By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Do you drive teachers batty?
According to one high profile teacher who took a brave (and okay, a little self-promotional due to a new book) step this week in the CNN report “What teachers really want to tell parents,” bad parent behavior is ubiquitous. I’ll be honest, this list stings a little. That said, I’m a huge fan of respecting teachers as education professionals, so I thought I’d share a few nuggets from teacher, academy founder, and 2001 Disney “American Teacher of the Year” Ron Clark about what he’d like parents to do.
1 – Treat teachers like the professionals they are. “For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer,” he writes.
I like this and for the most part agree, but a caveat occurs to me: Like the fellow professionals Clark references, teachers should not give advice outside the purview of their expertise. For example: Don’t “diagnose” ADD/ADHD or recommend medication. Talk about behavior issues, direct parents to resources, and go so far as to recommend seeing specialists – but don’t cross that line into medical (mental or physical) diagnosis. Does this line-crossing happen often? I doubt it. But if and when it does, this undermines the teacher’s professionalism in my opinion.
2 - Hold your child accountable for the work assigned. “If you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them,” he writes.
I tend to agree, especially if it’s a pattern, but … Let’s face it: There are exceptions here. A few that come to mind: Family trouble (divorce, parent job loss, money issues, health problems, etc.), learning differences, kid stress (yes, this is real, even in kindergarten). Life is complicated, and letting your child slack on summer reading to focus on making friends doesn’t mean your child will be an unemployed couch potato at age 25.
3 – Trust the teacher. “At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, 'Is that true?' Well, of course it's true. I just told you,” he writes.
True, a parent should support the teacher and avoid being (and especially appearing) distrustful. That can undermine a teacher's authority and tear apart what should be a positive professional relationship between parent and teacher. And yet, simply asking your child about the veracity of an incident seems like the right move to me. Shouldn’t parents ask their child to recognize and take responsibility for poor behavior? What's more, shouldn't a child be given a chance to explain his or her behavior? At the moment an issue is addressed, why not hear from all parties?
4 – Don’t grade grub. “In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office,” he writes.
I couldn’t agree more. If your child earns less than stellar marks, it’s fine to ask for specific feedback, ‘What would you like to see Lauren do for the next essay?’ but don’t go in and demand an A. That’s tacky and disrespectful. Read more about when grade grubbing goes too far.
5 – Model respect for education and educators. “Never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems,” he writes.
Agreed. I’m with you here Mr. Clark. It’ll help build your child’s esteem for educators and education as a whole. You will not always agree with a teacher's statements or actions, and I think it's fine to call out specific behavior to discuss what you find objectionable with your child, but that's completely different than badmouthing a teacher, which creates an attitude of disrespect.
Now, this is just one high profile teacher’s wish list, but I can see how certain parent behaviors – repeated by dozens of parents year after year – could be irritating (to put it mildly). Clark contends that issues like these are driving teachers out of the profession in droves, which isn’t good.
So now be honest: Do you commit these teacher treasons?