Before having children, I was a primary school teacher. For me, it was an enormous privilege to have such a significant role in the lives of the children in my class and I took the responsibility seriously. I wanted my pupils to enjoy their year with me and to see them thrive. It broke my heart if any one of them was struggling in some way – academically, socially, emotionally… And if a parent had any concerns about their child, I wanted them to raise it with me so we could deal with it quickly, together.
Now I am a parent, my heart breaks over my own children’s struggles (broken hearts everywhere!) At one point, my son was being bullied by another child at kindergarten. Sometimes he would cry in the car on the way home from kindy and he lost some of his natural spark for a while. But my husband and I raised it with the teachers and kept in regular contact with them over the situation and gradually things settled. But, until they did, I was torn. As a parent, I just wanted the other child kept away from my son. As a teacher, I knew the other child was entitled to be there too and had social skills to learn that he couldn’t if the two boys were simply separated.
As a spiritually-led parent, my commitment to Love applies to everything. I want my boys to see me treating everyone with respect, including their teachers, other children (even those they may be having trouble with) and themselves. Bearing that in mind and with the benefit of having been in both positions (teacher and parent), here are some principles I use to help me approach a teacher with a concern –
Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. When I was teaching, I worked hard to build open relationship with parents. I nurtured those relationships in various ways but it was easier when parents made an effort too (I had about 28 sets of parents to connect with, they each only had one teacher). Some parents just came into the classroom occasionally before school for a brief chat with me about nothing in particular and that helped. We built a respectful, trusting relationship which made it easier for either of us to raise issues about their child.
Remember that most teachers are hard-working but none are super-human. As a teacher, I worked hard to meet as many of my pupils’ needs as I could. I had my finger on the pulse but I couldn’t see everything that was going on in the playground or read my pupil’s minds. And there just weren’t enough hours in the day to attend to every need I saw so I was constantly prioritising (and feeling guilty). So, before approaching our child’s teacher, let’s make sure we have perspective. It’s easy to be judgmental about what a teacher “should” be doing but, as parents, we have to be realistic and fair too.
Avoid gossiping with other parents. It’s one thing to run our concerns by another trusted parent to get a sense of whether we have things in perspective or not but it’s another to gossip and analyse the teacher together behind their back. And to do this in front of our children can undermine their relationship with their teacher.
Make an appointment when bringing up a new issue. Although teachers are usually around for parents to talk to before and after school, it is better to make an appointment to see the teacher for anything that is more than a little niggle. An appointment will allow you more time and privacy to discuss what’s on your mind. Giving the teacher an idea of what you want to discuss in advance allows them to prepare themselves for a thorough discussion. For example, they may have assessment information or notes they’ve kept about social issues to review and bring to the meeting. Giving the teacher time to prepare will result in better outcomes for your child.
Ask the teacher for help, rather than make a complaint. When something’s not going well for our child, our emotions can be high but it’s important to go into the meeting with an attitude of “let’s work on this together” rather than “this isn’t good enough – what’s going on?!” etc A teacher who feels attacked may, understandably, become defensive which won’t help to resolve the situation. What we really want, is for the teacher to understand where we’re coming from then to collaborate on improving the situation.
Have patience and keep in touch with the teacher. When I was teaching, I didn’t always have a solution to offer on the spot of the first meeting. Sometimes I wanted to mull it over for a while and get back to the parents. Sometimes, I had to try out different things to find what would work to solve the issue. But I always wanted to resolve the situation. The parents and I would regularly check in with each other to review how things were going.
Try twice before going higher. If you feel that the issue you have raised with the teacher is either being ignored or the teacher can’t manage it on their own, you may need to consider getting a more senior staff member involved. I think it’s fair to discuss the issue twice with the teacher before asking to bring in someone higher. If we feel the need to involve more senior staff members, it should be with the teacher’s knowledge. Best practice is for the teacher and the senior staff member to both attend that meeting.
IN SUMMARY: IT’S ALL IN THE RELATIONSHIP
Parents are the experts on their child. Teachers are the experts on the dynamics of their class and the skills & knowledge of teaching. When we have a concern for our child, we want to bring together all our expertise to solve the situation quickly.
The quality of our relationship with the teacher will impact how well things go when we raise an issue. If we go storming into the school or centre like dissatisfied customers, throwing our weight around, we are not being advocates for our children but for our own egos. At the other end of the spectrum, I know that some parents avoid talking to teachers due to negative experiences they had as a child at school. As I often say, we are all spiritual equals, regardless of the position we have within any social structure or institution, and, bearing that in mind, we parents are entitled to raise issues and bound to do so respectfully. I hope, firstly, that you never have to use these guidelines but, if you do, that they provide a starting point to help you begin.
Much love to you and your little souls,
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to get new essays & soulful parenting tips sent straight to your inbox.