (priests, police, teachers, politicians, et al) who misuse their authority. Little wonder that the general population exhibits a certain degree of skepticism when dealing with these folks – especially when the most important thing in most of our lives, our children, are concerned.

The schools do themselves no favors when they hire and retain incompetents. There is one principal in particular who I would not trust as far as I could throw him. If I ever were to have had the misfortune of dealing with him that concerned one of my kids, I would tend to believe my children over him. Sad, but true.

Bottom line, there have always been not worth a crap parents, not worth a crap teachers, not worth a crap administrators, and not worth a crap students. Great fun when the planets align and they all come together.

Teachers, too

April 30th, 2009
10:36 pm


You said, “The generation who chanted “Question Authority” as teenagers are now the parents and grandparents of today’s students.” But don’t forget many of those teenagers are now teachers, too. Of course, now they no one to question their authority…


April 30th, 2009
11:00 pm

Swift, objective, impartial and just – and to be notified in a timely manner. As a parent that’s all I ask. My kids are not perfect. Don’t try to handle a problem for a period of time without letting me know and then blow up. Don’t think my kid would come home and willingly tell me there’s a problem at school. You’ll get a reaction when I hear about a situation with my child from the parents of classmates – and you won’t especially like my attitude, guaranteed. Nobody cares for surprises – especially the parent who tries to keep informed.


May 2nd, 2009
5:33 pm

Not a teacher….as an educator, we should never tell folks that if they are not a teacher…..just shut up.
BUT seasoned teachers HAVE seen things most others have not. Those who are parents, will roll their eyes at those who are not and seem to spew ideas about parenthood….like they know what they are talking about. Of course, non parents have no idea the pain and exhaustion it takes to be a parent. Just like non teachers have not SEEN IT ALL when it comes to a broad spectrum of children and the ridiculousness of some scenarios with their parents.

Those in rural areas have mentioned ( to me) how bad can the traffic actually be in Atlanta?
Well, it is worse than your worst nightmare on a day when your two lane road is backed up because the Lions Club is having a pancake supper on Saturday morning ( yes, I was in this procession).
They simply cannot fathom it….nor can those who have not been inside the school….like teachers.


May 3rd, 2009
8:53 pm

On reactions from parents, one of my personal favs is the parent who will redirect the blame back to the teacher! Especially, when the parent responds, “Why wasn’t I notified about this before now???”, even if its a minor problem that happened that very day.
Teachers are on a rigorous schedule with limited access to business phones. Also, we sometimes like to conference with a student and give him/her an opportunity to self-correct behavior. I happily call home when a positive/negative need arises, but some parents want to identify the “communication” as the problem, instead of the problem behavior of their child.


July 19th, 2009
3:09 pm

The outcomes or reactions from parents may differ, however, the approch the teacher takes should always be the same. Always notify the parent if the teacher has already tried to resovle the issue with he student and there has been no positive outcome

NOT a Teacher.

October 21st, 2009
4:00 pm

Okay I’m not a teacher but I’ve known and met a lot of teachers.

Yes there are parents that will not back up teachers. As a general rule, that really stinks.

But from a parent perspective:

1. I’ve had teachers lie about my kid, and I’ve had other teachers and students who actually witnessed the events in question who backed up my kids story. Turned out the teacher who accused him was no where near the incident and was worried about getting in trouble for not watching the kids like she was supposed to be doing.

2. I’ve been a visitor/helper in classrooms where I knew no one but the teacher. I’ve seen the “angels” just as misbehaving as the “trouble” students. The biggest difference between most of these kids were the angels knew how to be sneaky about it. I’ve even had to tell surprised teachers that their “angels” were stealing things from other kids and planting the items on the “trouble” kids as a mean joke. Without the extra set of impartial eyes, the teacher wouldn’t have known.

3. Students who are treated as “trouble” students are sometimes “outcast” by their classmates because the way they see the teachers treat the student. Often this makes the other students pick on the student when the teacher is not aware until the other student reaches the limit. This creates a bad cycle. Also the teachers as impartial as they try to remain sometimes do peg certain students as “trouble”. As a visitor in my son’s classroom I have seen the same kids called down every day for doing the same thing in the same manner as other kids who never get called down. (My son was in neither of these groups when I was there— probably because he didnt want to misbehave in front of me. :P ) It is curious that teachers can hear the same 2 kids say “Shut up” every day but never the other 3 kids.

Some kids FEEL like they’re being treated unfairly. But some kids really ARE being treated unfairly.