Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Teachers See Parents - Another Angle?

I was recently asked by a teacher if I found this post offensive after I replied to his link saying “At least we know where we stand now”. The article in question seemed like a bit of a rant to me. I don’t mind rants, they have their place, but I don’t like when a rant is disguised as a ‘helpful guide’ for the people the author is ranting about! I wasn’t offended, it wasn’t personal, but I am a parent and so the article was supposedly directed at me. Like many (in fairness, most) teachers I am an (Honours!) graduate. I have a postgraduate business qualification, a Masters degree, am about to complete my second Masters degree and embark upon a PhD. I don’t get paid extra for having these qualifications, or the Honours degree. I paid my fees from my own earnings, and I worked on them all in my own time, during holidays, weekends and evenings.

Like many, many parents, in all manner of careers and none, I am widely read and generally well informed about life. I know my children particularly well. I, like many (in fairness, most) parents like to be aware of what my children and others learn in school, how they learn, who they learn from and with. Okay, so maybe I make slightly more of a point to be informed about education in general and my children in particular when it comes to teaching issues. I read ESRI papers on education. I keep up with developments from the DES, the NCCA and the SEC. I have given talks to teachers about Exceptionally Able learners.

So here’s what I would say in reply:

We are your equal. By that I mean, that whether we have honours degrees or no qualifications, whether we are rocket scientists or contract cleaners, when it comes to this relationship, between you, us and our child,  We Are Your Equal. The whole thing hinges on this. It’s a triangular relationship. Three points, three people; child, parent, teacher. Call the points A, B and C for the three people. Let’s call A the point at the top, and B and C the two points on the bottom. The parent and the teacher are at the same level, supporting the child at the top of the relationship. Still equal.

We don’t need you or want you to be a ‘nanny’ to our children, we are the ones who nurture and raise them. We lend them to you for a few hours a day, just as they are lent to us for the few precious years of childhood and adolescence. Yes, you see them in a different light than we do, they are multi-faceted just like you and I. You only see them for short periods, you may not know all there is to know about them. Just because we each see different sides of them, doesn't mean either of us has the ‘best view’. Rather it means that we should acknowledge and learn from each other’s perspectives. You know, like, equals?

Likewise, if you could only take our warnings to heart, it might save that child a lot of heartache in the future. We may have some early warning information for you. Our children might be several years ahead of their peers academically. They might be rejected by their peers for being different. This might make them unhappy. Being unhappy might have an impact on their behaviour. We may have something valuable to offer to you too in that regard. If you tell me my child has “a behaviour problem” why should it be a surprise that I might question that diagnosis? Unless you are also a qualified child psychiatrist it is normal for me to want more information about how you concluded that my child has a behaviour issue. If, on the other hand, you opened a dialogue about how we might support my child when they were upset about an issue and showed it in their behaviour, I might be more amenable to your suggestions. As I said, we’re equally invested in this.

As for making excuses? Who are any of us to dismiss each other when we reveal that we have been having a hard time in our personal lives? If I were to disclose a personal problem or family matter to my child’s teacher, the last thing I would expect from a fellow professional is a dismissive attitude as described in the article. To be fair, I truly do not believe that Irish teachers behave like this. Who is to know what is going on in the teachers’ lives either? When we share a family difficulty which affects our child’s learning, we should be treated with dignity. Likewise, a teacher’s difficulty should be handled sensitively by parents. Equal dignity.

In relation to grades, I don’t believe for one moment that my child’s A’s are not A’s and my child’s B’s or C’s are A’s because the better teacher marks harder! I do trust that teachers mark work fairly and objectively as professionals, so I see no issue here, an A is an A. I know my child’s potential, I have a really good idea what mark they should be aiming for. I can help the teacher by telling them this information, but only if they are willing to listen. Some years ago our eldest just scraped a pass in the Junior Cert mock exam for Maths. We were shocked as we knew he was more than capable in the subject. We called his teacher for a chat to see what might be going on in school. The teacher helpfully suggested grinds and asked what we thought he would get in the Junior Cert itself. An A, we said, and the teacher laughed. Really, he actually laughed out loud! But we knew our son. We got him a grind, just the once, for two hours in total. And in the Junior Cert? He got an A. No surprise to us but a great one to his teacher. So, teachers have 25 students in front of them, parents only have to worry about one? All the more reason to listen to parents when they tell you something about their child. Teachers have something to learn from parents too, because we each sit at a corner of that equilateral triangle.

When it comes to communicating with teachers, I have a whole tray of eggshells to walk on. So if teachers are walking on eggshells with parents too, why don’t we all just wade in and make an omelette? The outcome would be so much tastier than what passes for communication now. The article suggests that parents open the discussion about a classroom incident with "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." What?? Is it really necessary for the parent have to give a big preamble? Do teachers need parents to couch a genuine or valid query in these kind of obsequious terms? What’s wrong with just that last bit “could you shed some light for me on what happened in class/yard today as X was a bit upset”? That’s not an attack on the teacher’s integrity, and crucially, nor does it invalidate the child’s. A question among equals.

This article didn’t seem to me to be written for parents at all. It was more a “preaching to the choir” than a genuine opening of dialogue with parents. Its tone was adversarial throughout, as though parents don’t understand teachers while teachers understand every motive of parents and have plenty of helpful ways to correct them. Some of the points may have validity, but they are lost in the implied hierarchy of teacher at the top, parent underneath, and child on the bottom. For my children, I am a resource in their education equal to that of any of their teachers. I don’t like being talked down to, as this article did. I treat every teacher who deals with my child with respect, fairness, dignity and good manners. I expect the same in return for myself and my child, and I expect that modelling this behaviour will teach my child the most important lesson of all, that we are equal.

I should note, that other than the Junior Cert Maths teacher, my own children’s teachers have largely been  excellent. They are approachable and observant, they listen to any concerns we may have and they frequently go over and above what they have to do to engage their students meaningfully. As the article said though, teachers are educated professionals, just as many parents are in different fields,  so I would expect nothing less.

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