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Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to Deal With Your Kid's Teacher

This is such a touchy topic for me.

Lately, as I've been reading the school section of my local moms' message board, I sit at my computer clenching and unclenching my fists, pursing my lips, narrowing my eyes, and basically turning purple, trying to not respond to some of these parents' complaints about their kids' teachers.

Now, I know it's different when it's your child, and it's certainly different when it's my child.

But, I've been hearing a lot of smack talk about teachers lately and as a former teacher, I'd like to say a few things in response.

And, hey, Dumb Mom gave me the perfect excuse to unload all this through her You'll Thank Me Later Thursday: advice you might not like right now, but will someday see the wisdom of.

So, here goes: How best to approach your child's teacher when you have an issue with what is going on in the classroom.

I do want to say that I realize that there are some sucky, mean, nasty teachers who should find a different profession, but I do think that these are far fewer in number than parents seem to think there are. But, here, we're just talking about your run-of-the-mill, first-offense type of teacher. Not big, huge issues, but we're talking the small stuff here.

Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I'm not talking about MAJOR issues: like your child says that a teacher touched him/her inappropriately whether in an abusive/sexual manner. Or if you have had repeated problems with the teacher. Or if they write "you are an idiot!" on your child's papers. By all means, go in, guns blazing, with your posse, pull your child out of the class, etc.

This advice is meant for first time and/or minor "offenses."

First of all, if you have an issue with the teacher, CHECK YOUR FACTS.

I had a mom come in once, screaming at me that it was totally unfair of me to assign a 5 paragraph essay to her daughter to do in one night, especially since she had a math test in another class on the same day.

Flabbergasted, I turned to her daughter, who was pretty much cowering in the corner and asked her if she could please tell her mother how long we'd been working on that assignment(for a MONTH- IN class, and the only kids who had it for homework were those who had not yet managed to complete their final drafts in class). Not wanting to get in trouble, daughter had told mom that I had assigned it yesterday.

Way to look like a crazy mom. By all means, question the assignment, but do it in a calm manner.

In fact, STAY CALM! is pretty much the most important rule here.

I know you're upset about whatever is going on, but it's never a good idea to come in yelling and screaming. You might end up not being allowed into that teacher's classroom again without an escort from the principal's office(crazy mom of one of my former students, who actually slapped a TA, she was so pissed off).

If you think that the teacher picks on your child, do not go in and accuse the teacher of this.

Go in and ask about the specific incidents that your child is talking about. What did your child do to get silent lunch or their recess taken away or whatever punishment they got. And then ask what the teacher thinks can be done so that that behavior doesn't continue to occur. And ask to be informed whenever it happens, stating that it's easier for you to do something about behavior if you know about it sooner, rather than only being informed after something has happened for the tenth time.

Instead of complaining about punishments that your child receives, make your own suggestions as to a solution.

Much as I HATED them, I did have to use silent lunch(blech- I usually switched this up and had it be child had to sit near me at lunch instead- they need to get talking out somehow!) and take away some recess time. WHY? Because there's not a whole lot left that teachers can do.

There are various behavior charts/systems that can be used and positive reinforcement, but outside of that, there's not a whole lot left.

So, instead of complaining about how much you hate silent lunch(or whatever the punishment is): can you think of a better one? And let the teacher know?

Not everything is the teacher's fault. This one is in specific reference to a mom who has been complaining that her child's new teacher is horrible and her child has never had problems before, blah, blah. Really? It must be the teacher and couldn't possibly be that the child just had to move cross-country, leave all his friends, and his daddy just got deployed for a year, could it? No, those things couldn't possibly be affecting the child and making him act up in school. Must be an awful teacher.

If you are upset about what you perceive to be a grading error, just ask. You don't have to come in waving the paper in question in the teacher's face. Teachers make mistakes and will feel really bad about it and fix it. This is why, whenever I would be doing grades for report cards, if a student was super close to making the next grade, I usually just gave it to them, knowing I could have messed up somewhere along the line.

At the first conference, DO NOT bring in others. If you've never met with the teacher before, insisting that the principal, guidance counselor, education advocate, etc., be there with you. This is going to put the teacher on the defensive and might not even prove necessary. Give the teacher a chance first.

If you were at work, and someone had a question about something you did, wouldn't you rather that they came to you about it first, instead of bringing your boss in right away?

If you do not like the way that the conference goes, THEN bring in the principal or whoever else you feel needs to be there.

In fact, always make sure you talk to the teacher about something first.

Asking your neighbors, parents of other students, the people in your moms group, etc., will probably do nothing but fire you up(since they'll probably side with you, even if they don't really agree with you) and then you break the most important rule of BE CALM.

