Sunday, August 30, 2009

They're Goin' Back!!

Firstborn is not returning to school until September 11th this year. For me, this constitutes cruel and unusal punishment!

However, I know some of your kids are going back this week, and some have already been back for a week or two at least (you lucky jerks!). So, in the interests of getting this school year off to a good start, I'd like to share with you a few gems I learned as an elementary school teacher. Here, for your perusal, is my list of things not to say to your kid's teachers:

"His teacher last year was terrible. I hope you'll be a little better." This one will put a teacher immediately on edge. Firstly, she is bound by a code of professional conduct not to gossip about other teachers, so she can't discuss it with you. Secondly, it makes her wonder what you're going to say about her to next year's teacher. Not cool, and definitely not a way to get off on the right foot with someone who will be spending upwards of six hours a day with your child. And would you like it if her reply was "Yeah, that teacher said the same thing about you."? Instead, talk about the things you'd like to see your child doing this year. It'll keep you from becoming a source of juicy teacher-gossip in the staff room.

"I've taught my child to defy conventional wisdom." Seriously, I heard this once from a father who was trying to explain away his 6th grade son's bullying of first graders on the playground. I could just picture him sitting his boy down for a heartwarming father-son chat. "Son, despite the school telling you not to do it, if you're the only kid left intimidating the kindergarteners, you'll have the monopoly on all the good trading cards. How do you think Wal Mart got started?!" Scary, scary stuff, people. Also, teaching your kid not to listen to anything anyone tells him will not help him pass math.

"My daughter acts out because you're not challenging her enough! She's smarter than everyone else! She needs to skip a grade!" While I'm very aware that some gifted children goof around and act naughty, I think this is a theory that has become ridiculously overused, sometimes because parents don't want to deal with the fact that their kid has a behaviour issue, sometimes because they put too much importance on having a gifted child, and sometimes because they heard it used once on a sitcom in 1978 and believed it to be a true and common reason for behaviour issues. Here's the reality. I worked with many, many gifted children. A few of them were manipulative little monsters, some of them loved goofing off and yelling things out to make people laugh, but the vast majority were very interested in their learning, liked participating productively in class discussions, enjoyed sharing their work and interests, and were not in the least bit disruptive in the classroom. I believe that most classrooms in the civilized world are now implementing new educational practices that attempt to meet the individual programming needs of kids at all learning levels, and very few schools are willing to skip kids (or hold them back) anymore because we know now that it causes more problems for kids than it solves. If your kid's school is still working on a model created in the dark ages, then yeah, that might be a big part of the problem. But in general, to tell a teacher that your kid's behaviour is entirely his fault for "not challenging her enough" will not get him on your side. And you want him on your side. No two kids are the same, but I ask you to really be honest with yourself about your reasons for wanting to pursue this one. Is it because it's the best thing for your kid? Or is it because it's the best thing for you?

I knew I was going to get long-winded on that last one...

Lest you think I'm slagging off parents, let me just say this. 99.9% of parents I ever encountered were fantastic. They wanted to work with the school for their child's benefit. And any good teacher welcomes input, questions and opinions from parents because they know it's a partnership that can immensely benefit the kids that they are being grossly underpaid to educate. But when you get that rare parent who has issues of her own, sometimes things from her own school days that were never resolved in her mind, it becomes difficult to implement any kind of action plan that will really benefit the child. So as your kids head back to the classroom, I beg you to try to keep the interaction with the teacher positive. If you like a good confrontation, restraining yourself may cause you to rip all your hair out with frustration, but it'll do your child a world of good.

And in the end, that's the best reason to do anything.


laterg8r said...

i had a friend who was a teacher and every year they had an NHL style draft for the kids in their class for the next year. there were blue chip kids (the ones everyone wanted) and the kids no one wanted but the ones everyone was willing to trade blue chip kids away for were the ones with bad or annoying PARENTS!LOL
good advice to the parents here :D

Deb Neerman said...

Excellent advice! TFS!!