I have been a teacher for almost eighteen years now. I have also been a parent for 13 and a half years of my teaching career. When I was a young and innocent new teacher, I had these cute little business cards printed up that had a little slogan on the bottom that said, “Parents + Students + Teachers = Success” and back then, I truly believed that. I still do believe in this equation… for the most part. But, just as our students have changed over the years, so too have the parents we are interacting with in our profession. As educators, we have seen the overbearing helicopter parents, the completely non-existent/deadbeat parent, and everything in between. Parents can be a huge asset to teachers or a huge pain in the ass!
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a lovely couple who, upon finding out that I am a teacher myself, told me that their daughter is a teacher as well. They then told me that this next year would be her last year of teaching. I mentioned that their daughter must be so excited to be on the brink of retirement. Her parents didn’t share in that excitement, as they lamented that she was retiring earlier than she anticipated because, “she just can’t deal with the demands of the parents anymore.” They went on to tell me that their daughter adores her students and her students love her, but the parents in their daughter’s school are all too eager to blame the teachers for anything and everything. Yikes!
So, what can educators do to make the relationship between home and school stronger and better? How can we help parents to better understand that as educators, we share the same hopes and desires for their children? We also want to see their children become successful and productive adults one day, and let’s face it – both parents and teachers have a huge role and responsibility in this undertaking. But, when teachers feel like parents are out to get them or parents feel like teachers aren’t fulfilling their child’s educational needs, there is clearly a breakdown in that precious school to home connection – and the real loser in this all is the child/student. Teachers and parents must become a united front when it comes to education.
Time and time again, I’ve heard it (and said it), “I just wish that parents understood…” This blanket statement doesn’t usually just stop there, as it becomes a fill in the blank of reasons parents just don’t understand. While I am well aware that there is an innate and quite intricate relationship between both parents and teachers when it comes to student success, for the purpose of this piece, I will focus on what we as teachers wish parents understood – about us, our job, and their child.
I wish parents understood that teachers have a child’s best interest in mind in the classroom. If you are a student in my classroom, I will do whatever I possibly can to make sure you not only pass my class, but also gain valuable skills and knowledge. I am a professional and that is my job. I went to college after all, and I actually have a master’s degree too! Of course as parents, we feel like we know our child better than anyone (and we probably do), but that doesn’t give a parent the right to try to overstep a teacher’s best intentions. Sometimes it feels as though parents don’t fully trust teachers anymore and that distrust breeds negativity and sometimes even hostility. Some parents have overstepped boundaries with teachers, firing off nasty emails and leaving really insulting voice mails. While I am a huge proponent of having a strong relationship between home and school, sometimes as parents, it is wise for us to just step back and let the teacher teach! Parents, please trust us as educators.
I wish parents understood that teachers work very hard all year long to provide the best learning experience possible for all learners. I can’t believe when people have the audacity to say, “Yeah, but teachers get the summers off, so all that hard work is worth it.” Of course we love our summers off, but many of us have second jobs to make ends meet. Many of us are also doing professional development over the summer for our teaching certification. Even with summers off, honestly – many teachers are still stressed out, overworked, and underpaid. It seems that in recent years, it has become standard to attack the teaching profession. It also seems like parents are quick to think that teachers aren’t doing their jobs properly. While this may be the case in certain situations, it definitely isn’t the norm. Most of the teachers I know bust their butts trying to ensure that they provide an equal opportunity learning environment for all students. So the edict of teachers not doing their jobs or having it easy because we have summers off really has no basis in reality. Teachers are very much held accountable for student learning. Strict teacher evaluation systems are in place to weed out the slackers of the teaching profession, but sadly these evaluations can be so involved and cumbersome that some seasoned teachers just don’t have it in them any longer to jump through these hoops and have enough energy left for the classroom so they leave the teaching professional altogether.
I wish parents understood that teachers can’t solely be blamed for their child’s grade in a class. While I will do whatever I can as a teacher to help your child succeed, if your child is putting forth minimal effort, or is being problematic in the classroom, I can’t do my best work either. Teachers are seeing an influx of parents pointing the finger at them for the shortcomings of their own offspring. It’s hard to admit that your own child may not be the strongest in a certain subject or that a child’s behavior may be impeding their learning, but pointing the finger at the teacher can be unfair and detrimental to the student’s learning. Parents and teachers should work together to figure out why a child may be struggling and do whatever it takes to ensure student success.
