In just a few days, we will finish the first nine weeks of the school year and celebrate with a well-deserved fall break.
Like most schools, we schedule parent-teacher conferences shortly after we return so we can give our students and parents an overview of the beginning of the school year and share student strengths and weaknesses we see in the classroom. Our hope, always, is to help students and their families successfully navigate the remaining days of school.
I was reminded the other day at dinner, though, that what should be a meeting of teammates has slowly become a battle between teachers and parents. I happened to overhear a young teacher eating at a local restaurant bemoaning the fact that her students’ parents rarely want to work with her. Instead, they come prepared to defend their child no matter what has occurred, often before they know the entire story or even ask about it. This teacher clearly felt she was cast as the “bad guy” when she interacted with parents.
Reflecting on her comments, I had to agree that I, too, am sometimes put on the defensive when parents contact me about their child. Instead of discussing grades, behavior and progress with an attitude of “How can we, together, help this child?” education professionals are many times asked to defend their actions.
Please understand: I know educators aren’t perfect, and we have seen some very deplorable actions in the news lately. I’m not asking to excuse that type of behavior, but I do believe we have room in even the most basic school situations to improve our parent/teacher/student relationships.
In all honesty, I don’t know when this change from teammates to adversaries started, but I know my parents were quick to assume that any issue I had at school probably came about because of something I did or didn’t do, not the other way around. I was taught that although teachers are human and can make mistakes (don’t we all?), I was to respect them no matter what.
Ask any teacher, counselor or administrator today about even the simplest types of family interactions, however, and you will hear stories about being cursed at, threatened or belittled by both students and parents. Anticipating conversations like these inhibits honest and personal feedback from a child’s teacher because no one wants to invite conflict.
My husband says every year in the fall that he wishes schools would bring back chili suppers. Remember those? Teachers, students, parents and other community members would all join together at the school before events like conferences, carnivals or sporting events and would share a meal together in the cafeteria.
I have to admit, I loved those nights, but I would love even more to see again the attitude we had at those dinners. The school community was one, and we engaged with each other in a non-threatening, personal way. Families got to know teachers in a different light and found ways to relate to them outside of the classroom. Creating those relationships made critical conversations easier because there was a sense of earned, mutual respect.
This year, as we prepare for conferences, I ask two things. First, I ask that all parents schedule at least one parent-teacher conference and be open to hearing suggestions from your child’s teacher about ways for your student to grow, both academically and socially. Please become a member of our team. Everyone wants your child to succeed.
Second, I would like teachers to become more appropriately involved in the daily lives of their students. Ask about their families, take time to go to extracurricular events and be quick to share the positive attributes you see in your students. If we can’t re-create the chili supper itself, could we at least try to re-create the feeling of camaraderie and fellowship of those nights for the sake of our students?
Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.