Ethical Educator

Post-Game Histrionics
School Administrator, October 2016

Scenario: A longtime teacher runs onto the playing field following a high school football game to confront the head coach about what he viewed as his aggressive conduct toward his son, a junior on the team. The principal and two assistant coaches witness the profanity-laced remarks that nearly result in fisticuffs between the parent and coach. The principal steps in and asks the parent to leave the field. The teacher works in another school district. Should his actions be reported to his district’s administrators?

Sarah Jerome:
The actions of teachers reflect on the entire profession.  When one teacher acts inappropriately, the viewing public makes judgements about all teachers.  It matters how teachers conduct themselves in a public setting.  A teacher is a teacher 24/7. Professional conduct is expected all the time.  A teacher models behavior for others to emulate.

Of course, there are times when everyone makes mistakes and misjudgments. These are learning opportunities. One would hope these aggressive behaviors were a one-time exception  to a more typical pattern of moderation and thoughtful reflection.  However, just in case this aggressive behavior is the typical pattern of behavior for this teacher/parent, these actions should be reported to his district's administrators.

Maggie Lopez:
This individual’s conduct was inappropriate. He demonstrated poor judgment in how he addressed his concerns with his son’s coach.  Although he was attending this event on his own time as a parent, he was still representing his profession. Whether or not he was “on the clock,” as a public school educator, he is still a public servant and role model for students.  The teacher’s principal needs to be informed of the altercation that occurred. The principal should have a followup conversation with him and address the incident.
The coach and the parent need to resolve their issues.  If the parent (teacher) is to be in attendance at future football games, there must be a plan to ensure that a similar incident will not occur again. The son is a junior and still has another year on the football team.  It is important for the adults to work out their issues so that they do not become a barrier to this student having a positive experience as he continues playing on the team.

Shelley Berman:
Spectators, including parents and members of the community, have a responsibility to be respectful and appropriate. The explosive conduct on the part of this parent was unacceptable, and even more so because as a teacher he should have known how to demonstrate restraint. Teachers are held to a higher standard of public behavior because their actions are expected to model appropriate behavior for students. This conduct could be considered an assault on the coach and, had the principal not stepped in, it could have led to a charge of battery as well.

The parent may have a valid complaint about the conduct of the coach toward his son, but that doesn’t excuse confronting the coach on the field after the game or the offensive manner in which he attacked the coach. The principal should insist that the parent meet privately with him to discuss the parent’s actions, hear the parent’s complaint and decide whether the parent will be admitted to future games. Given the public nature of the conduct, the principal should encourage the teacher to inform his principal of the incident so that his principal doesn’t learn of it from a third party.

The coach ’s argumentative response may have aggravated rather than defused the situation. The principal should meet with the coach to learn of any prior history with this parent or any particular circumstances that have emerged with the parent’s son. The principal should discuss with the coach how his response may have served to escalate the situation and suggest ways he might have responded to deescalate the confrontation. To determine whether there is any substance to the parent’s complaint, the principal should investigate the coach’s treatment of the student athlete. Based on the coach’s professional history and the particular circumstances of this episode, the principal may need to document the incident and issue a warning or reprimand.

Whether the principal should contact the teacher’s principal is a judgment call. In this case, I would err on the side of not contacting the teacher’s principal for three reasons. First, there is not a clear nexus between the teacher’s behavior as a parent and his teaching responsibilities. Although the confrontation was inappropriate, it did not have a direct connection to his work as a teacher. Second, while the verbal attack was troubling, it was neither criminal nor sufficiently egregious in nature to warrant notifying his employer. Third, the coach’s behavior may have fueled the conflict, thereby creating a shared responsibility for the escalation of the argument.

Incidents of this nature are deterred by providing clear guidance on parent behavior in handbooks that student athletes and parents must sign, by requiring meetings with all parents and athletes prior to the season to review the rules related to respectful behavior and the consequences for violations, and by training coaches in how to respond to parent issues and how to deescalate potential conflicts. Coaches and parents must remember that high school athletics should focus more on supporting the development of each athlete’s skills and character than on simply winning. Respect and sportsmanship are among the primary lessons that participation in high school or youth sports should teach to all.

Mario Ventura:
Actual or perceived aggression toward one’s child could easily push a parent over the edge causing a parent to react with hostility. In this situation, the longtime teacher is not representing his district in an official capacity. Therefore, he should not be reported to the district that employs him. The coach’s supervisor should reach out to the parent to better understand what happened between the coach and the player. The supervisor should remind the parent about protocols and procedures for reporting the abuse. The parent also should be reminded of policy in place to protect district staff from abusive language, threats and bodily harm. Continued behavior such as this could lead toward legal action.

Both the parent and the coach should consider how their behavior could be perceived as unprofessional.  Although the parent was not in an official school capacity, the community still sees him in the role of a teacher. Their public display of inappropriate behavior could have a negative impact on their reputation as educators.

Each month, School Administrator draws on actual circumstances to raise an ethical decision-making dilemma in K-12 education. Our distinguished panelists provide their own resolutions to each dilemma. Do you have a suggestion for a dilemma to be considered? Send it to:

The Ethical Educator panel consists of Shelley Berman, superintendent, Andover, Mass.; Sarah Jerome, a retired superintendent in Arlington Heights, Ill., and an AASA past president; Maggie Lopez, a retired superintendent in Pueblo, Colo.; and Mario Ventura, superintendent, Isaac School District, Phoenix, Ariz.