Teachers and parents: Let’s talk!

Remember that both of you want the child to succeed, and work together.

Children at school (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Children at school
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
The teachers in my graduate program and in the schools I have visited frequently tell me that the most difficult problem they face is not with students, but parents. I constantly hear parents complain about their children’s teachers. Even when I talk with teachers who have children, I’m told that they have trouble with their children’s teachers and that they also have trouble with their students’ parents. While I’m certain that most teachers and parents get along, it is also clear to me that many don’t.
There are several reasons for communication breakdowns between parents and teachers. I’d like to examine two big ones: lack of respect and terrible communication.
When teachers and parents don’t respect each other, the result is often blaming the other for problems.
Teachers disrespect parents when they believe that parents are either too strict or not strict enough, or when they assume the parents don’t motivate their children to study or do homework or don’t appreciate all of the responsibilities that parents face, especially when they are also working.
When I used to travel a lot to train teachers all over the world in solving problems with the most difficult students, I might be away from home for up to a week. I’d make arrangements for my son to be cared for, but by the time he was a senior in high school, he took care of himself much of the time. I made two requests as I headed for the airport: 1) no parties 2) do the dishes. One time, I came home at 3 a.m. and the dishes not only weren’t done, but the kitchen smelled distinctively unpleasant. I opened my suitcase, dumped all of my dirty out, found my medications and went to sleep. At 7 a.m.
the doorbell rang. It was one of my son’s teachers, who was on her way to school and wanted a chat. Looking over the condition of my house, smelly kitchen and dirty clothes all over the floor, I refused to meet with her. Later I found out that she felt disrespected. Of course, it was embarrassment and not disrespect that prevented me from inviting her into my home. She didn’t understand my predicament and I was too embarrassed to explain.
There are many reasons why teachers might feel a level of disrespect for parents that is based on false assumptions, ranging from communication skills to cultural or economic status.
A common reason why parents disrespect teachers is that they have a false impression of what being a teacher means. I strongly believe that teaching is one of the most important and difficult careers in the world. Teaching is harder in many respects than brain surgery; surgery patients are anesthetized.
Surgeons deal with one patient at a time and none say, “This operation is boring. I’m not doing it anymore.”
Teaching would be so much easier if all students were anesthetized.
So many people think that anyone can be a teacher, and this is true. However, anyone can also be a brain surgeon. I can. My patients might die, but I can do it. Anyone can teach, but very few can get students to learn. An untrained teacher kills students’ brains, too, only slower. Few things bother me more than when I hear how easy teaching is because of few hours and summers off.
Teachers, like other professionals, go to school for years, spend hours taking additional classes, correcting papers and other student work, creating lessons and developing evaluation tools. They are required to attend many school functions after work, conferences and meetings, many of these on their own time. Few know how much money teachers spend out of their own pocket to help students. We ask teachers to be mothers or fathers, nurses, psychologists, babysitters, mental and physical health care providers, police, judges maids and more.
Yet we pay teachers a barely living wage. Teachers deserve the highest respect we can give them. Lack of respect by both parties is one major problem. Another is the daily communication process.
Teachers judge parents all the time by the way the children dress, their hygiene, their study habits and so on. Teachers think, “This child comes from a good home,” or “this child comes from a bad home.” Parents judge teachers by what their children say about school each day.
“What did you learn today?” “Nothin,” “My teacher doesn’t like me,” or “My teacher doesn’t like boys (or girls or some other category).”
They say frequently, “It wasn’t my fault, the teacher picks on me all the time.”
Teachers and parents judging each other because of a kid with a vested interest. When things are going well, students want their teachers and parents to like each other. When there are problems, students try to create conflict between them and play one against the other. For teachers and parents to be more effective communicators, there are several steps that they can take to deal with these issues.
Begin by appreciating the difficulties the other faces I their lives and show genuine respect. Accept that the other party has the child’s best interest at heart. Listen to each other without being defensive.
Try to learn as much as you can that may shed new light on the situation. Place no blame on either side. Make no demands. Absolutely avoid threatening. Put aside previous assumptions based on the child’s comments, behavior and influence.
The goal of both parties is to form a team, with each doing his part to improve the life of the child. Find common ground and reach common goals. Offer support, encouragement and try to distinguish the difference between what you need from what the child needs. Set up a future communication system that removes the child from playing one against the other. Three-way conversations are a great way to avoid this danger. Most importantly, remember that both of you want the child to succeed, and work together.
The author is a frequent contributor to The Jerusalem Post, the author of Discipline With Dignity and is the director of the master’s program of behavior disorder at David Yellin College in Jerusalem.