I have something to say about the battle between teachers and parents. Why, exactly, are we fighting one another? Look, I know that many parents aren’t happy with teachers and vice versa, but a lot of the time what I hear about publicly comes from parents who are disgruntled about something that a teacher did. Heck, I’ve not been entirely pleased with every single teacher that my children have had in the classroom. But this is supposed to be a teamwork thing and, in some instances, I see a whole lot of Us Versus Them on the educational front. I thought it was time to hear from teachers about what they wish parents knew and, boy, did I get an earful. There isn’t one thing on this list that I didn’t entirely agree with and feel strongly about as a classroom teacher. Now, of course, I’m an administrator in charge of teachers so I get to hear from parents far more regularly and passionately. In an effort to bridge the parent/teacher gap, I asked some teachers what they wanted parents to know about and this is a culmination of that research.
1. Know the value of practicing the art of reading at home. Tracy is a college professor who notes that even though parents swear that they are making their child read at home, she isn’t seeing the evidence of that in the classroom. Children won’t be good writers if they’re not good readers. This is also true of math. If you don’t allow your children to help make change or do flash cards for multiplication facts, then you’re expecting all of that learning to take place at school. Parents need to take some of the responsibility of helping their child at home. I’ve heard from many parents “It’s YOUR job to teach. I don’t have to do that.” That is exactly the wrong attitude about education. They learn from home first.
2. Parents need to separate their own learning styles from their children’s. My friend and parent advocate Dina suggested that parents who are helping their child at home and find the task frustrating should consider that they aren’t teaching to their child’s style. My own son Mason is such a different learner than I am that I farmed out his homework to his father or sister because I, clearly, wasn’t capable of teaching him in the same way in which he would learn. Don’t put your learning challenges on them and say this phrase in front of them: I was never good at such-and-such so he’s not going to be, either. Not true! Lots of children are completely different from their parents. So what if I wasn’t good at math in high school or I hated it? That’s no reason to give my children the excuse to lower their expectations of themselves.
3. Check with your child’s teacher to determine whether extra interventions are necessary. My friend Deva noted that too many kids are being sent to Kumon or other tutoring services when they don’t actually need it. Some could use the enrichment while others might need some extra help, but parents spend a lot of effort sometimes in helping their child when it truly just stresses them out unnecessarily. Teachers have the expertise to provide those interventions and challenges when students need them. Just ask them.
4. Come to school meetings with an open mind and a willing attitude. The approach to finding success for children may be different, yet we have to work together as a team to achieve academic success. In my 18 years as an educator I have seen this one every year around parent-teacher conference time. A parent is frustrated and angry with a teacher for something their child isn’t able to yet accomplish at school. Teachers really do have the best intentions when it comes to teaching, but if you show up ready and on the defensive it impedes our ability to accomplish anything.
5. Allow us to hold your children accountable. This goes for both their behavior and for their academics. When parents come in and “play lawyer” having only heard the version set forth by their child, it doesn’t even allow us to set boundaries. I have had parents tell me that I’m not allowed to discipline their child the same way that every other student gets disciplined by our handbook. Tying my hands isn’t going to help. Discipline actually comes before a child does something. A consequence comes afterward. When teachers have gone through the trouble of setting up their classroom and getting students to abide by those rules, it’s damaging to watch only one child get away with not having to follow them.
6. College isn’t the only successful answer to post-graduation. Pushing children in that one direction exacerbates the academic failure that is prevalent in schools today. Many professional teachers can attest that their former students have experienced career success without having a college degree. When this issue is pressed onto the educational system and becomes solely their culpability, teachers feel a burden that’s beyond the stress of the demands they already feel. College is great and fine and nice, but it isn’t for everyone. Don’t be offended if teachers suggest as much.
7. Don’t keep important information from your child’s teacher. Tell us what your child needs and what works for them at home. Erica, an educator from Chicago, says that when teachers don’t know about the struggles a child has it can penalize him or her and also make it difficult to instruct them. Don’t make us reinvent the wheel if you already know what motivates your child. If something works for you at home, let’s try it at school, too. After my youngest son’s diagnosis of ADHD, I wrote yearly letters to his teachers highlighting his strengths and his weaknesses. Every teacher told me they appreciated this because he ended up having other issues as well and they were keenly aware of his learning because of it. Conversely, ask us what you can do to help us instead of asking, “What are YOU going to do to fix this?”
8. Listen to us. When we tell you that something is going on, please don’t go on the offensive of not my child. Children find themselves in situations over which they have no control and without giving in to the possibility of other factors in control over their lives. These emotional, social, and academic concerns aren’t a way to blame your DNA for a broken child. Trust us when we say that we think something else is wrong. When we look at the Whole Child and do it from the vantage point of a professional team, we are far better equipped to put things into place that will be helpful in the classroom. We’re not blaming you; we’re helping your child.
9. Don’t tell us things like this: “Well, he doesn’t do this at home.“ Well, naturally. We don’t expect your child to have the same behavior everywhere. We have different expectations for our children at church and in the grocery store. The water park and a funeral home. Unless you’re asking your son or daughter to learn, listen, and be engaged for extended periods of time while you’re assessing whether or not they’re learning, don’t tell us they don’t do the same stuff at home. Unless you are working with 30 other children at home and trying to get them to all learn the same thing and then assess it or else your federal funding gets cut, then you can’t make that assumption that these two different locations will garner the same behaviors from your child.
10. Remember that teachers are professionals with lots of training, college degrees (many with advanced degrees!), and on-going professional development. Often, I liken this to how you would treat your general practitioner and the respect that they get in their offices from you as a patient. Teachers are doing an amazing job of instructing a variety of different learners in their classrooms and feel beaten down when parents view them as the enemy. We don’t expect you to agree with every thing we do or expect from your child, but we do deserve to be listened to as professionals. Sometimes that mutual respect doesn’t happen because of the negative views of our work and, trust me, that’s reflected in a teacher’s paycheck. Educators spend a lot of time trying new things and accommodating in the classroom, but we don’t always receive the courtesy of a professional. A respectful attitude toward your child’s teacher goes a long way in how your child acts in the classroom, too.