I am your child’s teacher– just one of many as he/she navigates through the often-murky years of public education. I am but a sliver of influence in your child’s life, yet in that moment, I just might be the most influential person he/she can think of to turn to. In the chaos that can be my life, I sometimes forget just how sacred my duties can be. Maybe I quell those thoughts because it’s just too darn scary. I hardly ever see you, even though I see your child for hours a day, weeks on end. Does that worry you? Get you in anyway? It should. I wish we could have a candid talk, without those walls of preconceived notions of who I am and who you are. I think if we’re going to get this right (“this” being your kid), we should break down those walls and start working together. So I write this list of suggestions, with that in mind.
1. Support me, don’t bash me, in front of your child. Once she thinks you don’t like me, then she won’t like me, and believe me, she won’t learn a thing with that frame of mind. I support you when she has less than stellar things to say about you, and believe me, it happens.
2. You think you know your little Johnny? Well, I’ve seen Johnny the student, Johnny the son (that is, if you’ve come in on parent-teacher conferences), Johnny the cafeteria muncher, and Johnny the hallway bully. There’s lots of Johnnies wrapped up into that one little human package you call son. Don’t be shocked when you find out your kid did something stupid and must suffer through a rather benign consequence. Assume nothing, know he’s not unlike most of his peers, and for Pete’s sake, please trust me that he did it. I can’t make this stuff up if I tried.
3. I’m a teacher. I’m a wife. I’m a mom. I’m a daughter. Sometimes I like to do things other than grade papers and write lessons. Sometimes I have to do things other than grade papers and write lessons. Your daughter is one of 117 student papers that I will read and grade and notate. It’ll get done, I promise. But my daughter just started calling the houseplant “mom”. I have some reverse parenting to do, too. Cut me some slack.
4. I’m not sure how to combat public opinion that I work so little, but I’m too busy to care. Believe me when I say that I take work home almost daily, I work at least part of every weekend, I take classes over the summer, I sometimes write lesson plans at 10pm. When I leave the school building, I don’t leave my teaching job behind. If you want to spend a day in the life of a teacher, feel free to stop by and see what I do. I accept that you work hard without making you prove you do, because why else would you skip your scheduled parent-teacher conference? Believe me, I earn my salary.
5. Contrary to popular belief, I really don’t know much about my contract, my pension and the local teachers union latest beef. I didn’t become a teacher to rake you over the coals. Don’t assume that my number one goal is for me to do as little as possible for the most amount of money. Like most teachers, the politics of teaching is secondary (or tertiary, or octonary) behind seeing your child be the best she can be, juggling my duties as wife, mother and teacher, and taking continual classes on how to be the best teacher possible.
6. When she’s hurting, your daughter tends to spill the beans on what goes on at home. Don’t ever forget that. I don’t pry, but my students have a way of slipping tales of family drama into our lesson discussions. I thought you should know. For example,
Teacher: “Can someone tell me what the Declaration of Independence meant to America?”
Little Susie: “It‘s like when my dad cheated on my mom and she went to an attorney and got a divorce. Now I live with mom, and dad is living with girlfriend #6. My sister hates her, but I think she’s sort of cool. My mom won’t let me go there, though, even though she works 2nd shift and when I get home, I’m alone and bored.”
Teacher: “Ok, let’s move on. Susie, join me for lunch bunch today, and we can talk.”
7. For one year, I’ll see your child almost daily. After that, I’ll get another set of needy students. Don’t assume that I have time to be your child’s parent and teach him how to solve for X. Things like…oh…a moral code? That should be something you instill in them at home. Teach them honesty, hard work and integrity. No amount of character education in school (which doesn’t exist anymore because of new standards and funding shortages) is going to prevent your child from lying, stealing and manipulating if you aren’t telling them that such behavior is wrong. We both have obligations to your child.
8. Your kids are a reflection of you, not me. I can’t make reading a priority for them if they feel scared, alone or depressed because of experiences they have at home. The best way to prepare your child for learning is to provide for them emotionally at home. That’s the best parent/teacher partnership I could hope for. I’d forgo a thousand coffee mugs for that.
9. I have an open-door policy. I want to hear from you. Email me, call me, send me a letter. Don’t assume that it’s a me-versus-you world. Tell me you appreciate me. It’s worth more to me than any “exceeds expectations” administrative observation. When I don’t hear from you, or see you, I assume you don’t care. When you don’t hear from me, don’t assume I don’t care. See # 4.
10. I get tired. I get cranky. Not everyday is a good day in teaching. Sometimes my lessons fall short, sometimes I fall short, sometimes administration makes me feel jaded. I’m sure you have a bad day at work sometimes, too. When it happens, there’s nobody more disappointed in me, than me. I’ll make it right, I promise. Because in the end, teaching is who I am.
The teacher (Oh, and I have a name. If it’s March, and you don’t know my name, well, that speaks volumes on why I might be struggling to reach your child, and it explains a lot on what’s wrong with education today. It’s not all my fault.)
About the Author:
I am a wife, mother, step-mother and an “on-a-break” teacher. To me, one of the biggest problems in educating our collective youth in America is the vast disconnect that exists between parents and teachers. There is no longer any resemblance of “working together”. It has become more than just a wall. It is now a wall, from which both sides hurl fiery insults and blame at the other. Until both sides can come together, admit their failures, and find solutions, it will continue to be the children that suffer most and ultimately pass those same behaviors and beliefs on to the next generation. Visit my accompanying “Dear Teacher, From Parent“ letter to get an opposing viewpoint.