By Devishobha Ramanan
Take a minute with me here and think back to your school days. What are your memories around that time? Is there a teacher you remember fondly? Do you recall a noisy lunchroom? Do you conjure up the image of a hard taskmaster when you think of a particular teacher? Could you tell, even as a child, that some teachers were only fake-angry, but always had a soft spot for your class? Did you have a best friend, and a ‘better’ best friend — just in case?
Your strongest memories are linked to your strongest emotions. It’s the same for children, no matter how young they are. It becomes paramount that parents actively seek to understand how their child feels about their school environment, the teachers, their peers. Every aspect contributes to sum total of their learning experience, which in turn affects their attitude towards learning and education itself.
Most parents consider the school is a third party realm. Many unwittingly assume that there are thick invisible lines between the child’s home and their school. Parents need to understand that their attitudes, messages, and signals to the child have a great influence on the child and their ability to have a healthy experience in school.
Here are some things that teachers wish parents knew:
1. Parents are their child’s primary role models.
It’s true that your child’s circle of influence expands once they’re in school. There are teachers to look to in the midst of a tiff and peers from varied backgrounds. Children may learn a wide range of things — slang, social behavior and skills — from peers (which, by the way is very evolutionary thing). However, parents remain the child’s primary influencers and role models all the way up to and through adolescence.
It’s important to succinctly model only what you wish your child to follow – in their presence or otherwise. Says Dr. Mary Ann Franco, licensed marriage and family therapist at Argosy University, “The foundation they set at home spills over in all other settings – school, social, occupational.”
She goes on to explain, “I clearly recall a 16-year-old female client I had. Her intake paperwork looked very scary. Her symptoms ranged from defiance, disrespectful behaviors, and physical altercations with mother, angry outbursts, irritability, sadness, poor academic performance and more. I was actually reluctant to see her. She turned out to be one of the sweetest teens I had ever met. Upon deeper exploration I discovered that the mother never wanted her. She described the client as ‘a monster even when she was still in my belly.’ During family session, the mother could not utter one positive adjective to describe her child. The client’s behaviors were very reflective of her relationship with her mother – full of sadness, anger, rage, and hopelessness.”
2. Discipline is really about respect.
Says Melissa Schwartz, author and founder of Leading Edge Parenting, “Parents want children to ‘get it’ or ‘listen’ because a parent is frustrated. However, for children to learn personal responsibility and cooperation they NEED to be in an environment with clearly defined boundaries and consistent expectations. Many parents are exhausted from working and life in general so they are lax when it comes to routines. Children do best when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.”
3. Parents can become roadblocks to their child’s education.
In their eagerness to see their children succeed academically, parents can become too focused on the results.
How a parent reacts to a child’s failure will set his attitude to failure for his entire life. Dr. Carol Dweck in her book, “Mindset,” talks about how attempts at encouraging kids should always be directed towards effort – supporting the “growth mindset.”
When results become the only basis for defining success, parents can unwittingly encourage the “fixed mindset,” which disregards the person’s ability to grow himself into success. In the fixed mindset, the person is either born with it or not.
Developing grit in children primes them for success with a combination of two important things: positive self-worth and optimism.
4. Your kids might behave differently when not with you.
Kids can gauge their surroundings much better than we think and adjust their behaviors based on expectations and consequences. Which means they change their behavior in settings where they won’t see their parents. Children intuitively understand that they cannot expect to be the center of attention among a hundred other kids like them.
Here’s Chanté Griffin, a Los Angeles-based language arts instructor, sharing her experience: “Parents don’t know that who their kids are with them isn’t necessarily who they are with their friends at school. I’ve seen A+ students behave like hellions. They talk while I’m talking. They pound on their desks. They play with anything and everything in their backpacks, and even worse – they get other students to misbehave with them. If your child’s teacher tells you that your exemplary son or daughter is misbehaving, believe them. And then give some consequences at home. Parents must support their child’s teachers.”
5. Parents often make some unfair assumptions.
Parents tend to assume (and expect) that teachers have a never-ending supply of patience and restraint when surrounded by about 30 kids, all of them coming from different family backgrounds and situations. Your kid, who sometimes totally gets on your nerves, is one of them!
6. Putting your child in school doesn’t shift all educational responsibility to the teacher.
As parents, we put in a lot of effort to bring the absolute best to our kids. Sometimes the hunt for a good school goes on for months. Yet parents make the mistake of assuming that their role ends there. Your child’s chances of developing good, long-lasting study and personal development habits are still accomplished only by the parent.
Here’s Chanté again:
“I used to tutor two siblings. Each was at least two grade levels behind. I asked the mother what she was doing with them at home, and she said that she wasn’t doing anything. She said that she thought that that was the teacher’s job. I told her that teachers have a classroom to tend to and can’t give a lot of individual attention to students. I encouraged her to go to the library and check out books for her children, which she did. I told her to have her children read to her, which she did. She went from being a passive parent to an active parent-teacher. It made all the difference.
7. Teachers are not available for a “little chat” all the time.
We’ve all done this, right? We catch a glimpse of a teacher walking past us while we’re waiting to pick up our kids and we go, “How do you think my child is doing?” or, “I’d like to talk to you about yesterday’s situation.”
The teacher is likely to be overwhelmed by these impromptu meetings. Contrary to what some may think, teachers have a very busy schedule and everything needs to get done in the midst of controlled chaos.
Scott Ertl, M.Ed., school counselor and inventor of Bouncy Bands says, “Most parents don’t realize that just because they see their child’s teacher in the hall when they drop off their kids in the morning, their teacher really isn’t available for a conversation at that time. Parents need to schedule a time to talk when the teacher can be focused, prepared, and available instead of when he/she is watching other kids in the hall, waiting to teach the kids, or handling a variety of other responsibilities before school starts.”
8. Teachers genuinely want the best outcome for your child.
In the majority of education conferences I’ve attended, I’ve observed one thing consistently. Most teachers refer to their students fondly and proudly as “my kids.” It took me a while to figure out they actually meant their class kids. Most teachers want the best for their children and are very interested in making a difference in the child’s life. When parents understand this, it makes it a lot easier for the teachers.
Says Scott, “Parents sometimes assume that teachers are lying, mean to their kids, or not interested in a solution as much as they are focused on the problem. While there could be times that any of these assumptions could be true, teachers are usually honest, fair, and they want to solve problems.”
9. Most teachers don’t have the time to socially connect with every child every day.
The typical adult-child ratio in schools is 30:1 as compared to the 2:1 or 2:4 ratio at home. It is physically impossible for the teacher to give individual attention to all children. Teachers tend to use their limited resources on children who need it the most. They don’t have the luxury of having social lunches or other regular social events with their students. Any parent who expects this to happen by default needs to step back and think about it realistically.