Thursday, August 22, 2013

School Struggles

While my girls are loving their teachers, our neighbor is struggling with his.  His poor mom was in tears this morning saying she doesn't know what to do, and people are making her feel like a bad mom because she lives in this town.  No!  We are not bad moms for living where we can afford to have a house in a safe neighborhood.  And, for pete’s sake, get realistic people.  Our school is not perfect, but it is not the worst out there either.  When we were preparing to move, my husband and I researched all the school report cards and talked to as many parent educators as we could to get the real scoop on the schools around here.  When we balanced what we could afford with the best schools, this is where we ended up.  I don’t think that makes anyone a bad parent.  Plus even in the best schools, a kid can have a negative experience.  Teachers are human, and their personalities might not mesh with every parents’ or students’.  Maybe my girls have gotten lucky with their teacher assignments or maybe he has just been unlucky, but either way saying his bad experience is the fault of the parents for choosing to live in the house they have is wrong and not at all productive.

So what can parents do if their students are not getting on well with their teachers?  A lot!  There are very few hopeless situations in parenting.  We can do plenty.

  1. First, set up a face to face meeting with the teacher.  Don’t just go straight to the principal based solely on the information from your kid.  This isn't calling your kid a liar, but it is acknowledging that he is a kid and is giving you his point of view.  You need both sides if you are going to find a solution.
  2. Stay calm and be mature.  This is hard because as moms, we do turn into grizzly bears when our kids are hurt.  We need to swallow our animal instincts and remember that we are mature adults, professionals in our fields, normally rational and capable of speaking without swearing.  Once we start attacking the teacher or name calling or acting like a spaz, our ability to work with the teacher goes out the window.  The goal isn't to put the teacher in her place; it is to find a way to get the teacher and our child on the same page so our child can succeed.
  3. Stay away from toxic people who will get you wound up.  People love gossip, especially negative gossip.  People love to pass the blame, and teachers are easy targets.  You will have no problem finding parents who will happily jump on the “that school/teacher/district is terrible” bandwagon.  There are parents who Facebook stalk teachers from their children’s schools and spend hours ranting about them (because teachers are super human saints who aren't allowed to have social lives?).  That time could be better spent building strategies for your child’s education.  Toxic haters will sabotage your child’s success, so just walk away.
  4. Be honest.  Yeah, admitting our kids can be naughty isn't something we want to do, but it is something we have to do sometimes.  It is possible that problems with teachers are not solely the problem of the teacher, so be honest about what kinds of bad behaviors your child is capable of.  Also be honest about where your child is coming from. Be honest about how your child feels so the teacher knows.  Be honest about your child’s needs, especially if they are special needs (ie: kinetic learners need to be in motion, etc.).  Hopefully the teacher will be honest as well, and together, given all the information, you can make a plan.
  5. Stick to the plan.  Once you and the teacher have put together a plan, stick to it!  Whatever you do, do not bad mouth the plan to your kid.  That is sabotaging the whole thing.  Changes take time, so be patient. Be encouraging.  Hide any frustration.
  6. Don’t turn dinner time into teacher bashing time.  Whatever you do, no matter how frustrated you get, no matter how much you think taking your child’s side means attacking the teacher, don’t do it.  If children will succeed in school, they need to have at least some level of respect for authority.  Sure, articles about rebels making awesome adults are interesting, but realistically it is a minority of rebels who become Bill Gates.  Your child needs to respect and trust his teacher if he is going really put his full effort into working with her.  Rolling his eyes at her suggestions for improvement won’t get him anywhere closer to a good school experience.  Be the grown up and dig deep to find positives.
  7. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.  You can keep meeting with your child’s teacher.  Really.  Unless the teacher is a truly horrible teacher, he or she will want your child to succeed and will be willing to continue working with your family.
  8. If that doesn't work, go up the ladder.  If you are getting no where with the teacher and half the year has passed, then contact the principal to request a face to face meeting.  Like I said, teachers are human.  If you do get one who really won’t work with you or your child, you can speak up.  Be sure to not jump to the principal until you have made several attempts with the teacher however.  If you just go in ranting, they will send you back to the teacher and you will lose credibility.  If you go in calmly, list all the details of what has happened, all the efforts you and your child have made without success, then you will be more likely to get the principal’s ear and be able to bring about significant change.  Again, though, you must be sure to act like the mature adult and not the spazzing monster mom biting everyone’s heads off (which is so tempting).
  9. If THAT doesn't work, keep climbing the ladder.  Sadly, sometimes principals can be hard to work with.  In that case, keep going up and bring the issues to the superintendent's attention.  Again, be calm and specific listing all your attempts with the teacher and principal.  You will be taken much more seriously if you are calm.

I do hear often from other parents their complaints about schools, and they say, “yeah, but you are from a family of teachers, so you never have problems with them.”  Yes, I am from a family of teachers.  Yes, my background is in education.  Yes, my friends are teachers.  That just means I understand that teachers are working hard.  Teachers are not always perfect (trust me, I wouldn't want my kids in the classes of some of the people I studied education with in college).  But I also know parents can work with teachers.  I know treating teachers as professionals and partners in this whole child raising thing goes a lot further than treating them as sub-level human servants trying to take all our tax money while all they do is give our perfect angels demerits.  So talk to your children and talk to their teachers and be a team.  Amazing things can happen when parents and teachers combine forces instead of fighting against each other.

Returning at the end of a rough day, shouting, "I had an awesome day at school. After I got there, I stopped crying and did all my work. I love school!"

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