Teacher Respect Crucial

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. What technique should I, as a teacher, use when I realize I have a parent that speaks poorly of me to her child? How do I explain to these parents the harm that is being done?

A. You've touched on a most important issue and I do hope many parents are reading this particular column. When children do well in school, there's a great likelihood that parents are very respectful of teachers. When parents admire and value teachers, children will try their hardest to please both their parents and their teachers. However, when children do poorly in school, it's often hard for parents to place that blame or responsibility on their children. In some cases, parents will blame the children's teachers for their children's poor performance. If they do that within their children's hearing, it basically permits children to escape from responsibility. If the children hear their parents blaming teachers, they assume they no longer even have to try to do their best because they've heard, "It's the teachersí fault".

Parents typically assume that although they may have blamed the teachers, their children haven't heard them doing that blaming. In your grandparentsí terms, "little pitchers have big ears" and even if you're talking negatively about a teacher three rooms away from your child, they're likely to hear you. In my clinic work, many parents protest and say they would never say anything negative to their child about a teacher. Yet the children tell me differently. I typically ask children about their worst and best years in school. Children who've heard negative talk about a teacher will say something like, "This year is my worst year because I have the worst teacher. If you don't believe me, ask my parents. They agree." It can happen easily and even the very best teachers are vulnerable when children are struggling.

Good teaching is crucial to helping children achieve well, but even when teachers try their best, some children falter or misbehave. You understand how crucial it is to get the parent support you need because you care enough to ask this question. I suggest you invite this parent or parents in for a conference. Right at the beginning of the conference, tell the parents about how much you want to help their child. Then point out some of the strengths youíve observed in their child so that they know you really care about him or her. Finally, help the parents put together a plan for homework at home and how you can communicate regularly with them to insure the work is being done. Let the parents know that you're going to encourage their child to respect his or her parents and explain how important it is for them to be supportive of your trying to help the child. Explain that you want to be on the same team as they're on. Finally, as the parents leave, give them a copy of the article on my website called The United Front, even underlining the section that indicates how important parent respect is. Leave with a final statement of how much you want to work with them to help their child achieve. Hopefully, you can reverse the child's problem now, with the parentsí help and respect. For some parents who didn't have positive experiences in school when they were children, this can be very difficult. Nevertheless, it's worth a try. It can make all the difference.