Do not "threaten" and say that you are going to have your child moved to another classroom or that you are going to homeschool.

If the teacher is anything like me, she will politely say, "You are welcome to explore your options and if that is what you choose, you can pursue that."

When what she will be thinking is "Let so-and-so across the hall deal with your madness. And if you homeschool, good luck, since you're obviously an idiot." And she'll laugh.

Those are real options for you, but really, don't ever think it's a threat.

I could go on and on with these. But, I'll leave you with one last suggestion:

if you are hearing things about a teacher that you do not like about the way the classroom is run, ask if you can come in and observe. Do not say that it's because you want to take notes on what the teacher is doing. Say that it is because you'd like to be able to see how the class runs so that you can better help your child to be able to learn in that environment. That you'll be able to help reinforce rules and procedures if you see them in action. Yes, that teacher might then be on "best behavior" when you are there. But, if you watch the kids, you'll be able to see whether or not the teacher is being herself or totally different.

And, if you volunteer to help in your child's class every once in awhile, you'll really get to know what goes on.

That's my advice. You can thank me later.

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Blogger Ginny Marie said...

That's great advice! I taught for thirteen years.

Another piece of advice...don't badmouth your teacher in front of your kids, especially at the elementary level. They have to spend the whole day with their teacher, and badmouthing their teacher doesn't help your child have a positive relationship with their teacher. It just makes things worse!

February 4, 2010 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger danita said...

great advice! as a former teacher myself, it's sometimes really hard to keep quiet about what my kid's teacher is doing in the classroom. but, we've been really blessed and have had two fantastic teachers so far, two very different teachers, but each fantastic in her own way!

February 4, 2010 at 8:23 AM  
Blogger Evonne said...

Reading this and re-reading my post about my daughter's teacher made me realize I made her out to be worse than she really is. I may not like how she does certain things, but almost all of the class likes her. I wish I could show this to the other parents who take everything this teacher does personal because they think she's picking on their child.

It's not fun to be on the receiving end of a parent on a tirade. A lot of times if the parent would step back and look at the whole situation, they would realize there's a better way to handle things.

February 4, 2010 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger beenomom said...

Great advice and spoken like someone who obviously has been on the other side of the fence before! I taught for several years before I had my two and I second everything you just said. I remember this advice also when dealing with my own children's teachers year after year. This advice will get you a long way year after year with the teachers.

February 4, 2010 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger Kmama said...

Great advice. And I will thank you later, I'm sure of it!!

February 4, 2010 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great advice.. I agree most teachers are there because they care,, but i have found a few that have pushed my buttons and were absolute jerks... specially in this podunk town..

February 4, 2010 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Dumb Mom said...

Awesome! As a former teacher myself (one who was attacked, physically, by a parent) I greatly appreciate anyone who is willing to share some much needed advice w/parents. She's lucky I didn't have my shank on me at the time!

February 4, 2010 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger The Mommyologist said...

I am so glad that I read this before my son starts kindergarden, because I can totally see myself as the crazy chick who runs into the school and yells at the teacher. I will take your advice to heart for sure!

February 4, 2010 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Eternal Lizdom said...

I am so new to this whole school thing... my daughter is only in pre-K and will be in this same school for K. And we are totally spoiled by this small, private school.

But you know what? I think my kids having been in daycare has helped prepare me. Because my daycare provider is a partner in raising my children.

Teachers are partners in educating and raising my children.

Partners. As in- working together.

I wouldn't say I'm "friends" with the teachers at her school. But I like them and I respect them and I am very friendly with them. I utilize all the given ways of communication- phone calls, e-mails, chatting at drop off and pick up.

Teachers are human. I can't see treating teachers any differently than I would my neighbor, people I go to church with, people I shop with... People are people and while I totally can go all "mama bear" and will when needed... it doesn't solve problems or set a good example or create a trusting and respectful relationship...

February 4, 2010 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Kearsie said...

I subbed for the 4th grade once the last month of school while the teacher went on maternity leave. It was for a private Christian school that my husband was teaching at. There was this one girl, Mary, who had a mother who was also teaching at the school.

Mary was constant problems. She would talk, draw, etc. while the class was supposed to be working. Once when I caught her drawing instead of working I had her write lines that said "Drawing is a misuse of my time."

The next day, Mary's mother met me in the parking lot the second I got out of my car and screamed at me "Why did you say Mary was wasting her time at drawing? She's an excellent drawer and you have no right to say that!"

I looked at Mary, who at this point was hiding behind her mother and I said, Mary, do you want to tell your mother what the lines read?

