Thursday, September 12, 2013

Things I think are important to remember as a parent of school children

Every year I see articles in August that are along the lines of, "What Teachers Wish Every Parent Knew" or "How Parents Can Help Teachers."  Some of the tips mentioned are usually things like "Read to your child every day" and "Attend school functions."  I have no disagreement with these articles or their substance, but I think I would like to write an article entitled, Some Things Parents Should Know About Sending Their Child to School That They May Not Want to Hear.

1.  Don't Say Anything Negative/Disrespectful About Your Child's Teacher/School in Front of Your Child
You can think whatever the heck you want, cuss 'em out inside your head all the livelong day, have endless conversations with your spouse after the kids are in bed, but you need to model respect, restraint and maturity in front of your child.  And even if you don't throw a temper tantrum every day, kids are very good at picking up their parents' moods.  Your negative attitude will be picked up by the child and will impact his/her reactions to the school or teacher.  If you feel so compelled by your feelings to share them with the child, keep it to "I disagree with some of the things that the school does so I'm going to talk to the teacher/principal."  The end.

2. Don't Believe Everything Your Child Tells You
Children can lie, but much of the time they don't.  They are, however, only able to see situations from a child's perspective.  A child might say "My teacher didn't let me finish lunch."  What the child leaves out is that he/she talked with a friend for 15 minutes and didn't spend enough time actually eating.

I had a student once who told me that he knew some famous NBA basketball player, and I responded something like, "Sure."  He insisted, "No, I REALLY know so-and-so."  I think my response remained, "Sure you do."  I was not disrespectful in my tone, mostly indifferent. The child went to his mother, whined to her, and she wrote me a note, telling me how much I hurt her child's feelings because I didn't believe him, and that the family does actually know the NBA player.  I wrote her a note back saying I was sorry I hurt his feelings, but I would be a fool if I believed every single thing my students tell me.

(Had I been this mother and my son whined to me, I would have told him that 1.) it didn't really matter whether the teacher believed his story because he knows it is true and 2.) since most people do not know NBA stars, it is sort of an unbelievable story.  I would not under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES have written such a note to a teacher.)

Parents should get in the habit of taking things their children say about school with a small grain of salt.  Be judicious about what and how much you believe.

3. Don't Let Teacher Notes Get You Down
Some teachers are note-writers.  They send notes home or give detentions for every.little.thing.  Some teachers are better able to ignore or diffuse behaviors in the classroom and don't feel compelled to alert parents to every.little.thing.

I was in this latter category.  I rarely gave detentions, not because students never acted up (because they did), but because I tried to de-escalate situations in the class that would take time away from learning.  I could usually bend down and say something quietly to a student that would work far better than calling them out in front of their peers.

I worked with someone who gave detentions with almost every breath he took.  For awhile, the team teachers took turns holding detentions, but my colleagues and I (who also didn't use detentions for everything) were essentially holding detentions for the 11,000 detentions this one other teacher wrote.  Eventually, we implemented a policy of every teacher holds his/her own detention.  I got tired of "punishing" students who didn't do anything in my classroom that I felt would warrant a detention.  (This detention-loving teacher quickly cut back on his use of detentions when HE had to stay after school every week.)

The point I'm making is that parents have to discern how much mental energy and worry they should really give to notes sent home, especially if the teacher sends lots and lots of notes home.

4. Back Up the Teacher
This kinda goes along with #1 but also seems to contradict #3.  Even if you dislike the teacher and dislike the way he/she runs his/her classroom, you need to let the child know you back up the teacher (but in private tell the teacher you do not agree with his/her policy, etc).

I certainly don't believe in teaching children blind obedience, but being revolutionary means knowing how to play the system.  You have to know the rules in order to know how to work against them.  None of us always gets our druthers.  We don't choose our parents or our bosses; we sometimes have to go along to get along (at least for awhile).  

When I was in elementary school, I got into a fistfight with another student.  My mother went in to talk to the teacher (I did not go, and I did not know she talked to him).  Her words to him were that she (and therefore I) would accept whatever punishment was meted out, but that under no circumstances was I to allow another child to bully me in any way.  My mother did not agree in hitting and accepted school policy, in front of me, but in private she let her opinion be known.  After this event, the teacher was much more cognizant of the situation between me and this other student and monitored it carefully.

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