In April of 2012, Ron Clark, Disney’s American Teacher of the Year, cited research that indicated new teachers remain in the teaching profession for an average of just four and a half years. Many of these disillusioned teachers cite “issues with parents” as one of their primary reasons for burning out so quickly.
Parents have become increasingly involved in their children’s education over the past few decades. That’s a good thing. But when involvement escalates to harassment, it is no wonder idealistic young people look to other professions for fulfillment.
When our children are bullied, our hearts break for them. Consistent social exclusion, physical violence, or verbal abuse at school spur us to take action on behalf of a child who hurts. Most often, our first point of contact is the child’s teacher. The manner in which you interact with that teacher is likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of your meeting.
The following are a few tips to enable smooth parent-teacher discussions.
1. Bear in mind that your child’s teacher wants the same thing you do…a physically and emotionally safe environment in which your child can learn and grow.
2. Remember that most likely, the teacher is not the one doing the bullying. Don’t make her a target of your wrath.
3. And speaking of wrath, leave your anger at home. Breathe. Count to ten. Delete your first email message and rewrite it. You are not really angry, after all. You are hurt because your child is hurt. There is no need to pass the hurt along.
4. Determine whether or not your child can be coached to deal with the bully directly. Sometimes when a child confronts the bully by asking, “Why do you feel you need to hurt my feelings in this way?” the bullying wanes. If your child is not ready to take this step, empower him by encouraging him to take the lead by talking to his teacher on his own. Give him a voice. Coach him by helping him formulate his thoughts. Most teachers will listen when a child requests a private conversation. If the teacher is unresponsive to your child’s pleas for help, then step in by presenting a rational, thoughtful argument with suggestions on how to proceed.
5. Schedule an appointment. Teachers are as busy as you are. Don’t expect to get a teacher’s full attention if you grab her from the bus line or bump into her in the grocery store. At The Peace Center, we favor face-to-face meetings over email or other electronic communications. Conflict can escalate at warp speed electronically.
6. Suggest to the teacher that this is a problem you need to solve together. Brainstorm with her about ideas.
7. Don’t go over the teacher’s head right off the bat. Going directly to the administration sends a message to the teacher that you don’t trust her ability to handle the problem. Wouldn’t you would want someone to come directly to you with a concern before taking it to your boss?
8. A positive word goes a long way. Give the teacher some positive feedback along with your concerns.
9. Identify the concrete outcome you would like to see.
10. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, but that together you might be able to make the child’s life at school safer and more pleasant.