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Aggressive parents a growing problem for teachers

Updated:
DALLAS (AP) _ The shooting last week of a Texas high school football coach _ allegedly by a player's father _ was just the latest and most extreme example of the threats and assaults that teachers around the country say they are increasingly being subjected to by parents.

``I know teachers really feel they're in a pressure cooker,'' said Aimee Bolender, president of Alliance/AFT, a Dallas teachers union. ``The respect for authority has definitely changed. Teachers are no longer respected in general.''

In Philadelphia in September, a mother slapped a teacher three times in the face after he told her she needed to get a late slip for her daughter, state officials say. In Dallas, a teacher got into a hair-pulling fight with a mother April 1 after scolding the woman's daughter for loitering outside a locker. The mother is herself a teacher at a Dallas high school.

Educators attribute the assaults and arguments, in part, to a general decline in civility and the intense competition these days to get into the right colleges.

Lisa Jacobson, chief executive of the tutoring and test preparation business Inspirica, said teachers have told her they are overwhelmed by pushy parents.

``They feel like the parents come in as CEOs and order them around,'' Jacobson said. ``I've seen many cases of parents going into schools and coercing teachers to change grades.''

Also, parents are more stressed-out than they used to be _ working one or more jobs, or running single-parent households _ and may be more likely to lash out at their children's teachers, said Doug Fiore, a Virginia elementary school principal who co-wrote a book for teachers called ``Dealing With Difficult Parents.''

Last Thursday, Canton High School coach Gary Joe Kinne was shot and wounded in the school's field house. Jeffrey Doyle Robertson, 45, was charged with aggravated assault. Robertson, whose son played on Kinne's team, was known for his hot temper and run-ins with the coaching staff. Other parents said he was angry over the football program and the way his son was treated by teammates.

While no national education organization keeps statistics on assaults and threats against teachers by parents, many educators say they have seen an unmistakable rise in tensions.

Lee Alvoid, a retired principal in suburban Dallas, said that toward the end of her 32-year career, parent-teacher conferences had become so tense that she sometimes asked security guards to stand outside her office.

The Issaquah school district outside Seattle adopted a ``civility policy'' in 2001 to teach everyone _ parents, students, teachers and administrators _ how to communicate courteously because conversations were becoming more confrontational.

``You listen to the talk show hosts on the radio, you watch the confrontational programs on TV. We're all more sharp and pointed and critical and demanding of each other,'' district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.

The Philadelphia school system is working to teach parents how to represent their children's interests more effectively and is giving teachers training in conflict resolution, said Claudia Averette, the district's chief of staff.

In light of the shooting in East Texas, the Texas High School Coaches Association may adopt a conflict resolution program, said D. W. Rutledge, executive vice president.

``If it's in society, it's going to be in our schools,'' Rutledge said. ``We see a lot more things that are shocking as far as how people are approaching things.''
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