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September 09, 2011

A teacher talks back

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?


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As a teacher (and a mom--albeit of a very young child), I wanted to add a caveat to your caveat about number two.

Yes, there are reasons a student may not complete an assignment--or even many assignments. But rather than insist a teacher make an exception, parents would do much better to teach their children that life is a process of give and take. So what if you make a C in math the semester your parents get divorced? So what if you fail a quiz because you were too tired to study? Life goes on. The difference in enforcement should, generally, come from the parent--not the teacher. Don't punish your child, or make him feel guilty, for bad grades when you know there is a good reason.

This suggestion obviously doesn't apply to elementary students, but I would strongly encourage parents to have students talk to teachers themselves when the have a legitimate reason to ask for an extension. I trust my students and like to see them acting maturely. Parents should generally only get involved over issues between an older student and teacher when it's absolutely necessary. I love to bend the rules for respectful students!

It doesn't happen often that a teacher will "diagnose"? I heartily disagree. And when I tried to include teachers in the dialogue with our child's psychologist, I was met with resistance, arrogance and a lack of knowledge on the teacher's part. This teacher needs to read the forums of parents who have been through the process of 504's and IEP's and realize that parents are desperately seeking their aid, not resistance and not their armchair psychology. I am also a college teacher and found that this information put me directly at odds with teachers....because I do MY homework. Thankfully my homework finally paid off and my child has been at a wonderful charter school for 2 years now where the teachers are respectful and really DO appreciate the parent's input. Out input should not automatically be labelled as "excuse making", which is the knee jerk response teachers have to a parent who dares to try and share their perspective of their child.

Number 3: As both a parent and a teacher: I agree that we (parents) should always ask our children for their side of the story, but I completely disagree in the support of an "Is that true?" question while in the conference! How about "Jimmy, what do you have to say about this?" There is certainly no need to open the door for your child to challenge a teacher's honesty. While there are always two sides to a story, our children should learn that it is most likely about a difference in perspective, not a dishonest person.

Anyone who starts sentences with 'To Be Honest or I'll Be Honest' has issues. Why wouldn't he be honest, right? His delivery is really arrogant. I'm not sure what makes him so high-profile, but he reminds me of the professor in the second 'Transformers' movie.

Children should show respect to their teachers, but no more than they would other adults. The educational system in the U.S. is a mess and he sounds like he's pointing the blame-finger at parents. As an active parent, I know that my child is not perfect, but I won't let a teacher with an 'authority complex' bully them.

Obviously he's pushing his book...one that I'll pass on.

Do teachers understand that there are children who pretend to be happy----they are too quick to please and seem needy for attention...........those are kids who are suffering for various reasons and a teacher needs to be observant, While the child may not have bruises on their skin, they may have hidden ''bruises'' from being emotionally battered. The teacher may be the only one who can save a child from misery. Pay attention and act upon it.Obviously, if a teacher suspects serious abuse athorities must be called, but for suspicions that don't rise to that level perhaps a conference before or between scheduled parent/teacher conferences should be scheduled. Please help those kids who are hurting. I KNOW of parents who leave the kid before school and after (LONG DAY) and when they get home with the child it's rush, rush, threats to hurry, do homework, eat and go to bed, all without patience and time to relax a bit. Kids need that time to unwind and ''visit'' with the parent some before all the must do orders. Sadly, these same kids are sent to the playroom to watch cartoons and eat alone, no family time. In fact the TV is the family. Maybe there should be a flyer for families that suggests a better way to help children grow up happy and healthy, mentally and physically.

I see both sides. I had one teacher that would go out of her way to be cruel to me. Luckily, my mother did not ignore my depression or dismiss some of my warning signs. I was terrified to even point the finger at her, and things could have gotten much worse.

However, this was only one teacher out many that were amazing! My point: that my mother had to trust her instincts. And in this case, she was right to question the teacher. Thankfully, my children have some caring teachers that offer guidance and open communication. When that is not happening, I have to question the person that spends the most awake hours with my child each day.

Both behaviors are normal... Some time its good for student and parents as well..Depends upon the nature of student...

The parents must respect the teacher because they know what to do to their student, they have enough knowledge to guide the student in the proper way.

The comments to this entry are closed.


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