Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What I Wish Teachers Understood

Recently published an article about what teachers wish parents understood.  As a teacher, I began reading the article with curiosity and a readiness to shout a battle cry of "Yeah!"  But within a few paragraphs I found my head shaking.  Something wasn't right here.  Principals giving up on kids because of parents?  Teachers who feel they're not taken seriously—or even more, feel they should be taken as seriously as a doctor or a lawyer?  Really?  And I found the mom in me rising up and silencing that teacher with a cry of "Really?  REALLY?"

I guess maybe I'm the only one who gets a second opinion from a doctor, or has a nagging doubt about the advice a lawyer has given me when it's over something incredibly serious. Like, you know, my KIDS.  I've been in the education and early childhood education field for twenty-four years now.  There are plenty of times that I have silently bitten my tongue or rolled my eyes outside of a parent's view.  But more and more I see teachers who are convinced that parents should bow down and accept their view of things, rather than the parents' instinct or knowledge.

I have taught long enough to know that the truth about any child's progress, whether in academia or in the social/emotional arena, usually falls somewhere between both opinions.  Teachers are trained to teach and to assess what children learn; unfortunately, the majority of that assessment  now falls into formal categories that are not what we consider "authentic".  For instance, when you're driving in the car and your child looks out the window and says, "Look Mom, it's my R" because he sees the sign for Residence Inn, that's authentic assessment—he's recognized something in its authentic context.  These assessments are much more accurate than the type we often give children in schools, where they sit down and the teacher presents them with a row of letters and asks them to point out the R.  Because of this, there are times when parents see their children's ability to do and understand things that teachers don't see.  On the flip side, teachers are teaching children all day, and they are trained to see things that we parents sometimes miss.  The best of both worlds happens when adults respect and listen to one another with the goal of improving learning for the child.

This brings me to the second irritation I had with this article.  Since when did it become okay to just give up on kids because you don't like their parents?  I've been in this field for nearly a quarter of a century and I can attest to the social changes that have gone on in how we treat children.  I personally think (and have written about) how we have swung to the far side of some weird form of what parents think is "positive discipline".  Too many parents don't understand what positive discipline is or was, and believe it is necessary to raise healthy children.  They also believe that any kind of limit setting will stifle creativity, harm self-esteem, and create neurotic children who will one day find themselves on a psychiatrist's couch crying how their mommy ruined their lives.  Bull.  Positive discipline has to do with maintaining a positive attitude, using positive phrasing, and using techniques that encourage positive behavior.  It does NOT, in any way, mean to never say no to a child.  Because of all of the confusion and misunderstanding so many people have had with this approach, I tend to recommend Love and Logic instead, because it is an easy, logical, and loving approach that can be applied at home as well as in the classroom.

Like every teacher, I have had parents that I did not mesh well with.  I have also had teachers that I as a parent did not get along with.  But at no point did I consider any of those struggles an excuse to give up on a child, mine or anyone else's.  My job as a teacher is to build a bond with EVERY family, whether I agree with them or not.  I can begin to help educate families when they trust me.  They trust me when I show respect for them and for their children.  To be clear, that doesn't mean I give the child everything they want.  But it does mean that I can respectfully set limits and explain those limits are for ALL children and why we have them.  It also means that a huge (and I mean HUGE) part of my job is to find the good things a child does.  Parents who take their children's side over a teachers do so for several reasons.  First is because past experience has taught them that teachers lie.  Maybe not even their children's teachers.  Maybe it was their first grade teacher, or their friend's teacher.  Who knows?  But there's a core lack of trust.  Second, these parents also are emotionally tied up into their children's lives.  To criticize the child is to criticize the parent, and if the parent has invested all s/he has into the child, you may just as well have slapped the parent across the face.

What do I wish teachers understood about my kids?  I wish they understood how hard my kids' start to life was.  I wish they knew how close we are as a family.  I wish they knew what an overprotective bear I am and why.  I wish they understood that my daughter's "bossiness" is actually a need to maintain order, due to the chaos of her early childhood.  I wish they understood more about my son's disorders.  Most of all, I wish they expressed an interest in my family, because honestly, there have been very, very few in ten years who have.

So CNN may have some good points, but as a teacher and a parent I have concerns about such an article.  What do you wish your child's teachers—or the parents of children in your class—knew about you?

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