STOP! Don’t Crucify the Teacher
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
Are you having a bad school year where your child and the teacher just don’t connect? And then you go to the parent/teacher conference and you KNOW why your child doesn’t like the teacher, because you don’t like her either!
It happens. I wish I could tell you that it doesn’t. I have had the child in my classroom that rust rubs me the wrong way. It takes every ounce of fairness in me not to just give him an F and be done with it! But something always stops me. I think it’s my mother button. The thought hits me: What if he were my little boy? What if she were my daughter? Let’s shift then to you as a parent. When should your mother or daddy button go off? And when it does, and the red lights flash and the siren sounds, how do you step in and what do you say?
Before you blame your child’s bad year on the teacher and schedule her crucifixion, look first at what the teacher sees. If your child isn’t turning in homework, she sees noncompliance. She sees a child who is lazy, perhaps. She sees a child who isn’t interested in learning. But maybe – just maybe – there’s more to it than that. Here’s where being a parent comes in. Only you know what is going on at home. If you are going through problems within the family, maybe a divorce, financial stress, a big sister or brother who is in trouble, this can affect the ability of your child to function and learn in the classroom. Not only is he affected by the tension that is felt at home, but maybe he feels he can’t burden you with his problem in reading because he sees you stressing over a pile of bills at your desk. This is not to say that you don’t have the right to be overwhelmed – no one is judging your circumstances or the burdens that you carry. But know that something could be affecting your child at home that he or she is carrying to school. Make an appointment with the teacher and let her know. Then that helps the teacher know how to respond to your child. For instance, if the homework isn’t finished the next day, maybe she can allow your child to finish it during a free period, wisely judging that maybe things didn’t run smoothly at home last night.
Yes, I know your private life is private, but taking the teacher into your confidence for the good of your child keeps her from jumping to her own conclusions as to why your child isn’t doing well in her class and it may give her a chance to reach out to your son or daughter and be a friendly support. Often children believe that problems at home are somehow their fault. When they take on burdens so much bigger than they are, they can be crushed and their self-esteem plummets. Your child needs to succeed at school. He needs a teacher who will pat him on the back and tell him he was a really good line-leader today. But she doesn’t know he needs that unless you tell her.
Now, I know someone is probably thinking, “That wouldn’t have made a difference with THIS teacher.” And it might not have. In that instance, I would suggest going to a school counselor or even a principal. I know a situation where the principal took an interest in a student and “checked” on her throughout the day. The young girl grew to anticipate and appreciate the times the principal came by her room and just stuck his head in and waved at her. It was the one little thing that got her through each day during a really rough time in her life. Keep looking until you find someone who will help you.
And in the end – when the year is over – no matter how awful you feel your child’s teacher was, remember that he or she may be coming back to teach in that school again the next year. That means contact with next year’s teacher. You don’t want to have battered this year’s teacher so that the report that is passed along to next year’s teacher is “Look out for that mom!” No matter how justified you may feel you have been, it will usually only hurt your child in the end. Try to find times throughout the year that you feel the teacher did respond appropriately to your child and thank her for them. If you felt a lesson she taught particularly interested your child, send a note telling her so. Compliment a bulletin board. Find something good. This does two things: one, it dispels any doubt that you are just concentrating on what you don’t like about her and it makes any claims you have against her more valid if you should have to go to a principal; two, it allows you to find something good that you can encourage your child to focus on to provide something positive in that classroom. Remember, your child spends most of the day there. If you have railed out at the teacher, your son or daughter is left in that classroom feeling pretty uncomfortable about being there. Never ever just let things ride. It’s tempting, I know, to just say, “Oh, it will all be over and we’ll have a better teacher next year.” But a year in a child’s life where he or she is miserable can affect how that child looks at learning from then on. It’s a natural tendency for children to transfer how they feel about the teacher to how they feel about school, or even learning in general. As a mom, I’ve been there. And because I am a teacher, I knew the teacher wasn’t doing what she was supposed to. I insisted that my child respect her because that in itself is its own lesson. But I interceded with counselors and principals to make sure that my child’s best interests were always kept in mind. Children are children. They cannot protect themselves. Don’t crucify the teacher – intercede for your child and most teachers will rally to support you – but in the final analysis, don’t let the teacher crucify your child either.