I considered writing this post this time last year, but I was still only a few months out from teaching so I thought maybe I should give it some time. Now that it's been two years (how??) since my last "first day of school," I figured I was far enough removed from the trenches to have some perspective on this topic.
I remember, during my first year of teaching, reading an article by Ron Clark that contained several statements to parents from teachers. Even though I'd only been in the classroom for a few months at the time, I was vigorously nodding in agreement with each one! It doesn't take long to figure out that a successful year with each student requires a cooperative, communicative relationship with each parent. Obviously, that doesn't always happen, and it's a shame, but in my experience, I've found that most teachers just don't have the nerve to say- in love, of course!- some things that parents need to hear. So since I'm now on the "outside" so to speak, I thought I'd be the voice of the people. (Sorry, people.)
(I totally understand that a) as a teacher, I see a student, but as a parent, you see "your baby" so we have different perspectives and b) some teachers are genuinely "bad" and cause problems. However, the majority of teachers I know and have worked with are dedicated, caring people so we're placing the "teachers" mentioned here into that category. =) AND I was very fortunate to have had relationships with some truly wonderful, kind parents who remain my friends to this day.)
1. If you have an issue with me, please speak to me first. Nothing is more frustrating (or confusing!) than getting a call from your administrator that says, "This kid's mom says that _________ happened," followed by a scenario that has probably been blown out of proportion by this point. It puts both the administrator and the teacher in a tough spot to have to defend and/or contradict one another when the whole story hasn't been told. Obviously, if you're dealing with a recurring issue, then the principal should get involved, but talk to me first. I'll feel a lot more cooperative if you speak openly and honestly with me and give me a chance to explain the situation, whatever it is.
2. Give me the benefit of the doubt. Again, I'm not excusing poor treatment of a student or anything else that's inappropriate, but if you give me the benefit of the doubt, I'll do the same for you. Trust me, we'll both benefit from it over the course of the year! It may be that I did forget to update an assignment or that I did deal harshly with your child. But if you were not present, then my "yelling" at your kid that he described as "for no reason" may very well have followed an entire class period of asking him to listen. (Also, I have never raised my voice to a student, but for some reason kids, especially teenagers, love to describe any lecture as "yelling.") And speaking of your child's version of the story...
3. Know that your child will lie to you. I had a parent who absolutely refused to believe this for months, but the day she finally caught her kid in a lie felt a little like the heavens parting and the sun breaking through the clouds. It was a shame that he lied, but when she finally chose to believe it, it made the discipline problems nearly a thing of the past since he knew he wouldn't get away with his little "stories" at home anymore. I've told many parents, "Why would I make this up? Why would I lie to you?" I'm an adult- you can't ground me or punish me in any way other than making me uncomfortable with your anger. (I'd prefer to be grounded, honestly.) However, you CAN punish your child and he knows it, so he'll lie to you. Don't be ashamed- all kids do it. Just accept it.
4. Find a balance between helping your child with his work and doing it for him. I know this is hard. Some parents are WAY too hands off (as in, their kids never do their homework and they don't seem to care) but some parents, probably fed up with nagging, just do the work themselves. I had a mom get mad at me (at ME?) because I made so many corrections to her kid's rough draft. Turns out she took it so personally because she had written it herself. Ha! True story. Your child needs to be reminded, nudged, and even helped along- please do those things- but don't do the work. It's not helping your kid and usually it's glaringly obvious that you did it. Obviously sometimes there will be emergencies/late nights/extenuating circumstances, but making a habit of this is not "helping."
5. Don't ask for tutoring/extra credit if your child isn't even trying. I know this is a touchy subject, but if your kid never does his homework, doesn't pay attention in class, and puts forth little to no effort, then why on earth would I need to stay after school to repeat everything I already said? Better yet, don't ignore all those issues all semester and then ask for tutoring or "extra credit" (my least favorite words) at the end of the grading period. I can only think of a couple of students who did all their work, paid attention, and tried their best who were still failing my class, and you better believe I did everything in my power to help them pass. Even my students with learning disabilities saw HUGE improvements when they simply did their work instead of constantly trying to get out of it. When your child isn't trying but you swoop in and attempt to persuade me to "work something out," you're just teaching him that hard work isn't important as long as you have someone to bail you out.
6. PLEASE don't disrespect me in front of your child. If you allow him to badmouth me all the time (or worse, you join in!), just realize you're not only teaching a disrespect for authority but you're also telling him that he doesn't have to listen to me. "Mom thinks Mrs. McNeese is stupid... I don't have to do anything she says." This is so dangerous! You don't have to think I'm the greatest teacher in the world- especially since I'm not- but allowing or encouraging disrespect creates some very toxic attitudes that are hard to reverse. Go ahead and agree with all the "I hate my teacher" stuff, but just know that you're effectively tying my hands when it comes to impacting your child in a positive way.
7. Speaking of respect, treat me with respect. I'm a professional and this is my job. I can't imagine most people going to the dentist or mechanic or even Target and telling the employees how to do their jobs, but for some reason many parents think they can talk down to teachers or tell them they should things differently. If you genuinely have a concern, again- be honest and tell me. But being kind and respectful is not too much to ask. For example, telling me your kid is failing my class "because it's boring" is hardly kind or respectful, is it? (I'm still a little bitter about that example since my class was many things but boring was never one of them! Ha!) Just treat me like you would want to be treated in a professional environment. I know emotions run high when our children are involved, but ask yourself if you would want to be on the receiving end of whatever tirade you have planned.
8. The smallest recognition or sign of appreciation will make my day/week/month/possibly year. I've always said that even though gift cards or other presents are great (keep them coming! =), I wouldn't trade anything for the heartfelt notes and emails I've received from parents who want to thank me for working with their kids, whether it's been extra help or just doing my (admittedly very hard) job. I'm spending nearly as much "awake time" with your child (or maybe more!) as you are and it makes me feel great when you acknowledge that. Even a parent sticking her head in the door in the morning during drop-off and saying, "Have a great day!" is a blessing. I've gotten rid of lots of gifts over the years (sorry!) but I still have all my notes from students and parents. Two seconds to say thank you or that you're praying for me makes a huge difference, I promise.
9. Know this- I genuinely care about and want what's best for your child. It broke my heart when parents acted like we were on opposite sides of a battlefield. Trust me, I love that kid. I never pushed a student to do more than what I knew he was capable of doing, but once I saw that potential, you better believe I was going to try to help him reach it. What possible motive would I have for trying to make things difficult for you or your kid? That only makes my job harder. I've lost sleep over trying to help kids do better in class, how to break through an attitude problem, how to reach the heart of a "hard" student- and all of that feels pointless if we're not on the same team. Back me up and I'll do the same for you.
These are just a few of the things I wanted parents to know (but somehow could never bring myself to really say.) Like I said, there will be legitimate problems to deal with, but most teachers really and truly do love your child and want what's best for him, not to mention they are working long hours with little pay to do an extremely important job. Educating the next generation is a huge responsibility and it will work so much better if the greatest influences in a child's life are working together for their good. (By the way, for more information on this topic I highly recommend Ron Clark's book The End of Molasses Classes. The chapter on parent/teacher relationships alone is worth the purchase of the book.)
Happy Back to School! Parents and teachers, let's work together, pray for one another, and resolve to be kind. We can do it! (And by we I mean you because I'll be playing with my baby at home and not grading a single paper. Woohoo! =)