As a teacher who is also a parent with school-age children (age 7 and 9) these are my tips for parents.
For happiness all round – your child’s, yours, and ours, here are a FEW tips from our birds’ eye view in the classroom:
1. Parents must give just the right amount of HANDS ON and just the right amount of HANDS OFF. We see so many extremes between too much involvement (where parents want to protect their kids from any consequence or struggle) and too little involvement (bordering on neglect). MANY parents manage to find the rich middle ground.
2. Some things you should act on, some things you should make like Frozen and ‘let it go’ (for example, the term “bullying” is bandied about very quickly when in reality children push and tussle a little every day and must learn to deal with the odd scuffle. Bullying is continued, intentional hurtful behaviour whether physical or emotional, directed towards your child on more than one occasion. Then, yes, do act! But it’s not necessary to go straight to the principal – the route is through the teacher first.)
3. Support, but don’t baby (if they leave their kit at home once, bring it and make sure they know how inconvenient it was; if it happens again, make sure they have a punishment; if it becomes a habit, stop saving them, AND punish them – but also set up a system at home which helps them to become more organised – not by you packing their bags for them, but by monitoring and supervising). Be there – but not to the point where you interfere from the side of the field with the coach’s decisions.
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4. Sometimes we need to Tone down the drama. If you are upset because you cannot watch their Drama Eistedfodd then THEY will be upset. They take their cue from you. BUT don’t be the absent parent who is never on the sidelines and then makes the teacher wait half an hour because you couldn’t fetch on time, and then pull up without an apology or a thanks. And, when we have to write home to ask you to please wash your child’s hair or clean their uniform then it calls for parents to Step Up! (these are all real life examples, by the way, of things that really, really happen, often enough to warrant a mention.)
So, a quick summary:
Needing to speak to us every morning? No.
Being like Casper the ghost, whom we cannot get to see despite desperate attempts and none of the cell numbers we have for you work? Also No.
Carrying their bags? No.
Coming into the classroom to wait for them before 12:25? No.
But leaving them outside in the wind until 5pm when they finished at 2pm? No no no.
Middle ground. Find it.
5. Know that your child is fallible – even honest, fabulous, magical children with bells on their toes CAN lie, they do misunderstand, they do have times when they didn’t listen or were wrong.
6. Know what is going on – school and socially. Do you actively organise playdates with classmates? Do you know the classmates’ parents? Do you read AND KEEP and diarise notices or is your first port of call the class whatsapp group? Don’t leave all homework to the aftercare. Your attention at home could make all the difference.
7. Habitual absenteeism and lateness in the morning is not minor. Children rack up, say for eg. 18 days of absenteeism over a period – this equates to almost 4 full school weeks! How can this not affect all future progress? Many parents treat missing a day of school very lightly. And children who arrive late frequently start their day negatively, rushing, stressed, missing out on announcements. If you want happiness and success for your child, then this is robbing or sabotaging them.
8. Teach your child the lost art of problem-solving. Rather be safe than sorry. If you are not sure whether they must wear the tracksuit on Friday, DON’T sms the teacher at night. Send the tracksuit in a kitbag. If they need it, they can change before school (if they are not late). If they didn’t need it, no harm done. My daughter was severely pressuring me to bbm her teacher about such an issue, and it would have been so easy, but the lesson was more important.
9. As parents we are allowed to query or raise issues, but for happiness and harmony’s sake, it’s the WAY we say it. Too often people react in anger and fire off a vile email or phone message or threat, full of unpleasant tone.
Teachers do make mistakes, but USUALLY whatever situation has upset a parent can be explained, or they did not have the full picture or the correct information. My mother taught me never to write anything that I could not stand by when it was shown back to me at a later date. Rather say, “I may have the wrong end of the stick, but my child says that this happened. Could you help me to understand what went on, and how I or you can help to resolve this problem?” This will foster a happy working relationship with teachers as Primary School is a long road and we keep records – especially if you have put something in print.
10. When an intervention is recommended, whether it be Remedial, Vision screening, OT, speech therapy, a paediatric assessment, counseling, etc: Please give it your attention. I had a professional person say to me this week that his child’s teacher had recommended some or other assessment and he doesn’t like that teacher so he is going to wait until next year and if he holds that teacher in any esteem then they might act.
So, for a year, that child’s happiness, which is wrapped up in his self-esteem based on his perceived abilities and probable lack of progress, will be compromised. No, you’re not going to like all the teachers. Gosh, some of them give ME a cramp. No, You’re probably not going to like all we have to say. Sure, get a second opinion. But at least have the thing checked out even if you disagree because then you can rule it out. Teachers don’t judge when children are needing help, but we have strong feelings when a child needs help and nothing is done about the recommendation. If finances are a problem, say so, otherwise it looks like Disinterest which is the unforgivable sin.
Some issues get raised year after year. Teachers don’t make suggestions for fun. Do you know how much extra work it is having a child assessed? Forms, letters to doctors, feedback, monitoring of procedures that are put in place. Worse is the teacher who cannot be bothered. And we Foundation Phase teachers might be especially annoying because these are the catchment years and we deal with this stuff. A lot.
At School we will educate BUT it is still parents’ responsibility to teach and instill morals, acceptable behaviour, manners, general knowledge ( do you go to the museum? Library? Zoo? Do you talk at supper time or all just watch TV? Do you organize birthday parties to include the classmates? Do you speak about religious holidays/public holidays/ our country’s history?)
When we view the parenting that happens around school, it’s like conducting an orchestra or tuning the radio to find the right station – we want to just dial down the crazy a little here, and turn up that parenting volume a bit there until we find the right frequency in the middle.