It's been about a week since we started the new plan for N. In my previous post on problems in school, I wrote that N. was having trouble settling down during her first class period in first grade. While I bandied around a couple of solutions (which you can read about in Part 2 of Problems in School), in the end I decided to have her do a worksheet until class started.
Since enough time has passed to let N. get used to the new system, I decided it was time to call the teacher, and check out how things were going.
I don't know if it's because it feels like going to the principal's office, or because we as parents are so invested in our children's success, but calling the teacher is SCARY for a lot of parents. Over the years I've called numerous teachers and school staff, both for my children and as part of my work.
Those calls usually ranged from triage ("Jesse just ran away from the school and he refuses to come out of his hiding place... can you come?") to damage control ("Kelly keeps ripping up the other kids' art work. Their parents are started to get really annoyed") to behavioral issues ("Stasha refuses to do any classwork").
Through the years I've developed a method that generally works to gain the teacher's trust, and establish a working relationship:
Try to put your fears aside. I know how easy it is to assume the worst - that the teacher hates your child, expects him to grow up to be the local garbage man, or thinks he's the devil's spawn. In reality, the vast majority of teachers don't think this way.
Most teachers are just as concerned about talking to you as you are to them. I know, because they've told me.
Mainly they worry about whether parents will be reasonable, or whether they'll start shouting and blaming the bearer of bad news. So if you can remain calm, cool, and collected, you will have already started off on the right foot.
Do whatever it takes to get yourself there, whether it's deep breathing, positive statements to yourself, or a support team waiting on standby.
Start off with something positive about the teacher.
You do this with your kids, right? It should seem obvious, but no one likes to hear bad news right off the bat. Try and say something positive about the teacher, particularly with regards to your child.
You could talk about how carefully the lesson is planned, or how you notice the teacher keeps an eye on her and you're happy that takes the time to do so. But one caveat: whatever you say, make sure it's sincere. Otherwise it ends up feeling like the "You're great BUT..." which is probably even more annoying than just starting out negatively.
Watch your language.
No, I'm not talking about expletives. I'm talking about being careful to stay away from the word "you." Nothing will get up a teacher's back then feeling like they're on the People's Court. Be careful to use phrases like " I noticed that.." or " I've been wondering why.."
Keeping your statements in third person will help you do this more easily. For instance, instead of saying "Don't you think you give too much homework? Kaylee can't seem to finish all of it," state " I've noticed that the kids get about 2 hours of homework a day."
Talk about how you feel.
Talking about how you feel briefly will help you stay out of accusatory mode, as well as help the teacher understand why you object. For example, in the above example, you would say "I've noticed that the kids get about 2 hours of homework a day and I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed about trying to help her get it all done."
I know, it seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment, and our rush to get the conversation over and done with, it's easy to blurt out everything you have to say before listening to the teacher's point of view.
Instead, after the above statement, pause, and wait for the teacher to answer. Don't rush in to fill in the blank space; she or he might just be taking the time to construct their thoughts.
Let them finish everything they have to say. Don't interrupt; wait until they ask you what you think. Only then, should you respond.
When you talk to your teacher, it's not a matter of whether you or your child's teacher get their way. The only person who needs to come out the winner is your child. So be open to what the teacher has to say, and try and consider their side of things.
Teachers are often underpaid, tired out, unappreciated, and frustrated about not being able to solve a problem on their own. They want just as much as you for the problem to go away; they don't enjoy it either. They may be great teachers, or they may not be.
They may have reacted to a situation inappropriately, and will regret it as long as you don't call them on the carpet. Or they may not be repentant at all. Either way, you need to get what you want - a happy, successful child- so you need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get what you need.
Once, I had a teacher tell me my child was " a bad child, and a bad influence on the other kids." I was shocked. I couldn't believe he actually said that to me, and stupidly I asked him if he really said that.
Of course he repeated it, and was adamant about his position even when I pointed out that until this year, my son was the most popular in his class. I'd never had a complaint from a parent or a teacher - in fact they used to stop me in the street and ask in awe if I was Y's mother.
With this teacher I soon realized there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He was threatened by my son's forceful personality, and even though my son was not a behavior problem, felt that he had to break him in order to mold his personality to what he felt was best.
It was a difficult year, to put it mildly, and the principal was unwilling to allow him to switch classes. But we made it through the year, in part because I bit my tongue and tried to sympathize with what the teacher was saying, behind his forked tongue.
I put myself in therapist mode; this is basically what I said: " I see. So you're worried he might encourage the class to get out of hand (it's never happened before you idiot)? And you're thinking that this is a bad habit for the future (you can't break my son - haven't you noticed yet? why not try and work with him??)
I then explained that we as his parents are also concerned about his future, and that we know with the right guidance he will grow up to be a leader. I added that in the future he needs to contact us if there is a problem, but he is absolutely not allowed to physically discipline my child in any way (another long story - it's more common than you think, and legal in a lot of places).
Stay in touch.
After that first big conversation it's easy to feel so relieved that you decide you don't need to speak to the teacher for a long, long time.
Before you finish up the conversation, make sure you make a time that you'll touch bases, and follow up with that phone call. It will get easier as you go along, as long as you keep in mind the principles above.
What awful experiences have you had with your child's teacher? Why not share it in the comments below? I'm sure others would love to commiserate with you!