The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2007 by Dennis E. Bills.
As the summer comes to a close, many parents find themselves thinking back over the past school year and ahead to the next. Parents who have had significant conflict with their child’s teacher may wonder what they could have done differently.
From time to time, every parent will disagree with teachers over grading decisions, methods of instruction, points of discipline, or in-class comments. When you disagree with a teacher, what is the most effective way to communicate your concerns to him or her? The saying “You catch more flies with honey” comes to mind immediately, but an age-old adage for dealing with interpersonal conflict is perhaps more meaningful: Treat others as we want to be treated. When dealing with teachers, this means stepping into their shoes to anticipate their perspectives. To help us as parents do just that, here are a few suggestions:
Think of those times when we as parents have not known how to deal with our own children. In those moments, we do the best we can. Unfortunately, we still mess up from time to time. Teachers are no different and hope for the same grace from us that we want from others. They have the difficult task of uniting children from a variety of families, backgrounds, and philosophies into one classroom. Every child, family, and situation is different. Teachers cannot be expected to always get it right, and they hope for patience and understanding when they don’t.
How big is the problem? Is it possible to let it pass without bringing it up? Perhaps it is simply a personality issue or a simple mistake that is unlikely to happen again. If it helps, write it down. If you notice a trend, then approach the teacher with the problem. Often, when some time has passed, we have a better perspective on whether or not a problem is really significant. If it is, then by all means, talk to the teacher. Sometimes, however, we find that we do not really need to after all.
All of us know how discouraging it can be to discover that someone is talking behind our backs. We should keep in mind that talking can cause other parents to think less of teachers who are very willing to address complaints.
Give the teacher every opportunity to fix the problem before bringing it to the administration or discussing it with others. Teachers do not want parents to be mad at them are often eager to fix problems. As we step into their shoes, we should realize that few things are more discouraging than someone going over our heads to complain about us. Wouldn’t we prefer the chance to fix a problem first?
There are important lessons for children to learn about respect for authority that are sometimes more important than whether the teacher always handles every situation correctly. If you need to talk to the teacher, be sure to do so privately. Be careful not to tear down a teacher in front of a child. A child’s attitude toward teachers can be strongly influenced by his or her parents. Off-hand remarks can be a heavy burden for a child who must sit in that classroom every day.
Send notes of encouragement, share uplifting stories, convey your child’s positive opinions. Teachers hear far more negative than positive comments. Encouraging words can lay a foundation for great communication in the months ahead.
Finally, if a teacher has exhibited a pattern of unresponsiveness to your input, you may find it necessary to talk to the administration. Most of the time, however, you should find teachers very responsive to your suggestions. They are eager to have parental feedback that will help them understand your child better. Parents who treat teachers as they would want to be treated can have great teacher relationships even when problems arise.