Thursday, September 10, 2009

The View From Both Sides

It’s easy to relate to teachers—if you’ve been one. The following guest writer tells us how her experiences as a teacher influenced her attitude as a parent.

When I hear the phrase “parent-teacher partnerships,” I can’t help but think back on my first year as an educator. Fresh out of graduate school, I was very eager to meet my new students and their families. I had high hopes about the many relationships that would blossom as a result of my new position. I was fortunate enough to land a job in a large urban district in the very same city where I grew up. I knew that I would be teaching in a diverse neighborhood and that some of my students would be coming to me from low-income households. The school was not far from the building where I was raised and was directly across the street from a church I had spent a great deal of time in as a girl. I knew the area very well and wanted so much to become an integral part of my pupil’s lives.

Sadly, right from the start, I found myself facing situations and problems I could never have foreseen. I was only twenty-five and had no children of my own, and some of the parents I was working with were younger than I was. Some of them looked upon me as a glorified babysitter—nothing more, nothing less. In addition, I got the sense that some of the parents had preconceived notions about me. Each day was a challenge. I was dealing with both the typical first year jitters and some scenarios I was not yet prepared for. When I reached out to the parents, many of them were unresponsive or downright hostile. To say my experience was, at times, disheartening, would be an understatement.

On a more positive note, many of the storm clouds I encountered that year, and in subsequent years, definitely had a silver lining. I met some wonderful parents during that time. Some of the good relationships that developed were rewarding and inspirational. All I ever really wanted as a teacher was to be able to discuss problems and progress with the parents without being set upon. I was on their team and could not understand why so many of them did not choose to see it that way. The best parent-teacher relationships I experienced were the ones based upon mutual respect. I remember one very conscientious parent in particular who sent notes or called me regularly to discuss things or ask questions. I welcomed her inquiries because her approach was always lovely, and I knew how much she cared about her little boy’s growth. In addition to asking questions, this same parent never hesitated to express basic gratitude. I truly appreciated being given the opportunity to work with her and her son.

I left the classroom behind when I became a parent and now find myself on the flip side of the situation. Having been a teacher in the past does not prevent me from getting the butterflies each time I have to go to a parent-teacher conference. As human beings, it is in our nature to not want to hear anything negative about our little ones—even when it is constructive. I certainly do not think that teachers are always correct, and I do believe that we need to be strong advocates for our children. Gone are the days when our parents wouldn’t dare to question teachers at all, and thank goodness for that! Unfortunately, some of the most fundamental social graces and manners seem to have fallen by the wayside, as well. One can be proactive without constantly being on the offensive. I have had the chance to attend several “open house” functions since school began for my oldest child and have witnessed parents standing up and firing questions at teachers in a less-than-nice manner. I cringe when I see this, because I am well aware of the many responsibilities and pressures teachers already have piled upon them.

In the end, I think that good old-fashioned courtesy is one of the best ways to foster a healthy and productive parent-teacher partnership. Not only will this keep the lines of communication wide open, enabling parents and teachers to work together to monitor academic progress, but also we will be teaching children, by example, some invaluable life lessons.

Heather Baker
New York