Needless to say, I got a fat apology by the mother. And I never taught again.

February 4, 2010 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I was a preschool teacher. It was hard at times to face those parents who are so upset but it can get easier at times. Thanks for your help I know I will use it for sure.
Love the new look of your blog.

February 4, 2010 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Dual Mom said...

How about, "Contrary to what you believe as a parent, your child is not the angel from above that you think he/she is". I detest the "my child can do no wrong" mentality of today's parents.

I would hug a teacher for giving my kid a failing grade.....literally. I've had kids in the public school system (3 different kids) and have yet to see a big fat "F". It's not because my kids are the next Doogie Howser, either.

February 4, 2010 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well said. People seriously believe a child over an adult. Drives me crazy. I volunteer, so I do know what's going on. If you don't believe the teacher, ask me. I'd tell you your kid is bad!

February 4, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Pale said...

I loved this post. It was timely, too. Report cards came home yesterday (We have an elementary gym teacher that I'm not too fond of ... not that I've had to intervene yet, I just have some suspicions). I always wonder what it's like for teachers dealing with parents and I love to hear about the other side of the desk. Like HCP's ... I don't doubt they have stories that would curl your hair. Some of the parents in our sub don't even know how to play nice as ~neighbors~ ... I can only imagine how they treat teachers.


February 4, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Foursons said...

OK- I have requested 3 times to have a conference with Jakob's teacher. Still no response. What do I do now?

February 4, 2010 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger The Mommyologist said...

I left you the Sunshine Award over at my blog today. Just couldn't see leaving you off my sunshine list. Does that sound corny?

February 4, 2010 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger Twincerely,Olga said...

well written Shell!!! I have never had a problem with any of my 3 grown kids teachers!!!I am such a sweety!!haha Truthfully,I just know my kids and when they were telling half truths!!!

February 4, 2010 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Shanilie said...

Thanks for all the advice! I can relate to many of these points as a teacher turned SAHM as well. Though none of my boys are in school yet, I know I am going to have a very difficult time if they ever have a teacher that they don't like. To the extent that they dread going to school and come home in tears.

February 4, 2010 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger Yankee Girl said...

It amazes me that most parents think their children are perfect. They are KIDS. Trust me, they are not perfect.

Great advice. Too bad the mothers who really need to read this will probably think you are so far from being right.

February 4, 2010 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I myself am not a teacher, but my father was a teacher prior to becoming a principal so he saw both ends of the dicipline/crazy parent load.

I appreciate that you stated things in a 'these people are human too' way. Yep we all make mistakes, no we don't want our boss in on all the meetings, and while we may be horrified by the possibility of you taking your child to home school on your own poor judgment and etiquette, its off our plate. Totally agree.

You'll get more bees with honey than vinegar,,, but on the major stuff.. you need both:)

February 4, 2010 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Lothiriel said...

My sister is a third grade teacher and always has these types of "crazy" moms.
This is one of the reasons why I did not want to become a teacher. Parents now a days don't want to see their little gems for what they are, and always tend to blame other than themselves for the horrible behavior of their children.

February 4, 2010 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger MommyLisa said...

I always assume my daughter is exaggerating about stuff. :)

February 4, 2010 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Tam and John said...

AMEN! I taught for years and I am sooooo careful when approaching my kids' teachers. I assume my kid is twisting up the facts, right off the bat, which helps me to "get the whole story" before I blow a gasket. You've given awesome advice that all parents should hear. Especially the one who slapped the TA. Oh, the times I wanted to do that to a parent!

February 4, 2010 at 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! I love all the teachers at my sons school. And they are so easy to talk to. If my son ever has a problem, I can just call and talk to them.

February 4, 2010 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger The Princess of Sarcasm said...

I agree with you 100%! I never believe my child first until I am sure I've gotten all sides of the story. Even though my kids are really good kids, they are human and they don't like to present ALL the facts...especially when the facts don't make them look 100% positive. I spend a lot of time volunteering in their classes and have gotten to know all their teachers on a personal level. I have never felt like I couldn't go to them to resolve an issue. Most teachers are reasonable people. If you go to them with respect and facts, they'll respond.

February 4, 2010 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Lift Like A Mom said...

Great post!! Go to my blog. I have an award for you :)

February 4, 2010 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Grilled Cheese said...

I feel like all too often, the parents that go in, guns blazing and threatening are the same parents who have absolutely no idea who their child is.

I have many friends whose parents are BLIND to their child's behavior. For whatever reason, their parents refuse to believe their child would EVER do anything wrong, therefore it must be the teacher's fault.

