It’s back to school time. Right now the excitement and energy is high, routines are new, and (most) kids and parents are happy. And then Meet the Teacher Night rolls around, and we get our first impressions of the person who will spend their days with our precious babies. He/She will talk about homework, grading, communications, snack policies, schedules, and hopefully about what the goals are for the year. And if you are really lucky, you will acquire insight into what type of vibe the teacher will have in the classroom for that year. You may even get all teary and pretend you have allergies when an amazing teacher reads a poem about making her classroom a family for the year — hypothetically speaking, of course.
But as these educators put their best feet forward, I always wondered what things do they really want to say when they get all the parents in the same room. I mean, if they could say whatever they wanted, without fear of administration fall out, what advice would they give?
So, I asked. I asked my friends who are teachers what things they wish they could say to parents, and so many of them spoke up. Twenty-two in fact and it was eery how similar a lot of their answers were. Here’s what I found out:
+ Please don’t be a bully. It is amazing how for most parents our number one fear is our kids being bullied at school, yet so many of us do this exact thing to teachers. For the most part, the teachers I spoke to want to be respected and not addressed with threats and condescending comments. They want to remind parents that they are also mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and when parents come to them, most teachers would like to work together to fix whatever the issue is. Most parents seem to think of teachers as glorified nannies, instead of professionals with many years of higher education. Said one: “I am the first to admit that I make mistakes, and yes, there are times when a parent meeting is appropriate and/or necessary, but I am an adult that really loves teaching her students. Please don’t begin a discussion about your child’s education with something like: Let me tell you what’s going to happen here or I will speak to the principal if I have to. It’s not productive for anyone.”
One retired educator told me she wished more parents would back up teacher decisions or teach their kids how to respectfully disagree. “The last five years were the worst of my thirty year career, and mainly because of the parents. When I tried to discuss behavior problems with them, they immediately became defensive and questioned my motives. My motives? My word as a teacher, an educator with two Master’s degrees and thirty year’s experience, was no longer good enough apparently to convince a parent that her son was repeatedly disruptive in my classroom.”
Many also encouraged parents to not talk negatively about teachers in front of your child. Seriously. If you don’t give the teacher any respect, what are the odds your child will?
Interestingly enough, several teachers said often when there is a conflict between a parent and a teacher, administrators want to pacify the parents just to keep the peace — and avoid escalating the issue farther or worse yet, receiving threats of litigation (which apparently is now commonplace.) What happens then is parents feel victorious and empowered, and continue to act the same way whenever there is a problem. Leading me to my next point.
+ Yes, there is a black list. Like any organization, employees talk at the water cooler, and for teachers, it’s often about us parents. If you continue to be a bully, disruptive or annoying, you’ll most likely get marked as “one of those parents.” This means that the best teachers may not want your kid in their class….because of you. “Sometimes the sweetest kids come from the most nightmarish parents to deal with at school. One time I spent an entire school year e-mailing a mom several times a day to assure her that another girl was not giving a mean look to her daughter. She had belittled me several times telling me I did not have control of my classroom. It was exhausting and made it difficult to focus on what was important. When this sweet girl’s sister came the next year, I requested that she not be in my class only because I did not think it would be a productive year for either of us.”
Privacy is also a concern. Parents often want to volunteer in the classroom or at school, and then will gossip about other kids’ reading levels, behaviors, etc. You may see things or hear things that are surprising but be respectful of the child and their parents.
That being said, several teachers told me that they do encourage parent communication, as long as it is constructive. Academics, socialization, problems with homework, etc. should be discussed frequently and in detail with no worries of being “labeled.”
+ Let us teach academics, you teach life skills. Several elementary school teachers said that so many parents want their kids to be reading chapter books by kindergarten, yet most kids do not know how to tie their shoes, follow two- or three-step directions, or express their feelings appropriately. According to one seasoned elementary educator: “Our school day could be more productive if more kids knew how to manage themselves better. I am happy to help any child that needs it, but the more self-sufficient a child is at school, the more learning we can achieve!”
This also includes teaching your child to be accountable. Make them responsible for getting a note to a teacher instead of doing it yourself, starting their homework or remembering to wear school colors on Fridays. The more responsibility you give them in regards to their school life, the better.
+ Don’t be a Monday morning quarterback (or parent.) As your child progresses through school, teachers accordingly put more of the responsibilities associated with school work on the student. This means by middle school, you won’t get a note every time little Billy misses an assignment. According to the educators I spoke with, there are now more ways than ever before to track your child’s progress at school, so they encourage us to use them; but not just at report card time. “Parents that come in and ask me to change their child’s grade — particularly for a student who missed several assignments — really put teachers in a difficult spot. Of course there are always exceptions, but there has to be some integrity in the grading process. If you have certain expectations for your child’s academic performance, please stay on top of it throughout the quarter.”
+ Avoid the Mommy Olympics. So many of us use our kids as a benchmark to our own self-worth. As the mother of a child with some special needs, I discovered early on that we would not always be on the same timeline as other kids….and it was somewhat of a relief not to have to compete.
According to one very wise teacher: “I find so many parents gauge their children’s success by the other children in their class. It is so unfair to the kids, especially in the early school years. I have been told on the first day of school by so many parents that there kid is gifted (sometimes true, but often not) and told by others that their child had learning problems (sometimes true, but most of the time kids just need time and room to develop). It is sad to see parents using their child’s strengths to one up each other. It is even sadder to see parents feel shame because their kid is not measuring up to an imaginary bar set by their play group. Kids in preschool and early elementary grades are growing and absorbing so much information. Just keep the focus on your child and celebrate the victories!”
Thanks so much to all the teachers who reached out to me for this article. Hope you have a great year!