More Secrets Teacher Won’t Tell
By Sherrill Kauffman
In every job there is balance between candor and professional discretion. This is especially true in teaching education where other children, colleagues, and parents may be involved. Add to this legal issues and school protocol, and it’s no wonder teachers are particularly guarded during conferences and even during less formal discussions with parents. So here are a few things your teacher wishes you knew.
- Backhanded compliments can hurt as badly as insults. Would you go on a second date with someone who ended the first by declaring, “Your eyes are so gorgeous, I almost forget about your huge nose!” My guess is, no. Please know when you say to your child’s teacher, “My child really wanted Mrs. So-and-So, and at first we were so disappointed, but now we both really like you,” all your teacher hears is the first part of the statement. Over time, other teachers start to resent Mrs. So-and-So, whose only crime is being a great teacher. Thus, your current teacher feels miffed not complimented, and Mrs. So-and-So feels at a loss for what to say when her friend and colleague tearfully recounts this episode. Imagine your teacher greeting you by saying, “At first, I didn’t really want your child in my class, but now I like him.” Yeah. That’s how it feels.
- Because I am human, there are people I like and people I don’t like. This includes my coworkers and colleagues. If you mention a coworker I happen to really love during a conference, I will gladly share my feelings. If you mention him in a negative way, I will be forced to disagree with you, and that might be uncomfortable for both of us. On the other hand, if you mention a colleague with whom I’ve had problems, I cannot comment one way or the other. So, to avoid this type of awkward conversation, let’s just say good things about my coworkers or nothing at all. My personal feelings aside, no amount of talking behind someone’s back will change that person, so let’s stick to a safe topic and talk about your child.
- I am not a walking database. Okay, you and your child remember me, and no wonder. I am one person, and I am still in that same classroom, which happens to have my name in the window. From my perspective, however, things are quite different. I have 20 to 40 students per year. Now multiply that by the years I’ve taught and the number of students amazes even me. Multiply that by 2 or 4 and you’ve got the number of parents with whom I’ve worked. Please give me a break and tell me your name! Also, when your child comes back to visit instruct him to say something like, “Hi! It’s me Joe Willis. Remember me?” Not, “Hi! Remember me?” I look up six feet into a face that I know I know, while he’s jangling his car keys waiting expectantly for me to holler out, “Why, Joe!” When inside I’m hollering, “Oh, no!” and frantically blowing cobwebs off the mental records that contain past students’ names and faces. What an excruciating feeling! And I do remember something about this face…Oh, yes! He’s the kid that picked his nose all the time and was a whiz at math, except now he shaves and apparently drives! “Of course I remember. How is math going for you? You were always so good at math,” I hear myself exclaim in lieu of his name. Calling ahead to the school and letting me know you will be visiting would also help. That way I’m sure to get your name correctly, and I’ll have time to think about some memories or even find some photos we can use to reminisce. This way our reunion will reinforce what is true: I do love and care for your child.
- You have more power than you know. Parents complain to us about many things, and then they ask plaintively, “Can’t you do anything?” Briefly, if it’s about my classroom, yes I can. I, however, do not set the county’s or school’s schedules. I do not hire, fire, or reprimand personnel. I have no input as to how much homework is given by anyone but myself. There is someone, however, who has a surprising amount of power to effect change, and that is you. Always contact the teacher first with any concerns. If you do not get the desired results, go to the principal and keep moving up the chain of command until someone hears you. The bureaucracy of public education can be maddening, but I have come to see that there is safety in having a chain of command. If your concerns are legitimate and you remain calm, you will be surprised how loud your voice actually is. Often, we teachers secretly wish for parent action, because we have seen the power that lies there. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. Who knows how many may benefit from your actions?