I wish parents understood that I have (at least) 155 other students. Yes, I understand that your child is precious to you, and please understand that your child is precious to me as well, but I have five classes a day full of around 33 students per hour. While I would absolutely love to devote my undivided attention to your child and your child only, that isn’t feasible. Rest assured that if your kiddo is struggling, I will most definitely do whatever I can to help out and make sure your child’s needs are being met. I’ll let you in on a little secret too – every single teacher that I know would be more than happy to tutor your child free of charge, before school, after school, during lunch – whenever! You just need to ask. Heck, most teachers will even offer it before you even get a chance to ask! So just because I can’t necessarily provide one on one instruction in the classroom, there are certainly other avenues we can pursue if your child needs more individualized attention.
I wish parents understood that teaching is a teacher’s number one priority during the school day. If a teacher doesn’t respond back to your phone call or email right away, there is no need to call the office (or worse yet – the principal) and say you can’t get ahold of that teacher because they aren’t responding back to you. While there is no set rule as to how long a parent should have to wait to hear back from a teacher, please be patient and be aware that we spend our days teaching. We will try to get back to you as soon as we can. If we are lucky enough to have a little bit of time during our prep period, we will try to call you back or email you back, but sometimes, we just don’t have the time! Factor in after school meetings or other extracurricular activities, and all the sudden it’s 9 p.m. and we still aren’t home yet. Teachers are busy professionals – please cut us some slack! But, by all means, if you don’t hear back from us in 24-48 hours, a gentle reminder is not out of order.
I wish parents understood that their children may be telling them half-truths and only part of the story. Yes, your child may come and home and tell a sordid tale of woe involving an incident in the classroom, a missing grade in the grade book, or something that a teacher said or did at school. Please understand that as a parent, you are only getting part of the story filtered through your child’s perception of it. Please don’t jump to conclusions and please do try to get the other side of the story before deciding to make that phone call, demand a meeting, or call the principal.
I wish parents understood that going to a principal with a problem should really be a last resort, not a go-to solution. I never really understand why a parent won’t try to address an issue with a teacher first. When a principal has to intervene with a situation because a parent has contacted the office, it’s embarrassing for us as teachers. Usually, it’s something silly that the principal should not even be bothered with in the first place. When a parent calls the principal about an issue, it should be because there has been no resolution with the teacher after you have tried to work it out with that teacher. Often teachers are completely blindsided when a principal says they received a phone call or an email about something. Now, by all means, if it is truly a problem that needs to be dealt with by going over a teacher’s head, of course a parent should contact the administration. This also goes for issues that have not been properly addressed by a teacher. But, parents – please, please, please – give us a call or shoot us an email before a situation is escalated and a principal is involved. We can’t help you with a problem or issue if we haven’t been made aware of it.
I wish parents understood that many of us are parents ourselves and feel the same way you do. Yes, many of us have our own kids too, and we totally get it. We want what is best for our children too. We understand how important their education is. We all want our children to be successful and independent, but sometimes you have to resist the urge to be too helpful when it comes to your child’s educational struggles. Sometimes kids need to fight their own battles. More and more parents seem to want to swoop in and save their babies. While I understand that as a parent, as a teacher, it can be frustrating when a parent is always there hovering in the background waiting to be the hero and rescue their child. Part of growing up and maturing involves struggling and problem-solving. If a parent is constantly intervening and not allowing their child to experience failure in life, you are doing a huge disservice to your child. Let your kid struggle, let your kid fail, let your kid figure it out for themselves. Try being a guide on the side to your struggling child and gently help them make the right choices, but allow them to make mistakes too.
The bottom line is this – teachers are human, and we make mistakes. No teacher is perfect. We have good days and bad days, just like any other professional. The same is true for parents; we have good days and bad days as parents too. Parents and teachers need to allow a child some room to grow and experience their own growing pains as they figure out how to navigate through their education and their lives in general. When parents and teachers work together to provide the best educational learning environment possible, we all win! So, can we please work together, for your child’s sake?