It’s possible to portray the relationship that must exist between parents and teachers as a perpetually confrontational one, which is why it’s important to clarify that there are different kinds of issues that come up with children who attend school.
The first and perhaps most crucial set of issues is those which threaten the well-being of a child. These can range from actual physical dangers such as certain kinds of bullying or abuse, to less tangible perils, like emotional intimidation or cyber-bullying. These obviously must be addressed at once, and a parent is justified in taking matters of this sort to the highest authority in the school at once - and perhaps beyond the school itself if needed.
The second set of issues is less urgent: these are things like personality clashes, academic difficulties, disagreements with the school about the delivery of an education, or disagreements with parents about the level or nature of parenting. While these don’t place the child at immediate risk, they deserve attention and should be addressed along whatever normal channels the school provides. This usually means approaching the teacher first before going up the hierarchy of the school, and for the school it means calling a meeting with parents at which concerns can be voiced.
The third set isn’t really composed of ‘issues’ at all in the sense of anything negative. These are scenarios which arise in the normal course of events when a child’s upbringing is being shared between parents and any outside body: lost property, clarification of timetables, news about outings, liaison and coordination regarding pick-up times and so forth. These form the ‘bread and butter’ of school life with regard to parents.
The fourth set is even less problematic and therefore often gets overlooked. This is the body of communication to do with the day-to-day education or raising of children, the timeline of a child’s minor achievements, the ‘good news’ or steady progress that should be happening every day. Because this is supposed to be the norm, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves; the things which do get the attention are all those things which depart from it, as described in one form or another above.
Below is a list of things which frequently occur between parent and teacher which can now be categorised as you see fit into the sets above:
1. Ambushing the teacher first thing in the morning.
Though the matter you want to raise may be a ‘small thing’ which ‘won’t take long’, it works better to arrange an appointment to talk to the teacher. Gatecrashing the classroom when a whole class-load of students has just arrived is not the best way of getting in communication with the person in charge of that class.
2. Try to resolve problems with the class teacher before going to anyone else.
Have a look at the issue in terms of the above categories. Some things justify immediately going to the top off the school; most don’t and can create ill-feeling and extra work for everyone. The person who should know your child better than anyone in the school and almost as well as you do (given certain time frame restrictions) is the class teacher.
3. Accept that your child may be different at school
Some children are that same at home and at school; many aren’t. Being away from parents can be seen by children as an opportunity to live a wholly different existence. This can be good or bad. Being willing to accept that your child has a broader personality than he or she may be displaying to you is a good thing for you and your child in the long run. Teachers also should note that what they observe in a class may not be the whole story.
4. Mark messages clearly
This seems like a simple and obvious one, but an enormous amount of work can be saved if messages either way are clear. This can cover anything from a note about a missing jumper to a letter about progress in reading at home. Read through your message and see if it is easily comprehensible to another.
5. Encourage independence
Some parents go as far as teaching their child outside of school such educational basics as reading and writing. This is great, and can give a child a head-start, but other basics like looking after their property and being able to eat a lunch in a civilised fashion are also important and add to a child’s ability to thrive in any environment.
6. Be understanding and cooperative
While it would be good if every child raced ahead of the curriculum in terms of personal achievements, more often than not there is some area in which any child will struggle in educational terms, whether it be with basics like reading or maths or more subtle difficulties like scientific formulas or writing essays. Teachers and parents, working together and unclouded by artificial targets, can overcome most problems.
7. Understand and support the school rules
Don’t just leave it to the school to come up with workable rules and then enforce them - learn what they are and be available to explain the rules to a child so that they are more effective in the school environment.
8. Encourage good order
Children learn best in an ordered environment. Making sure that a child can correctly place his or her bag and coat neatly where they belong at the start of the day sounds too simple but is actually a life skill which will come into play a hundredfold when a child is juggling twelve examination subjects later.
Keeping things in perspective and knowing how seriously and urgently to regard some thing as opposed to another thing can lead to a more harmonious relationship between home and school.
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