By Guest Blogger Laura Simon
School has been in session for a few weeks now. Our kids are learning their schedules, getting to know their teachers, and finding a level of comfort in their new classrooms. This is the time of year when grades begin to appear online and discipline issues start to crop up. And sometimes, this is the time of year when conflict creeps into the parent/teacher relationship.
If you have a child in school, at some point he or she will likely have a teacher that might not have been your first choice. We’re mama bears, right? It is our job to make sure our kids get the best of everything. It is our job to protect our babies. It is our job to advocate for our kids. We want the people teaching and nurturing our little (and big) ones to be the best of the best. So what do we do when they spend one – or eight – hours a day with someone we don’t like?
I’ve been on both sides of the teacher desk, and I can assure you conflict is a pretty normal part of this high-stakes relationship. The things teachers have to do can feel very much like stepping on a parent’s toes. I mean, teachers have to discipline. That was our job first. And teachers assess learning with a letter grade; sometimes we don’t agree with that letter. It is so easy to grab the pitchfork and fire off a nasty email.
Still, one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to maintain a good relationship with the teacher, and all good relationships take work and wisdom. Even if you can’t see eye to eye, you can definitely keep things civil and positive. From my dual role as teacher and mom, here’s some suggestions for making that happen:
Nurture the relationship from the beginning. I loved getting friendly, introductory emails from parents. There’s only so much you can learn about a kid from a file, so starting the year off with some basic facts is helpful. Keep it light, and be sure to communicate that you appreciate and support what the teacher is doing. Something along the lines of “Julie has always loved to read, but she might need a little more support with the writing work. Other teachers have told us she can be quiet in class, but she is still very social and loves school. Thanks for investing in her. Here’s our contact information if you ever need to reach out to us!” Yes, teachers get a lot of emails, and no, this sort of email will not be a bother. I always saved these messages, and many times they helped me find the right words when I needed to touch base. I would also suggest checking in periodically – maybe once a month – even if you don’t have a reason to be concerned. You are sending the message that you care.
If you’re unfortunately already at the point of conflict, I’d urge you to take the time to get the teacher’s perspective. I used to divide parent emails into two categories: the accusations and the questions. The former was usually a tirade about whatever I had done (or not done), which immediately raised my defenses, and often placed me in the awkward situation of telling a parent that the child was not telling the truth. Ugh. No teacher wants that have THAT conversation. The questioning email tells the teacher what the parent has heard, and asks for his or her side of the story. For example, “Johnny said you are ignoring his questions in class. I know that sometimes kids don’t tell us the whole story; can you help me understand what is going on here?” This email allows the teacher the tactfully fill in the gaps, and it also makes it easier for him or her to acknowledge and correct a mistake. Because teachers do make mistakes, and most want to make them right.
In these situations, keep in mind that there’s zero motivation to go into teaching besides a passion for the job. There is absolutely no way to make a fortune, so you are dealing with people who care enough about kids and their futures to go thousands of dollars into college debt for maybe $30,000 a year. You might not agree with every teacher’s methodology, but you can generally assume that he or she wants the same thing you do: your child’s success.
If you are getting less than great news from school, try not to take it personally. Man, it feels awful to get bad news about our kids. I had so many painful, awkward conversations with parents who were clearly anxious and confused and it was obvious they lashed out at me because I was the bearer of bad news. Most teachers know that poor behavior and unwise academic decisions are natural parts of the growing and maturing process. When you feel that defensiveness, remind yourself that the teacher isn’t judging. He or she wants to be your partner in the process of helping your kids grow into great adults.
Choose your battles, and wait to respond. I can’t think of a single time when I responded to something by firing off an angry email and didn’t regret it later. Remember, this is a relationship you need to nurture; don’t damage it with a fury of emotions. Give yourself a few hours to calm down so that you can send a civil email and get the full story. And choose wisely when you decide to involve yourself in a situation. You don’t want to be the parent that gets eye rolls and sighs from the staff because you are beating down someone’s door every day. There are definitely times where your child will need you to be an advocate; you’ll be taken seriously if you save your thunder for those relatively rare scenarios.
Finally, take the opportunity to model for your children how to handle conflict. Not every teacher is amazing for every kid, and what a valuable lesson to learn to do your best in less-than-stellar circumstances. Think about your child’s future: most people have a boss they don’t like at some point. They might even have to tough it out in a job they hate until they can find something better. Teach your kids those skills now. It is unlikely that a teacher will change the way he or she computes grades, gives notes, or talks about politics, but you can teach your child how to adapt their attitudes and work habits.
I think I speak for most teachers when I say that teaching is more than a job; it’s a calling. Your child’s teacher wants your kiddo to do great things, and he or she wants to be your partner this school year.
Teachers, do you have suggestions to add to this list? Please share them in the comments. And moms, what are you doing to maintain solid relationships with your children’s teachers?