February 10, 2013

Confessions of a Teacher

I have devoted several years of my life to being an educator. Over those years, I learned a lot of things about different families and misconceptions that people often have about teachers. I'd like to share a few in hopes that if you have a school aged child, you can be better equipped when communicating with your child's teacher.

1. You, the parent, are responsible for your child's education.

A child learns his attitude about learning from his parents and will approach his studies with as much or as little enthusiasm as the parents support. Yes, the teacher is responsible for everything that happens in the classroom and keeping your child safe at school. It's an added bonus if your child's teacher can inspire a love for learning and engage your child on a daily basis.

But the teacher cannot control what happens at home.

You are responsible for encouraging your child when he/she is discouraged. Your words and actions mean 100 times more than anything your child's teacher will say. You are responsible for asking your child what he/she is learning and finding ways to go beyond 20 minute lessons taught in the classroom.

Engage your child about what he is learning. For example, if your child comes home and tells you that he is studying multiplication facts, instead of nodding and telling him to go and practice, take 10 minutes to practice with him. Praise him when he does well. Encourage him when he misses one. Be interested in what happens at school. Take him to a museum or the zoo. Even a trip to your closest historical area is supportive to his education.

When a child is successful, which word would you choose to fill in the blank?
  • That kid must have had great ___________. (teachers / parents)
When a child is expelled or drops out of school, which statement is more relevant?
  • That kid must have had rotten teachers.
  • Where were the parents? 

If you approach the teacher with the mindset that you are equally (if not more) responsible for your child's education, you will find yourself with a great parent-teacher relationship very fast. In the rare case that the teacher does not appreciate this mindset, be doubly cautious of what is being taught in the classroom.

2.  Be sensitive to the fact that there are other children in your child's class.

We live in a "me, me, me" culture. That's just how it is. Unfortunately, there is no exception in the school system. Some parents are concerned about field trip details or last night's homework (which are relevant things to be inquiring about) and get frustrated when they don't get an immediate response. These parents are completely unaware that another child in the class became homeless that day and the teacher had to figure out a way to ensure the child did not go hungry. Your child's teacher is dealing with these types of issues on a daily basis. If the teacher is busy and can't get back to you right away, she might be dealing with a very serious issue. Be understanding.

3. Think twice before sending that nasty email.

Think about an issue before you bring it to the teacher's attention. Is it really important? Is it something you can deal with at home?  Here's a very important piece of information about kids: they often lie or distort the truth to get out of trouble. Be careful before you immediately side with your child when you hear a not-so-glowing behavior report. Which makes more sense: having a discussion with your child about how to conduct himself and asking the teacher to keep you informed, or immediately assuming that the teacher is out to get your child in trouble and sending an email denying the poor behavior and condemning the teacher?

If I had a nickel for every time I got the latter, I could probably pay for a trip to Hawaii. The truth is, I loved those kids. Sometimes they broke the rules. Sometimes I had to correct them (some more than others). Sometimes I had to give them less-than-perfect reviews.  Perhaps your child is misbehaving.  Perhaps your child's teacher is trying to help your child by correcting him. Perhaps you can help even more by supporting the teacher's efforts through your conversations and attitude at home.

4. Some things can't be overlooked.

If you see any of these things happening to your child, contact the teacher immediately to find out what you can do.

1. Bullying
2. Falling grades
3. Repeated missing assignments
4. Poor behavior reports
5. Lack of interest in school
6. Loss of friendships
7. Increasingly negative interaction with teacher

Any of these may be signs of more serious problems. Truth is, the teacher probably has some insight as to what may be causing the issues. Be open to hearing the truth, even if it means that your child is causing some problems for himself. If you intervene quick enough, you may be able to stop it and reverse it before the school year is over.  Don't make the mistake of expecting the teacher to catch everything. Remember, you are the parent. You are ultimately responsible.

5. Attitude is everything.

If you are critical of yourself for not having "enough" education and you feel that it will hinder your child's future, stop! If you value learning and encourage your child to do his best, your child will want to learn. If you love your child unconditionally and meet his needs, he will excel. If you have high expectations, your child will strive to meet them. It doesn't matter how much or how little education you have. Your positive attitude about learning and school is what your child needs for success.

More on education later...

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