9/10, this was bullshit. And the other 1/10, I couldn't say I blamed the teacher anyway.

February 4, 2010 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Daydream Believer said...

As a high school English teacher, I'd like to thank you for this post! Contrary to popular belief, the majority of us are not plotting the demise of one's child when we go home every night; if anything, we are trying to FORGET about said child! :-)

February 4, 2010 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Mellodee said...

When I started college I was thinking of becoming an elementary school teacher. I didn't and I am grateful every day!! :)

February 4, 2010 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Desert Rose said...

I could never evah be a teacher. Nope. I know the horrors they have to go through. And I know a child's behavior isn't going to change when they have a parent that believes everything they say, and faults everyone but their child.

February 4, 2010 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger {Kimber} said...

great advice!!

February 4, 2010 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

Bravo! I wouldn't go into a public school classroom without a whip and a chair. Teachers are under-paid and under-appreciated.

It is amazing how much it means to teachers for parents to say "Thank you for everything you do." Just doing simple things like that (without being over-the-top or seeming like you have an agenda) can really brighten a teacher's day. Many times all they hear from parent's are complaints.

February 4, 2010 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Liz Mays said...

I agree! If you go on the attack, nothing good can come of it!

Oh, I just noticed the pretty Valentine design! I like it!

February 4, 2010 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

I am so thankful I love both kids teachers! We are in a program where Brad will have the same teachers as Emily. It's wonderful to build a bond and then reconnect a few years later.

Thanks for the advice. I might need it once Em is in middle school!

February 4, 2010 at 4:05 PM  
Blogger SurferWife said...

you gotta love the mon's with the 'my child does no wrong' mentality. Drives me up a freaking wall. And it's usually the kids of THOSE mothers that are indeed the most annoying.

February 4, 2010 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger Robyn Lee said...

Great advice! And couldn't have come at a better time for me. Hubs and I just had an impromptu meeting with the principal at my 6th graders school. He keeps getting picked on (which we KNOW is part of growing up), but when it becomes that all of our hard work of parenting is being undermined... it becomes a problem. I was ready to take him out and start homeschooling (We haven't still quite decided if we'll go that route).

Anyhow, it didn't have anything to do with a teacher, BUT there is this one of his that her rules just bug the crap outta me. (I just erased a whole bunch because I didn't want to write a blog in your blog comment section! : ).

Thanks for the advice! : )

February 4, 2010 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Michelle @Flying Giggles said...

Very well said! I used to work for our school district as a child development supervisor and I had plenty of parents come in with half the story and make themselves look like a fool. I have no idea why they would get so worked up without finding out the details!

Cute layout...love the XoXoXo's!

February 4, 2010 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Shannon K. said...

Great post and great advice! I can't believe someone actually slapped a T.A. That's a new level of crazy.

February 4, 2010 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger AiringMyLaundry said...

Great advice!

It drives me nuts when parents freak out if a teacher dares to say that their little angel isn't perfect. When teachers come to me with advice on how I can help my son improve, I take it happily and thank them for it.

February 4, 2010 at 6:30 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

That is great advice for any parent to have. I think too many parents today want to blame the fact their kids are failing on the teachers. When it is actually not the teachers fault at all.

February 4, 2010 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Suzanne Incognito said...

Great advice! I use to be a preschool teacher and dealt with many of the same issues.


Also! Guess what!? Tomorrow on my blog you're getting a blog award! Yay! You deserve it. :)

You might already have this one, but you were the first one I had in mind so if it's a duplicate, it's a duplicate well deserved! :)

February 4, 2010 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

This is great advice! I especially like the part about suggesting a punishment if we don't agree with the teacher's chosen one. It's like don't just complain about stuff, have a solution too. Thanks for the advice!

February 4, 2010 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Kiera said...

none of my kids are in school yet but that sounds nuts!

February 4, 2010 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Melinda said...

Super advice! My husband is a high school teacher. You would think that these kinds of issues with parents would get better after elementary school. No. You should just hear some of the things parents say when they find out their child isn't going to graduate. Even when they find out it was because he skipped class 41 times, they still try to make it the teacher's fault! Amazing.

Thanks for coming by my blog yesterday and for your sweet comment about my miracle boy. ;0)

Love the new blog design! The pink looks awesome!

February 4, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Ducky said...

Hubs is a teacher...in the same shitty district as I. The administration in nearly every building is a farce...that being said he had a parent barge into his classroom and start accusing him of all kinds of terrbile behavior toward her son (who is well known for HIS terrible behavior...hhmmm...wonder where he gets it). After requesting they move to the hall the mother ended the monologue -because hubs didn't get much in edgewise - by telling hubs that under no circumstance was he to ever correct, speak to or discipline her son while in his classroom.


