Your little Buttercup, the light of your life, is the smartest student around and you’re sure of that. Buttercup knew her address way before all the other kids in class. So when you get a call from Buttercup’s school, regarding Buttercup’s behavior in class, you storm over to the building, rebuking the principal for insulting your dear Buttercup.
While it’s fair for parents to be proud and protective of their children, it’s not fair to immediately look for another reason for Buttercup’s actions other than Buttercup.
Much of the time, parents see the teacher as that other reason. In 2005, Time magazine found that 40 to 50 percent of new teachers left their profession within five years because of parent management and 73 percent of them said too many parents treat schools and teachers as adversaries. Whether parents think they weren’t watching Buttercup closely enough or were just overreacting, teachers become the target of angry parent onslaughts. But, as a parent, it’s your duty to see your child’s educator as an ally, not a foe, say education officials and advocates for children.
Take it slow in the beginning.
“Most schools have a back-to-school night at the beginning of the year,” says Jennifer Kogan, social worker and therapist in private practice from Washington, D.C. “This can be a good time to introduce yourself to your child’s new teacher.”
If your child’s school doesn’t give you a chance to meet their teacher before classes start, take matters into your own hands.
“The best way to make contact with them is via e-mail with a brief introduction,” says Robert Goldman, attorney and psychologist for the Suffolk County Probation Department. “Ask them for guidance as to best contact them in the future and how you may assist them. It is important that they do not feel that they need to be on the defensive but that you are there to aid them in having a successful school year.”
You also don’t want to overwhelm your child’s teacher with day-to-day questions about his or her progress.
“It can be a good idea to wait until the first parent-teacher conference before asking about your child’s progress,” says Kogan.
When you do start becoming a bigger part of your child’s education, think of yourself as an advocate. You want to help your kid succeed but that’s sometimes easier said than done.
“When you are advocating for your child, ask yourself: ‘Am I advocating for myself or for my child?’æ” says Arthur Hochman, associate professor of education at Butler University. “Sometimes the child is happy, loves going to school and is moving forward and yet the parent may be looking for something he or she may feel is missing from the curriculum.”
Don’t be naive and think that you and the teacher are always going to see eye-to-eye. Situations will surface, disagreements will ensue and arguments will arise. It’s up to you to handle these in a professional and courteous manner.
“Respect a teacher’s experience and knowledge,” says Robin Goodman, licensed clinical psychologist and art therapist. She says that teachers have seen all kinds of students and gain a wide range of experiences, learning all different methods about how to teach.
“It doesn’t mean they are always right but it does mean their view is worth hearing,” says Goodman.
As hard as it may be, don’t be so quick to take your child’s side. Hear the teacher out and have an open mind. Goodman thinks that you need to be willing to try some things and take some responsibility for helping with any problems that may crop up.
“You want to develop a relationship where you and the teacher communicate,” says Goodman. A key part of any relationship is trust. Believe that your child’s teacher might actually have a clue and know what they’re talking about.
“Your ‘energetic’ can be a teacher’s ‘roaming around and unfocused,’æ” says Goodman. You should also have respect for the teacher and bring problems straight to them when they arise. Don’t go to the principal right away.
“There’s always time to go up the chain of command with problems,” says Goodman.
In the end, everything boils down to what’s most important to you: your little Buttercup. Always keep your child’s best interest, not yours, in mind when having discussions with their teacher.
“Parent-teacher relationships are best when it’s a team rather than a competitive sport,” says Goodman.
Don’t immediately throw blame onto the educator for every single problem that comes up. Instead, work with them to make Buttercup’s experience the best it can be.