As a teacher, a school director (of many years), a mom and a parenting coach, I’ve looked at this one from many angles. It can be difficult to get on the same page with your child’s teacher. However, it can be done. It requires a change in your mindset. You must regard your relationship with your child’s teachers as a working partnership on supporting the healthy development of your child.
Starting on the Right Foot
Teaching is one of the most unappreciated jobs in much of North America and Europe (in Asia and Africa, for example, it’s a different story). The rate of burnout among teachers is horrendously high. The demands from parents have become a major source of stress for teachers. My experience is, however, that the average teacher is very dedicated to his or her students, spending many extra hours on evenings and weekends. I suggest that you assume your child’s teacher is dedicated and committed to her students, that she spends countless hours planning, preparing, correcting, conferring, training, etc. to be the best teacher she can be. For anyone who thinks the job is easy and has too much vacation, I urge you to spend one day in a classroom with 20+ kids.
- Show appreciation and gratitude
So appreciate her. Express your gratitude and empathy. Let her know how much you appreciate all she is doing for your child. Tell one or two examples of something you have heard or seen at home which you considered positive and thank her for that.
Teachers are often unconsciously in a somewhat defensive posture with parents as they tend to get more criticism than positive feedback. So, your appreciation can soften that stance and create an alliance for a person who is a very important element in the development of your child.
When a Crisis Arise
- Don’t believe quite everything your child tells you about the teacher
As with most of us, when our children are upset or have perhaps been a bit naughty, they may not reflect the other actors in the drama in the most positive light, thus shedding a bit brighter light on themselves.
- Listen emphatically
Reflect back what you’ve heard and empathize with your child’s feelings. For example, “I bet you felt really frustrated that you didn’t get to correct your answer.” “You find it very unfair how your teacher treated you in that situation.”
By doing this, you are simply helping your child name the feelings, understanding and empathizing with him or her. This does not mean that you agree.
- Ask the child about his/her part in the situation
“Is there any way you contributed to the situation?” “Can you imagine why your teacher may have reacted that way?”
Here you do not need to suggest that your child deserved the reaction OR that the teacher acted poorly. Your aim here is to help your child develop the skills for the inevitable conflicts and unpleasant situations which arise in everyone’s life. You are teaching skills for life here.
When we jump on our child for how she or he behaved or jump on defending or criticizing the teacher, we are teaching our child that she can’t handle situations herself or, worse, she can’t share openly with you but must adjust her telling in order to get a more positive response.
When we can simply listen and pose questions, we are meeting the child’s need for understanding and empathy. Then, you can help her find constructive solutions which she can implement herself.
Your child’s teacher will be so grateful that your child can take responsibility for her own actions.
Next week I’ll talk more about how to talk with teacher when you think it’s reached that point and in the parent-teacher conferences.
*How can you improve your working relationship with your child’s teacher?