Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Parental phone calls: The new normal?

So, teaching assistants, instructors, professors, parents of blogger and twitter, what say you on this topic?

My colleagues and I have noticed that especially recently, parental phone calls are more numerous than ever.  What's more, parents often call without the knowledge of their students.  Why?  I just can't fathom this.  It doesn't do any good, of course. What is the point?

The first phone call I received from a parent was back in 2011.  It was the Spring semester and I was the only TA for a course on American civil liberties.  I had to grade a TON of papers and tests for 75 students.  It was a harrowing semester to say the least but it was the first time I actually dug into dealing with students one-on-one to improve their writing which was actually really satisfying.

My office phone rings and I look over at it.  Who the hell is calling?  During this time, I worked in a dark, dank office in the attic of what USED to be the psych ward of the university hospital.  I have no windows and asbestos tile on all things.  The phone ringing for the first time in EVER was creepy as all get out.  It seemed like the start of a bad horror movie, but I picked it up.  On the other end was an irate parent who kept calling me "professor" when I kept correcting her.  She was calling in regards to a student who had a good grade in the class but she insisted the grade for the student should have been higher.  I told her that I couldn't discuss any specifics but then she said "SHE KNOWS THINGS! HER FATHER IS A DIPLOMAT!"  Uh, okay?  She clearly didn't understand political science subfields at all but more than that, lady was calling without the knowledge of her kid.  I found this out a day later when I talked to her student in class.  I asked the student if she wanted to discuss things.  She was confused.  I explained the conversation and then the student got red in the face.  I found out that she was mortified.  Her mother had called because of her own personal insecurities about the child's grades.  The student was happy with her grade.

The student told me, "I didn't work hard enough to earn an A.  That's it.  I'm not complaining" or something to that regard.  She took her "lumps" as minor as they were and moved on.  Mom couldn't cut the cord.

This year has been something else.  Parents have been emailing myself, the professor, and then calling everyone in the teaching staff for this large section.  We can't discuss grade specifics, of course, but today, crazy went to a whole 'nother level.

The situation was similar to that of the above one with one difference: I am now in an office in a building with carpet, no lead paint, and a WINDOW!  I'm not in a basement either (that was last year).  Small victories, eh?  However, due to it being an old building and our powerstrips being limited, someone must have unplugged our office phone because, I mean, who calls it?  Well, a parent wanted to.  Said parent was spamming the phone downstairs and the administrative assistant emailed me.  I called on my cell because the cordless phone had a now-dead battery.  Stupid mistake.  I will now fear FOR DAYS her calling my cell interminably.

So, I call her back to stop her from harassing our office staff.  She gets all huffy, won't tell me her name, her student's name, etc.  She kept saying "I know my rights" and talking over me.  She finally gave me her information and the student's and I again told her I couldn't speak about grades and that we would be happy to assist her student.  I then asked her the one question I always ask now: "Does your student know you are calling?"

The answer was, of course, no.  It more often than not is.  Kids are usually MORTIFIED when they find out that their parents are calling.  I would be, too.

The call ended with no progress being made for her.  All she did was yell at me, insult my Chicago accent, tell me I spoke "incoherently" because of it, and then call me lazy.  Even if I COULD help, I wouldn't have.  Rule number one of getting what you want: don't insult the only person who can help you!

But why do parents call, then?  If it doesn't work?  If they know that we can't give them this information?

I know it's not a completely new phenomenon because when I was in school, there were definitely parents that felt the need to intervene - usually by requesting access to grades on OneStart, the grade, registration, and financial system my undergrad used.  They never had access to online course materials, raw grades, etc.  Just final grades.  And my parents felt that THIS was an imposition into my life.  They didn't ask me to sign the waiver to let them have access and I was always getting good grades.  Even if I hadn't, they figured I would tell them.  It's worked out similarly with my sister who is just now finishing up her undergrad at the same school.

However, today, this parent confessed to me that they have the password for Blackboard, Facebook, and university email accounts for this student.  The university actually forbids parents and others from accessing Blackboard and university email for fear of academic dishonesty and privacy.  When I informed her she was violating FERPA and university policy, she basically just wondered how she could monitor the every move of her kid without it!

The parents my prof and I have dealt with this semester have all been similarly minded - go behind a student's back and demand a grade change at all costs.  When that doesn't work, just insult the living daylights out of whatever human being you are speaking to.

Why?  Is this a new trend?  Is it going to stay this way or do we just have a fluke of a section of this class?


Shan said...

I definitely understand this plight. I'm in a shared office and we all taught our own classes (instructor of record). I actually had a parent call, basically ordering me to give an override to her son into ANOTHER instructor's class. I'm amazed at the level of entitlement and expectation.

My other favorite is when I get called and yelled at for not knowing the schedule of the 14 people I shared an office with and knowing when they would be available.

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