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Parents and teachers should read Suzanne Capek Tingley’s "How to Handle Difficult Parents: A Teacher’s Survival Guide"

“I wish you’d write a book for teachers, John,” a teacher recently said.

“What sort of book?” I asked

“A book on how to deal with parents who expect too much of teachers and too little of their children, parents who hover, parents who can’t accept that their children aren’t perfect, parents who blame you for their children’s discipline problems, parents who....”

“I get the picture,” I interrupted. “Lots of teachers have made that same request, but really, I’m not the person to write that book.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I’ve never been a classroom teacher, except of adults,” I replied, “and I resolved many years ago that I would not attempt to tackle issues I’ve never experienced personally. A teacher should write that book.”

And now one has. Just last week, I said I did not often review books and then gave a recommendation for David Elkind’s newest, The Power of Play (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2006). And then another book arrived that is so unique and needed, obviously, that I feel compelled to break with personal policy once again.

Suzanne Capek Tingley’s How to Handle Difficult Parents: A Teacher’s Survival Guide (Cottonwood Press, 2006) is an eminently readable, funny, practical book on how to deal with parents who expect too much of teachers and too little of their children, parents who hover, parents who can’t accept that their children aren’t perfect, parents who blame teachers for their children’s discipline problems.... I’m sure you get the picture.

Tingley’s bona fides include that she has been a teacher and a principal and is now a school superintendent. She also teaches education administration at the State University of New York and has been a New York Outstanding School Administrator. On the flip side of the coin, she and her husband have two daughters. Need I say more?

Fifty years ago, when a teacher called home to report a problem with a child’s behavior or performance, the parent (usually a mother) accepted the report without reluctance and the child (usually a boy) was punished when he arrived home. In most cases, he was not even allowed to come forth with his side of the story (usually a cleverly crafted lie). All too often, when today’s parents receive similar phone calls, they become their children’s advocates and attorneys. They deny, defend, and frequently toss the hot potato of blame back at the teacher, who then risks finding herself being raked over the coals by an administrator who wants nothing more than peace in the valley. The problem is driving good people out of the profession, in fact, as attested to by many ex-teachers with whom I have spoken.

Take heart, teachers! Tingley’s table of contents makes one want to read on. How can one resist wanting to find out who “Pinochio’s Mom” is? Or “The Stealth Zapper”? Or “Ms. ‘Quit Picking on My Kid’”? Each of Tingley’s characters will be intimately familiar to all but a teacher who’s in September of her first year, but the truly wonderful thing about this book is that Tingley provides teachers with the words to say to meddling, overprotective, defensive, blaming parents—words that will not only disarm but hopefully turn potential enemies into allies.

In fact, I think Tingley’s book should be required reading for parents. It would give even those who do not meddle, overprotect, defend, and so on appreciation for what their children’s teachers have to deal with at times. But what a great thing it would be if Pinochio’s Mom and the Stealth Zapper could for once see themselves in action. Come to think of it, they’d probably read Tingley’s descriptions and think she was talking about someone else. That’s the problem, after all.

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