Advice · Family · Work

Confronting a Colleague (At Your Child’s School)

There is a girl in my daughter’s 1st class, let’s call her Jane. We’ve had some issues with Jane making other kids feel less than. She puts them on ‘good lists’ and ‘bad lists.’ She calls out other’s flaws like speech impediments and slowing running. There are often tears. She is a bully. None of the kids like her, but at the same time, crave her approval.

Jane’s mom, let’s call her Betty, works in the school as an aid. Every day Jane brings some kids with her to have lunch in Betty’s office. This often makes the kids who she does not choose feel terrible. Jane does not go in any order. She chooses whoever is on her ‘good list’ that day. This should not be allowed. A child should not be given this power or any special privilege because their parent works in the school! This has been addressed with Betty, but she thinks it is fine to have Jane and her friends for lunch.

Yesterday was Jane’s birthday. She invited her good listers to her mom’s office where they enjoyed cupcakes. All of the good listers gloated when they got back to class, making the others feel even worse. My daughter’s school has a firm ‘no sweets for birthdays’ policy. Double special privilege for Jane.

The issue here is Betty. I am the classroom parent, so these issues often land on me. How do I confront Betty about her shitty parenting without being an asshole? I have no issue involving the principal but think I need to talk to Betty first? Or, since the school year is almost over, do I leave it alone and hope they aren’t in the same class again? Ugh.

First, my standard caveat on these types of questions: I am not a parent. If other parents have dealt with similar situations, please feel free to offer your thoughts in the comments!

I use internal tags on the questions I get before I create an official title for the post. This one is “Petty Betty” because

 

I cannot stand this woman.

I completely understand the urge to just leave it alone since the school year is almost over, but I think that bringing it up now can help. It might not fix the entire situation (you can’t control what other people do), but at least you will know that you’ve tried to make things right. Plus, even if it makes things SUPER awkward, you only have another few weeks to get through before summer!

To me, Betty sounds like a brat who is well on her way to raising a brat. (Am I allowed to call other kids brats? Eh, don’t care, bullies are brats in my book, and Jane is a full-on mean girl in the making). She’s enabling crappy behavior in her own child that’s affecting other kids in the school, and she’s doing it all as an employee. Gross.

However, because she IS a school employee, think about this not as you confronting Betty about her shitty parenting;* think about this as you confronting Betty about her shitty rule-breaking! Related, but different, and more easily to address initially.

The school has the “no birthday sweets” rule for a reason, and as a school employee, Betty should know that. She should also know that breaking the rules is setting a shit example. Not for her kid (I’m going to assume this isn’t the only shitty example she’s setting for Jane), but for the other students at the school. She’s showing those students — including your daughter — that the rules don’t apply to you if you know someone at the top.

The direct approach here would be to say “Hey Betty, I completely understand the desire to have special sweets for birthday treats (I’d love to bring in cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday), but I’m concerned that you broke the rule about no sweets at school. That sends a message to the kids that it’s okay to break the rules on special occasions, and I don’t think the school is comfortable with its staff setting that example.”

The key here is you’re talking to her about how she’s fucking up as a school employee and adult role-model to students, not how she’s choosing to parent her daughter.

Betty may not be used to people being straightforward with her, so she might play it off as no big deal. Or she might tell you to mind your own business. She might decide to be rude to you, or lie directly to your face. Be prepared that she’s probably not just going to say “You’re right, I screwed up, won’t happen again.”

If that approach seems too fraught, try a less confrontational opening. “Hey Betty, I heard you gave Jane and some of her friends birthday sweets in your office last week. I’m assuming I heard wrong because I know you know the school rules and wouldn’t break them, especially a rule that is there for their health and safety. Any idea where the kids got that idea?”

Yes, that’s a bit passive-aggressive, but you’re at a primary school, so my preferred approach of just walking into Betty’s office and saying “Dude, what the hell?!” isn’t going to fly. The benefit of this option is that it allows Betty some space to sort of back-track a little, maybe come up with some excuse, but she’ll also realize that people are watching her and she might be getting into trouble.

Regardless of how it goes with Betty, I think that as a school volunteer who is witnessing unfair treatment, you can go to the principal about the bigger issue of Betty enabling Jane’s bullying. I’d strongly recommend having your meeting with the principal scheduled for as close to immediately after you meet with Betty as possible so there isn’t time for Betty to run interference and get her version out to the principal first.

You said in your question that this has been addressed with Betty before, but I’m wondering by whom. My suggestion is that you see if the principal would be open to implementing a policy requiring kids to eat with their class unless they are eating with a relative. That would keep the kids from being able to accompany Jane into Betty’s office, but still allow Jane to spend time with her mother, if that’s what she wants. And that won’t stop Betty from giving Jane some sweets on special occasions, but would keep that from spreading to the chosen members of the rest of the class.

Of course, Jane will probably find a work-around for that — she might pick a place on the playground or in the cafeteria and enact the exact same arbitrary rules. At that point, she’s just providing another example for your daughter of how not everyone has to be friends, and that someone who treats other people that way on purpose isn’t someone your daughter should invest time in.

Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!

 

*Jane’s track record of teasing children for speech challenges and mobility differences is a whole other can of worms that I am not going to get into here, but needless to say: YEEESH.

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