If you’re a parent with a child in school, you will at some point disagree with the teacher on some issue. It may be a big deal, or it may be a minor thing–but the way you, as the parent, handle the issue can have lasting effects on your child.
I am a mom and a teacher, so I can speak to both sides of this (very common) matter, and hear me when I say that the way you handle any disagreement with your child’s teacher can negatively affect every single day of the rest of the school year. Just one negative comment at home can undermine years of respect and make it nearly impossible for your child to learn at school.
There are right ways and wrong ways to handle a disagreement and I have witnessed both. I’ve been on the receiving end as a teacher, and because of that, I have tried my best to handle it the right way as a mom. Here are some thoughts to consider:
1. Don’t say anything to your child about your feelings. This can be difficult, but this is the #1 key to handling the situation properly. If your child comes home and tells you something that doesn’t sound quite right, the WORST thing you can do is start to “roast” the teacher in front of your child. Be inquisitive. Ask for more information from your child, but don’t let on through your tone or your line of questioning that you’re digging for evidence against the teacher. Kids are masters at picking up the real meaning behind your words. Be very careful what you say and how you say it in front of your kids.
2. Don’t assume your child is without blame. This is the safest way to approach any situation. Even if it’s a simple misunderstanding, our children are rarely completely blameless. In some cases, I’ve noticed that my child has simply twisted something a teacher said, and no harm was meant on either side. I’m not claiming that teachers are always faultless; I’m simply saying are children aren’t faultless either.
3. Don’t talk to another parent. The temptation is to immediately check with another parent to see if their child is having a similar issue with the teacher. As “helpful” as it may seem to have more evidence for your concern, involving other parents just compounds the problem (especially if it is actually a non-issue.) What may be cleared up in a simple phone call is now complicated and could require a meeting with multiple people.
4. Don’t forget to keep an open mind. Regardless of how your child interpreted the issue, there may be factors you are unaware of. Furthermore, until you have personally spoken to the teacher, you cannot be completely sure of what was said or what happened. It is natural for us as Mama Bears to jump to conclusions and assign intent with or without all of the details. The only wise way to handle an issue is to keep an objective stance until you’ve had a chance to speak to the teacher yourself.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. With careful attention to your tone, asking questions can be the very best way to approach a difficult conversation with a teacher. If you’re asking to gain more information, your tone should express that. If you’re asking to insinuate an accusation, it will be very obvious in the way you inquire. Keep your questions open and wait for an answer. Again, you may not have all of the facts. Until you do, you cannot fairly assume anything.
6. Don’t escalate the situation until you’ve spoken with the teacher. I have been blindsided by my principal regarding a parent who skipped talking to me and went straight (“over my head”) to the administration. This may seem like an easy way out. I have considered doing this myself when I felt like it might be “useless” to go straight to the teacher. However, escalation should be used only after all other avenues are exhausted. Again, it goes back to complicating what could be a simple fix. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Wouldn’t you want them to give your child that same respect?
I recognize that there are teachers who would not reciprocate; they may just jump to conclusions or assumptions about you or your child, but I have never seen an issue get better by a parent tearing down a teacher in front of a child. As parents, our job is to teach our children respect–even for difficult people or in difficult situations. A majority of issues can be resolved by a quick conversation or meeting in which both parties may clarify their goals and intentions. Respect is maintained, and in many cases, a bridge is built toward a working relationship between both the teacher and parent.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but a quick prayer for wisdom can change our response as well as the outcome. Believing the best about others is another principle we try to model in our home, and it is put to the test in these sorts of situations. Nevertheless, these are the situations which require us to model it the most.