Kids Motherhood

Teacher Responds To Viral “Parents Are The Problem” Letter

Written by Jamie Sumner

I have picked up students walking a half mile in the rain to get to school from the public bus stop. Re-zoning had decided they lived (literally) on the wrong side of the tracks for the school bus. I have also seen a parking lot decked out like Nutcracker’s Christmas with giant-sized bows on shiny new cars for sixteenth birthdays while I parked out back with the rest of the teachers in our beat-up vans and 90s sedans. I have driven over an hour each way to teach homeschool students in a tiny Sunday school classroom repurposed for tutorials, Bibles and felt boards pushed to the side.

I have taught public and private and homeschool and one-on-one. I have had students with learning disabilities who pulled Ds to As with diligence and learning services. I have had geniuses (actual IQs disclosed with pride) who failed my class due to lack of interest and motivation and foresight. I have had parents ignore my emails for 8 months out of 9 until final exams and letters with the principal’s signature brought them running. I have also had parents with my phone on speed dial and parents who pulled me aside in shiny suits to suggest that I look back through the grades and try to see how, “we can’t find him that A.” I’ve see the gamut.

So, when I read one teacher’s letter to the editor, “Parents are the Problem,” I caught myself nodding in agreement to much of it. Yes, parents are more willing to complain than participate much of the time or buy new clothes over new school supplies. Yes, teachers always take the first hit when it comes to school reform. They are on the front lines. It is only natural. They are the infantry, in it up to their necks in bureaucratic nonsense to rival Lewis Carroll. 

And yet, she lost me with this line: “When you look at these factors, you will see that it is not schools who are failing but the parents.” To call a parent a failure is to give up hope. And teaching, if nothing else, is a hopeful endeavor. You measure and weigh the skill sets in those first few weeks in September when school spirit is well-rested, if not abundant. And then you gradually increase the pressure, the reps, the weighted expectations, adjusting as need be for each participant. And come spring, you look over your team and see how far they’ve come, how much intellectual stamina you’ve helped them build. You’re not looking for Olympic medalists here. You’d be happy with shorter mile times. That’s just it. You can’t plod through a year without believing in what you do. They’ll sniff you out, parents and students alike.


We’ve all had that teacher. You know the one. The one who looked disappointed in you and bored before the class had even begun. The one whose sarcasm or apathy made you walk slower to class and pack up five minutes before the bell. The one whose tests and essays you tossed in the trash on your way out the door, because what was the point when they didn’t care either? Hope is a skill set too.

Maybe parents aren’t pulling their weight. Maybe teachers and students and the school system aren’t either. But we’re never going to get there if we don’t think we can. Criticizing the school system in big generic phrases, “The teachers are not the problem! The parents are the problem!” is like trying to fix a pocket watch with a mallet. You can’t smash your way through it. If you want to re-work the system, you have to proceed slowly…with finesse, patience, and positivism. To do anything less is to lose hope and that’s the true failure.


About the author

Jamie Sumner

Jamie Sumner is the author of the book, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood. She is mom to a son with cerebral palsy and twins. She has written for The Washington Post,   Scary MommyParenting Special Needs Magazine and other publications. She can be found on her website, The Mom Gene, on Facebook, Twitter @mom_gene and Instagram @themomgene. She and her husband live with their kids in Nashville, Tennessee She is mom to a son with cerebral palsy and twins. 

1 Comment

  • I agree with both articles. However, as a current teacher, I am believing that the parents have MORE say-so than anyone. I believe in education. I am from a family of 11 kids, with four different fathers where my mother was an alcoholic in Detroit. All her kids finished high school and at least 7 have college degrees. She did not play when it came to school. I wanted to be a teacher since a child but was told I did not need to go to college. I ended up going into the military, but over a period of time, I received four degrees including a PhD in Education.

    I have Special Ed credentials and in the second largest school district in the U.S. I found the job to be harder than it should have been. Most of my students from elementary to high school were at least four grade levels behind. In elementary, the students did their homework but by the time they reached middle school, they did not seem to care. Parents did not have answers and tried to reward kids with material items which usually did not work. In high school, it was a little better, but only seeing most students for less than an hour per day per class, you can try your best, even if students in 9th grade read at the first grade level.

    Often when students have Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and fight for extra hours through advocacy to teach their offspring, the student nor parents want to sacrifice as this activity usually occurs after school or on weekends. The teacher sets appointments but most parents appear to be angry and do not work fully with the assigned teacher, who is contracted by an outside agency. Older students claim they do not need the extra help. Other parents make excuses for not having a proper place for the lessons to take place. I had one student who was making good progress but his caregiver felt that I should spend part of the assigned study time listening to her complaints. She finally claimed that the problem was between she and I. So whose education was at stake, I ask? Others cancel appointments and it appears that the help is not valued. All this I say based on my own current personal experiences.

    Of course, the administration at individual schools also play a part. I have always had to pay for materials out of pocket. (intermittently 1997-2017). I wonder how can students get free lunches based on income, wear $150 shoes, go to Sylvan learning center?

    I have been enthused my entire life based on my childhood experiences but I say a teacher should not be expected to be “everything” to “everyone.”