One of the most disheartening things we can deal with as theatre teachers is parents that don’t support us or don’t take our program seriously. Sadly, lots of parents believe that if you don’t carry a ball while you do it, it isn’t important. And living in Texas, where football is religion, the arts almost always take a backseat to sports.
I have lots and lots of athletes in my program, and most of the time, parents are very supportive. But, every once in a while I will run into a parent that I have to convince. Here are a few things I try to do to face this problem head on.
Being successful in your program and building a reputation will usually earn you support from all parents. If you have had success and have won several contests in UIL, kids want to be a part of it. You will earn respect from kids, parents, and administrators.
But, winning, as we know, isn’t always everything. At our small school, I usually do not have a problem getting smart, dedicated kids in the program. We have had some success and kids want a part of that. The biggest conflict we have with other activities at our school is FFA. I have lots of great kids involved in FFA and theatre. We are just that type of school. There's lots of overlap between these programs. The Ag teachers are friends of mine and we have a great working relationship. We both realize we have to share kids, and it works out well for us most of the time. Because we have that good relationship, and both departments are successful, we are both respected enough that we have great parental support.
I would say to anyone starting out to make friends with all the heads of departments. It will be vital in managing schedules, getting kids from one event to the next, sharing parents, etc. Keeping everyone happy, even if you have to give a little, will help garner support for your program.
The very first thing I do every year is send home a packet where I ask parents to sign paperwork. In that paperwork I make it very clear that our department is just as important as any other in the school. I make sure that they understand that we are just as important as sports or FFA and if they do not support that notion, their kid may not need to be a part of the theatre department.
In most small town Texas schools, it really doesn’t even enter the mind of parents that theatre is equal to sports unless you educate them. I really try to do this. I give them plenty of examples, and I have them sign paperwork stating that they understand the commitment and the importance of their support. This usually does it, and I rarely have any questions after this.
I also have a reputation of sticking to my guns. You must do this if you are going to have a successful program with parents that support you. For example, all of my theatre parents sign paperwork that says they understand that their kid cannot miss a rehearsal or performance for any reason (unless pre-approved by me). They sign paperwork that states, “Students would not miss football practice to go to the tanning bed or eat dinner with grandma, so they will treat a rehearsal in the same manner.”
We need to think of the two on the same level, and parents must support this. I also make sure that parents understand that they cannot “ground” their kid from theatre rehearsal or performance. Parents would never ground their kid for coming in late from a date and keep them from going to football practice. I stress that doing this not only hurts their kid, but up to 25 others. I have never had a problem with this in OAP. A couple of instances have come up during the fall show, but I assure you it was the last time I worked with that kid.
Also, kids need to learn a tough lesson about their parents sometimes. Sadly, sometimes parents can mess things up for their kids. One of the worst experiences I have had in 25 years of teaching came just last year during our fall production of Grease. Early in the year, right after auditions, I had a parent slam me on Facebook for choosing to do Grease. Now, mind you, I live in a very small, conservative town in East Texas. I had chosen the high school version of the show and had done everything in my power to make sure it was all appropriate. I had never met the parents before. Their son was a freshman, and had just gotten into our program. The horrible, relentless name-calling and defamation of character on Facebook just about killed me. Then over a dozen loyal, supportive parents who had had kids in my program for years, came to my defense and shut it all down. They made sure that Facebook and everyone else knew that they totally trusted me and that the play was totally acceptable and they were so looking forward to the production.
In the long run, the performances were a huge success. We had record crowds, and it was a huge fund raiser for us. The show was fabulous. The parents ended up letting their kid participate.
Later, when OAP auditions came around, the kid auditioned. I had already decided that I was not going to put myself in that position again. I was very honest with the kid and explained to him that sometimes the actions of parents make it impossible for kids to be successful. I did not cast him again.
I would recommend taking an honest look at your program and trying to fill in the gaps for if and when a parent decides to not support you. Make sure to keep all your paperwork straight. Make sure to comply with your community standards. Make sure you are keeping your supportive parents happy. They will come to your defense. Keep a good relationship with school administration. They will back you up should drama arise.
And more than anything, stick to your guns. Loyal parents will support you. In the end, I had done all of this and I was totally supported by my school. All’s well that ends well!