February 4, 2010 at 9:18 PM  
Blogger Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

thanks for saying that for all of us teachers! Yay you!!

February 4, 2010 at 10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best thing I've ever heard coming from a teacher! On the other end though, I feel like teachers too find reason to make a big deal out of things and want to talk to the parents, just as much as the parents do to the teachers. =/

February 4, 2010 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Alexis AKA MOM said...

Love it girlie! I love Cole's school and the wonderful teachers that care for them and are always trying their best to give him the support he needs! He's a very hyper little boy and I appreciate them very much for all their wonderful ideas on to help me and him.

A good idea with the chart at home, I'll have to find one and put it up!

I can't believe on of them slapped a TA!!! WTF

Girl you're the best and I love all your tips!

February 4, 2010 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Helene said...

That's really good information!! I'm just now venturing into this area now that my 5-yr old twins are in kindergarten. I've had 2 parent-teacher conferences this year with the teacher which were part of the regular program. I felt like I got to know her better personally through the conferences, since she always seems so busy when I drop/pick-up the kids.

Thanks for sharing this!!

February 4, 2010 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

These are the kind of situations that make me wanna slap a ho.

In my education career, I have had TWO teachers that I felt would've been better suited to another profession. I mean, no matter what country I was in, no matter what grade, only two teachers made me stabby.

I blame some overreacting parents with too much time on their hands and some manipulative children.

February 5, 2010 at 12:29 AM  
Blogger Bibi @ Bibi's Culinary Journey said...

That's an awesome post and I wish parents around me would read it. I am always for an open relationship with my kids teachers. I like to keep in touch. I never take my kids words and I don't march to school like a mad woman threatening and screaming.One thing I learn...children do lie and blow things out of proportion.

February 5, 2010 at 12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're going to hate me.


February 5, 2010 at 5:04 AM  
Blogger Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

Bravo! I especially appreciate the parents who start off a conversation or email with, "I'm sure I only have part of the story..." and then wait to hear what I say before they jump off the deep end. My husband says he's not sure whether I should come to parent-teacher conferences when SP starts school, but I told him that I've been on the other side of the desk enough to know how to be polite and try to partner with the teacher, no matter how I might think of him or her based on being a teacher myself.

February 5, 2010 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger Corrie Howe said...

I wonder what schools these parents and kids belong to? Getting a kid moved to another class takes an act of congress and something that can lead to a court trial before we can get our kids reassigned. (I know, because my son had 38 days in a row with a wetting accident. It just happened the school board attorney was in that meeting. Next day my son was moved and never cried about going to school and never had another wetting accident that year.)

February 5, 2010 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Corrie Howe said...

P.S. I think you have a great list. I've done all these things and have great relationships with the entire staff at school.

February 5, 2010 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Karin Katherine said...

Thankfully I totally love my children's teacher. Seriously. She is amazingly fair, patient, and have I mentioned brilliant? The woman shines in her lesson planning...never a problem with my children's teacher....

Oh, you already know they are homeschooled? Um, Okay. I was just kidding.

How about I tell you what horrible thing my parents did to my 4th grade teacher to make her hate me all the more? She wrote a whiney note home to my folks complaining about me and my dad took a red pen and circled all her spelling and grammatical errors. Then said, "Perhaps my daughter would be a better student if she had a better teacher." Then I delivered the note with a smirk on my face.


February 5, 2010 at 10:40 PM  
Blogger VKT said...


I love this. You always have such sound practical advice!!!! I basically did that post to participate in an alphabet Thursday....it was off the top of my head. I love the way you insert humor into your posts. I am still at school and just don't have the creative juices flowing....sigh.

April 8, 2010 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Crownd Vic said...

I'm a 6-year teacher of 2nd graders and I agree with everything you said. I wish I could give it to my parents at back to school night! ;)

May 10, 2010 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger MAMA BRANDI said...

My daughter is only in daycare, but I am dealing with a situation now where I am trying to communicate with the teacher and the daycare director. I'm using a lot of different techniques...talking about what's working, offering to help, staying calm and not judging, but I'm not getting anywhere. I didn't threaten to take her out, but I am taking her out! Your advice is right on point, though. When the parent does what they are supposed to do and they get a terrible response, then you know for sure you need to explore other options for your child!

August 6, 2010 at 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Daisy said...

I meant many parents instead of many kids...lol

February 24, 2011 at 7:15 PM  

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