In late August a viral video surfaced online of a woman named Dena Blizzard rampaging through Target, pledging to buy anything and everything her kids needed for school.
“It’s the end of August,” she pants. “You take these kids outta my house I will get you WHATEVER YOU WANT.”
It’s funny because it’s true: most of us are eternally grateful to the teachers who take care our children (especially after loooooong summer breaks). I’m someone who thinks teaching is one of the hardest jobs around. No amount of summers and school breaks off can make up for the challenge of being an educator these days.
As Dena Blizzard put it (airplane bottle of booze in hand … I love her!), buying a box of pencils and a set of binders is a small price to pay for everything teachers do.
Unfortunately, developing and maintaining a good relationship with our children’s teacher isn’t always easy.
Many potential minefields need to be navigated in the course of the parent-teacher relationship: homework, behaviour, learning styles and general communication are just a few. Layer in cultural differences, differences of opinion, competing objectives, busy teachers and frazzled parents and it’s no wonder both sides can feel like their voice isn’t being heard or respected.
I conducted an informal survey of elementary and high school educators and asked them what parents can do to improve home and school relationships. Not surprisingly, the most popular answers were communication and engagement.
Teachers want to know that parents are engaged in their children’s learning, that parents are an ally - not an adversary.
What do they wish parents would ask? The top five responses were:
- What kind of person is my child becoming?
- Is my child resilient?
- How can I support my child’s learning?
- What are her strengths? Where does he need to grow?
- Is my child kind and respectful?
The parent-teacher relationship is no different from any other in that we want to feel like the other person gets us; that they understand our position and objectives; and that even if we don’t agree, there’s mutual respect and a willingness to work together.
Many teachers also wish that parents would focus less on academics and more on their child’s social development. When you’ve got upwards of 20, even 30, different personalities in a classroom social skills can become more relevant than long division.
Teachers also want to be trusted. They want to be respected as professionals with experience who know what’s best for your child in the school environment. If you continually take your child’s side in conflicts over things like homework and behaviour you undermine that authority, which can teach your child to do the same. If you bypass the teacher and go straight to the principal with a problem or concern, trust is eroded.
As parents, we have the right to expect clear and honest feedback from our child’s teacher. We also want teachers to be sensitive to what’s going on at home, which will inevitably impact what’s happening at school. We want teachers to appreciate the fact that we too are busy working parents and even though you may not see us every day, or at all, we are interested and engaged in our child’s learning. By asking the “right” questions we can maximize the time that’s in short supply for everyone.
In his article Parents and Teachers: Turning Conflicts into Partnerships, Mark Phillips writes that parent-teacher conflicts are most often driven by three things: control issues, differences in values and different perceptions of the student. And none of these factors exists in isolation. Instead, each piece feeds the other and a failure to connect on one issue means problems and resentment can fester and bleed into others.
Teachers cannot control what goes on at home where the parent is “boss”, just as parents cannot control what goes in the classroom where the teacher is “boss.” But each of us can and should listen and be open to learning something that helps us make decisions in the child’s best interests.
Having your children’s educators in your corner can go a long way to improving both the classroom-home relationship and your child’s school experience. Building a relationship with the teacher will give you more insight into your daughter’s social and academic progress. Both “sides” may not always agree, but respecting each other’s opinion is essential and models the kind of behaviour we want our kids to follow.
Because when it comes to raising great humans, we’re all in this together right?