Unfortunately, interaction between parents and teachers is more often than not the result of some form of misunderstanding, disagreement or concern about a child. A few times a year teachers have an opportunity to chat to parents at formalised parent meetings but this takes the form of subject specific discussions. We would hate for an ‘us and them’ scenario to develop when we all know that a close parent-teacher relationship based on trust and open communication is the most beneficial for our children. So, if time allowed, what is it that teachers really want to say to parents…
After reading a wonderful article in the Your Family magazine and adding in a few personal thoughts of my own, I have come up with a list.
Be involved (but not too involved!)
There are two extremes in parenting that teachers recognise that are what we would term ‘non-optimal’. There are those parents that are seen to be over-involved in their children’s school lives and also parents who seem absent in the parenting process. Is there a perfect balance one may ask? The appropriate level of involvement changes as the child gets older. In preschool, parents might have almost daily contact with the teacher. By the middle primary school years the parents should be a ‘distant support’ and in high school, contact might be confined to the parent-teacher meetings, with the odd email in between. What is important, however, is to let the teachers know if something significant is going on – a medical issue, or a death or divorce in the family, for instance.
Take care of the basics
There are certain aspects of your child’s life that only you as a parent can manage. Debbie de Jong, a learning support specialist, believes that parents have to take care of the basics – get the child’s ears and eyes tested, look after things like nutrition, sleep and exercise. These basics gear your child up to learn and behave optimally. Teachers easily recognise a child who has too little sleep, or watches inappropriate television content. It is demonstrated in their energy levels, mannerisms and interaction with others.
Support what is happening in the classroom
There is sometimes a feeling that because parents have handed over many thousands of Rands, the school and teachers should take of the whole job of child-rearing, from table manners to ensuring distinctions. I am sure we all agree that a collaborative approach is more positive and effective. Although the primary responsibility to educate a child is that of the parent, working effectively to support their school based learning is an essential aspect of the development of any child. Debbie de Jong continues, “It takes a team to raise, love and support a child. Children learn 24/7. Teachers only have them for a few hours a day. It’s very helpful if parents carry through with what the teachers are doing into the home situation.”
There’s a delicate balance between supporting and smothering. A modern trend in education circles is to work towards growing the independence of children. When they are little, let them dress themselves, pack their back packs. By the time a child leaves Primary School they should be able to pack and unpack school bags, organise all clothing and equipment they need for the next day, be able to communicate with teachers on their own without parental assistance and take full responsibility for their actions at school. When children expect everything to be done for them, they become ‘learned helpless’ and the impact in the classroom can only be negative.
Trust and respect the teachers
A common request from teachers is: trust us, respect us, work with us, let us do our jobs. Teachers are educated professionals who have had lots of experience and have mentored many children. They have different skills to yours, see your child differently to you, and bring something different to your child’s life.
Pick your battles
There are times when it is absolutely essential for a parent to step in immediately and interact with a teacher or the school: if the child is under threat or in danger, for example, or when academics have plummeted. When it comes to our own children, we’re in emotional territory. Sometimes an issue is more about our own history, anxiety or ego than it is about the child’s wellbeing. We’ve all had experiences of our child being disappointed or hurt, and then wanting to go to the school and wreak vengeance! But should we really?
Paul Channon, former Principal of The Ridge and now an educational consultant, gives a tip: ‘Ask yourself, how important is it to the child on a scale of 1 to 10? If it’s a 9 or 10, you probably should get involved, but there are other times when it is better not to get involved. Take your lead from your child. Try and keep a sense of perspective and see the bigger picture.’
Use the right channels
The usual protocol is to take your issue up with your child’s class teacher. Schools generally have regular, formalised parent-teacher meetings set up during the year. This is a good time for general discussion about your child and how he or she is doing personally, socially and academically. If it’s urgent, make an appointment. Not every issue requires a formal meeting. In primary school, when parents tend to have more interaction with the class teacher, you might have the opportunity to speak more spontaneously. There’s a place to just say, ‘Would this be a good time to chat about…’ Be sensitive to the fact that drop-off is a busy time for teachers, particularly in the early years, as they are welcoming and settling the children, so it’s not the ideal time to talk to parents. If you have anything contentious or serious to discuss, it’s best to make an appointment. If your concerns aren’t resolved satisfactorily, there is usually a chain-of-command – your next step would be to talk to the Head of the Phase, Subject Head or Deputies. Schools would rather hear from parents than have them fester silently or fuel the rumour mill in the car park.
Both parents and teachers alike want only the best for your children. I ask that we continue to work together for the child’s benefit in order for them to one day become self-reliant, resilient and successful adults.
Mr Tony Williams
Primary School Principal