20 October 2011

How-To Guide

Sometimes I feel like all I do on this blog is gripe and complain about my career. I swear, I love what I do. 97.4% of the time, my job is wonderful. Part of that 2.6% of annoyance comes in the morning when my alarm goes off too early. Some of it comes in the form of students who are just draining in their pestering. The largest portion comes in the form of parents who seem to misunderstand their role in the relationship of teacher to parent and what the goal of that relationship actually is.

One day I'll write about how much I love what I do.

(Today isn't quite that day.)

What I have for you today is a "How-To" guide of sorts on Parent-Teacher relations:

1) Most important: parents and teachers are on the same team. Both want for the student to succeed. The problem comes when parents and teachers have different ideas of "success". These problems, if they do come up, should not be handled in front of the student.

2) If a parent feels as though the teacher is not a good one, they should either move the student to another class or, if that isn't possible, find ways to compensate for the teacher's deficiencies at home. One of the things that baffles me most about a parent is when they seem to find something I do inadequate or unfair (usually when their student doesn't get a good grade), but they still keep the student in my class. If you don't like the teacher, then find other options. We're not offended. We're actually relieved, usually, to get us off our backs so we can focus on students (and parents) who are doing well with us.

3) That in mind, just because a student doesn't respond to a teacher does not mean that the teacher himself/herself is incompetent. Teachers are human. Students are human. Neither of us are required to get along with everybody.

4) When dealing with a teacher, please remember that we are professionals. Whatever your beliefs about education or educational degrees, the majority of teachers I know do their job because they care about what they do. We have our different personalities and strengths and weaknesses, but we are not ignorant or naive about what our job entails. Please do not treat us like you know better. (If you believe you know better, then refer to rule number two.)

5) While we're talking about professionalism, please keep in mind that a teacher has the right to tell you "no" if your requests are unreasonable or being resolved in other ways. Most teachers are willing to help you, but telling teachers how that help will be given is rarely the best way to get the job done. We respect that you know your student at home, but we see them as students and know that side of them quite well. You may request something of a teacher that is already being done only in a different form. You may also request something of a teacher that doesn't really solve the problem or would make our lives much more difficult than they are already, which brings us to. . .

6) Most teachers are teaching at least two different classes (or preps) these days, often more, depending on the school. At a charter school, I am currently teaching six different classes, four of which involve creating curriculums that I have not taught before. I see around 100 different students a day. (In a public school, this number is likely to triple for your teacher.) Whether your teacher is working with a large number of students or a large number of different classes - we have a lot to remember. We have individual needs of students to keep in mind (particularly those with IEPs.) We have lessons to plan and prepare for and grading to do. I answer dozens of emails a day, and I answer them efficiently. But the strength of our organizational balance often comes from routine and a good deal of practice. This means that if you ask for a teacher to go out of their way to do something - it is no small request. The task itself (sending another email, printing an extra copy, etc.) may seem small to you - but adding it to a lengthy list of things to do is not as easy as it seems for us. Please be patient and reasonable in your requests. If possible, find out what the teacher is already doing, and see if you can come up with a solution that works within the system already in place.

7) Remember that the goal of school is, on its most practical level, to prepare your student for independence, whether in college or in a job. Individual subject matters are secondary to this goal. (We know that not every student will love our subject. We don't love every student - it's only fair.) But this means that every time you turn in an assignment for your student, and every time you request notes from class, and every time you argue a grade on behalf of your student - you are enabling that child to be weak. Teachers know that students need to be led to responsibility occasionally. For some students it does not come naturally. But as a parent, please find ways to make your student accountable for the work that they do and encourage them to take care of problems themselves. If you have to walk them into the room, that's fine, but they should turn in the assignment. If you need to bring them to my room to talk with me about needing more time on something, that's fine - but let them do the talking. Unless you want your student living with you forever - you need to get them used to functioning in the adult world. Doing all this work for them is crippling. (And usually results in requests to me to describe everything we do in class already - I'm not going to re-teach the class to you.)

8) Finally - and this last one may be a bit selfish - but if you appreciate what your teacher is doing for your student, tell them. Silly gifts at Christmas that we can't possibly eat all of are nice and we appreciate them, but not nearly so much as an email during the week that lets us know specifically what we have done that was well received. It helps us to be better teachers, and it encourages us to do more when we know that our efforts are working.

No comments: