If you were asked to reflect upon your school days, I am sure that many would remember a special relationship with one or more teachers. A neighbour told me that growing up in India, she knew that her teacher, second to her mother, was one of the most important people in her life. As she says, “my mother gave me birth, but my teacher showed me the path of righteousness and wisdom.”
And while North American teachers may not be as revered as in India, most parents recognize the value and importance of a good teacher. After all, our children, beyond a certain age, are in the hands of their teachers for more hours than with us. Therefore, encouraging a positive relationship between your child and her teacher and becoming a part of that relationship yourself is crucial. Students too recognize the value of working with and developing a relationship with a caring teacher.
Part of what motivates students to rip open the envelopes containing their reports even before leaving school property is to see which teacher they have been assigned for the upcoming school year. Despite most principal’s request that parents not ask for specific teachers, many still do. Others pray silently that their child will not be in the class of the notoriously nasty teacher. Students talk for months in anticipation of which teacher they’d prefer. My almost grade eight daughter was thrilled to be in the classroom of a teacher she had been with in grade three, but some of her friends were not excited about their placements. What then is a parent to do? For most parents, it is best to resist the urge to contact the school and ask for an immediate transfer, but rather assume a wait and see approach. Despite the general reputation of a teacher, that particular teacher may work exceptionally well with a child who initially fears the worst.
Despite parent and child’s initial concern and apprehension based on the reputation of a teacher, it is still best to support the school’s decision regarding placement unless the student’s fears and concerns grow as the school year unfolds. Lynda Hockley, a York Region elementary school teacher for the past 16 years, feels strongly that parents not talk negatively about a teacher in front of a child. “It undermines the efforts of the teacher” she says “and doesn’t help the child.” Instead, a parent might acknowledge what a child is feeling without taking either side. Then, together parent and child might brainstorm ideas to solve the problem. If the child does not like the teacher because of his style, for example, a parent might need to help her child develop coping strategies. If a parent yanks a child out of the classroom prematurely, the child may not have the benefit of learning how to cope with different people with assorted personalities, how to be flexible and to look at some positives – skills that everyone needs in order to cope with everyday living. If, on the other hand, a child is upset about a specific incident with a teacher, this needs to be addressed differently. Hockley recommends first approaching the teacher. If no resolution is reached, then the principal can be brought in.
One of the best ways to keep the lines of communication open between parent, student and teacher is by consistently making use of the student agenda books. Hockley, who will be teaching at Aurora Heights Public School this year, says that she appreciates it when a parent writes a little note in the agenda book – such as “my child has a problem with this math unit, can she get some extra help.” She even welcomes regular correspondence with parents in the agenda book. “All of sudden, I’m a pen pal to the parent and at the end of the year, even though I’ve only met the parent once, we miss our letters.” She believes that along with maintaining open communication with the parent, the child learns that these two very important adults are communicating with each other with his or her best interests at heart.
On her list of do’s, Hockley encourages parents to “get involved in your child’s learning. Some parents are lucky enough to have the time to come into the school to volunteer on pizza day or go on a school outing,” but for those who can’t, she recommends attending parent council meetings or at least reading the school newsletters and talking about the content with your child.
Another on her list of do’s relates to page three of your child’s report card. She believes that when a parent and child complete this sheet together, the child sees his parent as his partner in learning. She says that teachers are encouraged to read these sheets to look at the students goals and ways in which he would like to improve, before they are placed in the student’s Ontario Student Record file. Discussion with your child at this time may also include defining your list of expectations and seeing if he or she finds them realistic or demanding.
Hockley believes that the relationship between parent, teacher and child should be based on three way mutual respect. Getting to know your child’s teacher is very important, she says.
When your child is in Kindergarten, it seems easier to get to know her teacher. Parents often volunteer their time in the classroom or go on field trips. As our children get older, and especially as they enter into High School, it seems that the interaction between parent, teacher and student lessens. I believe that this may be a critical time to remain involved and to encourage communication between all three parties. Although you may not join your child on a Grade eight field trip, there are many other ways to get involved while still respecting your child’s need for greater autonomy. In order for children to thrive in their learning environment, they need to feel the strength, support and guidance of the most important adults in their lives working as a team.