A reader writes:
I am a principal at a school who recently had a meeting with one of my teachers, “Miss Honey,” and an upset parent. This is not unheard of, though Miss Honey is one of the most popular teachers. I went in with the intention of doing my job to moderate the situation. The parent was upset because her daughter was struggling, not understanding the homework (of which Miss Honey was apparently not sending enough home). The parent also felt Miss Honey’s read-aloud time (a fairly common thing in elementary schools) was a waste of educational time.
What it came down to was that the parent wanted her daughter to stay in from all recesses (including lunch recess) and specials (art, PE, etc. classes, which also happens to be Miss Honey’s lesson planning time) in order to have personal tutoring time. I must also mention her daughter is already receiving individual tutoring that is constantly being examined and tweaked.
Just to continue the conversation, I asked Miss Honey if she would be willing to provide this. To my surprise, Miss Honey said agreed. Now, this might sound like she is a stellar, loving teacher (which she is), but this has had some not entirely unexpected consequence.
Per contract, Miss Honey is entitled to duty-free recesses and lunch. Miss Honey also has a young baby at home and is still pumping. Despite being granted the duty-free recesses as a break time, Miss Honey is allowed to use them as wishes, including tutoring students. Because of the type of employee she is, I’m not required to grant her pumping time. Obviously, I don’t want to be that manager, but this is a school and extra spare time is next-to-impossible to find. Logic and common sense suggested recess was the ideal pumping time.
I left out a part of the parent meeting: When Miss Honey explained to the parent she used her recess time to pump, the parent told her to buy formula.
I suspect there is some passive-aggressiveness going on. Miss Honey is asking for a stipend to cover her lost planning and break time… also to cover the formula she now says she has to buy since pumping milk is out of the equation.
This special time of extra tutoring has not yet begun.
Miss Honey isn’t upset with me, but has explained that in order to do as this parent requests, she needs to be compensated. I agree. However, this is stipend money I may not be able to get from the district.
I’ve prided myself on keeping both teachers and the school community happy, but if I tell Miss Honey to forget it, I’m going to have an angry parent on my hands.
Is there a good way, or at least less painful way, out of this?
Well … the problem here is that you asked her in front of the parent if she’d be willing to do this — which probably made her feel pressured to agree. It’s pretty likely that she assumed you were pushing her to do it since otherwise you wouldn’t have put her on the spot in front of a parent. An unreasonable and rude parent, to boot.
You say you did this “just to continue the conversation,” but by doing that, you put her in a terrible position. Your role in that meeting was to facilitate solutions, yes, but it was also to be a voice of reason and, if necessary, to ensure that your teacher wasn’t pushed around.
And it’s really, really not okay to allow a parent’s unreasonable demands to push your employee into using formula rather than pumping. That parent telling her to buy formula was basically cartoon-villain level of not okay.
You say that the teacher is being passive-aggressive by asking for money to cover her lost planning and break time, as well as the costs of formula. I think she’s both making a point (that she deserves to be compensated for her time, which she does) and asking for something perfectly logical.
Regardless, the solution here is not to pander to a parent to the point of craziness. The solution is to clean this situation up by correcting the original mistake you made in that meeting.
That means that you need to explain to the parent that this solution has proved unworkable as it’s leaving the teacher without sufficient time for other things during the day. Don’t get into what she uses that time for; the fact that it’s for pumping isn’t relevant and is none of her business. You could mention that those free periods are contractually mandated if you think it will help, but I worry that she’ll use that as license to paint the teacher as “working to the contract” rather than in the best interests of students or other nonsense.
When you talk to the parent, it’s essential that you take responsibility for this decision — do not blame the teacher in any way or imply that the change is at her request. If there’s a hit to be taken here, you’ve got to be the one to take it.
You should also apologize to the teacher for putting her in the position you did. Tell her you were wrong to do it, and that you apologize for not having her back.
Your measure of success in your work can’t be that no one is ever unhappy with you. That’s an impossible bar for any manager to meet, but especially in a job like yours. If you try to achieve that at all costs, you’re going to let unreasonable people control you, and you’re still going to make some people — the reasonable ones — unhappy. Side with the reasonable.
(Caveat: I’ve never worked in education, and it’s possible there are education-specific norms here that should impact how you proceed. Adapt accordingly.)
I let someone push my employee around and now it’s a mess was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.