“Mommy, Mrs. Smith* says I’m struggling with my reading…”
Well now. That wasn’t exactly the phrase I expected to hear from my daughter (who was in grade one at the time). It’s not that I was surprised at the assessment: I knew she wasn’t a natural reader like her older sister had been, but I was shocked that her teacher would share it with her, and in those words. And without speaking to me about it first.
Sure enough, the next time I was in the school her teacher corralled me in the hallway and pulled out a copy of a Dolch sight word list, with pink highlighter on every word my daughter had failed. “Maddy’s really struggling with her reading,” she said.
“So she tells me,” I replied. Mrs. Smith at least had the grace to look a little bit embarrassed.
And then there was the time she wrote a glowing comment on Maddy’s report card, quoting an interaction in class which turned out to have been uttered not by Maddy, but by one of her classmates. Despite all this, Maddy adored Mrs. Smith, and for her part, Mrs. Smith was a loving and nurturing teacher, if somewhat lacking in discretion. Because of this, I decided that Maddy’s interests would be best served by keeping mum and watching how things progressed throughout the rest of the school year. As it happens, Maddy’s reading picked up steam and she was right at grade level by the spring, and Mrs. Smith didn’t make any more major mis-steps, so the year ended up being a good one overall.
But it doesn’t always work out that way. In a later year, I did have to go and have a serious word with a teacher. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. First of all, the environment is stacked against you: no matter how mature or successful you are, meeting with a teacher in a classroom is probably going to make you feel like you’re in trouble. It’s hard to go against 12 -13 years of conditioning and see yourself as a fully-realized adult in that setting. And then, if your child is in elementary school, you’ll most likely have to sit in a teeny-tiny chair, making you feel ridiculous and physically uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that you’re about to challenge a professional on how they’ve been doing their job, and you may feel a little less than perfectly confident.
“But Miss Beasly, my little Johnny would never do that!”
So. What’s the best way to deal with conflict when it comes to your child’s teacher? Here are a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful in the past.
- Remember that your child’s teacher is just another human being, trying to do his or her best in a very difficult job. Also remember that he/she wants your child to succeed as much as you do.
- Remember that your child almost certainly acts differently at school from at home. The teacher may report behaviours that seem unlikely to you, but try to accept that most kids are very different critters in the classroom than they are with Mom and Dad.
- Remember to talk to the teacher first. It’s never wise to bypass the source of your concerns and head straight to the principal to complain (except in rare circumstances). It’s only fair, and it’s certainly how you would expect to be treated in your own job. If the teacher is unresponsive and you still have concerns after you meet, then it’s appropriate to escalate.
- Try to leave your emotions behind. In fact, if you can even wait a day or two before storming in to the school like a protective mama bear, you may find that cooler heads prevail. If you decide the issue is still worth addressing, having taken time to cool off will enable you to enter the meeting with your child’s teacher on your best footing: cool and level-headed.
- Check your child. If he or she is feeling better about school in a day or two, it may not be wise to reopen the issue. Kids learn great skills from having to deal with teachers they don’t exactly click with, and research shows that even after a year with a “not-so-great” teacher, kids aren’t any further behind academically when compared with their peers.
The good news is that most of us, most of the time, will have very good experiences with our children’s teachers; working together in the spirit of teamwork to help our children achieve their highest potential.
And that’s as it should be.
*Not her real name.