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While parents and teachers share the same goal, raising educated kids, they often find themselves at odds. Parenting is an incredibly personal endeavor and ⏤ as the current push for more individualized and personalized instruction demonstrates ⏤ parents are focused on what’s best for their individual child. Teachers, on the other hand, make decisions about what is best for the group. This disparity between teaching and parenting frequently creates a conflict of interest when it comes to what’s in a child’s best interest.
A good education can’t replace good parenting, and good parenting can’t replace a good education; both are indispensable in the upbringing of a child. But as both a lifelong teacher and a parent, I have seen firsthand how the conflict between parties can do more harm than good. It doesn’t have to though. As educators, we need to be better about being transparent about the happenings in our classrooms and build relationships with the families that we serve. And as parents, we need to stop looking at parenting as a solely independent activity and treat schools and educators as partners in childrearing.
To that end, here are four mistakes I find parents commonly make when dealing with their children’s teachers, as well as ways the two sides can foster a more positive partnership.
1. Not Treating Educators Like Professionals
Teaching is a difficult job, yet there is still a lack of respect for the profession. Some may focus on the long vacations. Others assume that it is nothing more than assigning worksheets and high-paid babysitting. I have had several people tell me that they would like to take up teaching in retirement, after their work in their real careers is done. As if our life’s work was akin to working 20 hours at Home Depot to get out of the house.
Treat your child’s teacher like you would treat their doctor. When getting medical advice or a diagnosis from your child’s pediatrician, most of us would never automatically assume that the doctor is wrong and that we know more than the medical profession. Teachers are experts in their field and have taught hundreds if not thousands of children in their career. I am not asking parents to blindly accept everything a teacher (or doctor) says — you ultimately need to advocate for your child. That said, treat educators like trained professionals.
2. Forgetting That Teachers Are Held to a High Level of Confidentiality
Because educators are often the first to identify mental health issues, disabilities, and abuses in the home, they know things about families and kids that are exceedingly sensitive and private. Schools often know more about your neighbors and their children than you do. And teachers are held to a level of privacy and professionalism that does not always allow us to disclose the reasons behind the decisions made in the classroom.
If you don’t feel like you’re getting the whole story from a teacher or administrator regarding an incident involving your child, you may not be. And as frustrating as that might feel, you don’t necessarily have the right to know about other kids in your child’s class or their parents. Educators are trained to honor the confidentiality of the students and families that they serve, and parents need to respect that.
3. Tattling on the Teacher
If you have a problem that needs to be addressed with your child’s teacher, contact that teacher first ⏤ don’t immediately run to the principal’s office. School administrators are exceedingly busy people. They deal with an enormous number of issues each day, many of which involve the safety of hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Though you may think that moving your daughter or son’s seat in science class is of utmost importance, going straight to the top isn’t always the best way to handle the situation.
4. Automatically Taking Their Child’s Side
Children and young adults usually perceive a situation only through their own eyes and do not think outside of their own experience. Add the emotion and chaos of daily school life to the mix and your child’s interpretation of events can become muddled when an incident occurs.
While it is important to contact your child’s teacher if you believe there to be a conflict or issue, don’t automatically assume that your child’s version of the event is true. Though we would like to think that all young people show outstanding character all of the time, children lie to get out of trouble. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but sometimes kids act differently at school than they do at home.
In my decade as a middle school teacher, I have had a countless number of parent meetings that begin with a parent immediately jumping to conclusions based on a child’s version of events. Get the story from an adult before making assumptions. Educators are experts in resolving conflict, trust their judgment and remember that they have your child’s best interest in mind.
Raymond Steinmetz is a seventh-grade math teacher and father of two living in Warren, Rhode Island. He writes about the integration of technology and teaching at blendedlearningmath.com, is a guest blogger at Education Post, and contributes a regular column to eschoolnews.com.