It’s that time of year again: parent-teacher conference season. For 15 minutes, parents sit face-to-face with the person responsible for their kid’s education. For most, it’s a time for parents and caregivers to hear the truth about what really happens during school hours and to work together to help their children learn the skills they’ll need to be successful in the future. For others, it can be a frustrating experience.
“When we’re handing over our babies for someone else to watch them, it can be difficult,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, author of the book Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem. “Of course, we want teachers to do things exactly the way we’d want them to, but it’s probably not going to happen.”
So what do you do if you don’t like the way your kid is being taught?
Don’t believe the gossip about a “bad” teacher
Every school has that one teacher that no student wants. Horror stories are passed down from class to class about how mean, strict, or unfair they are. This makes for captivating talk during recess or around the kitchen table, but Kennedy-Moore says to give your child’s teacher the benefit of the doubt and not allow these tall tales to cloud your judgment.
“Be careful about accepting the whole cloth of what your child is saying,” she says. “If you hear something concerning, you could shoot an email to the teacher.”
It can also be tough for parents to hear from their child’s teacher how differently their kids might behave at school than at home. But keep in mind that neither side of the story is the absolute truth, just a different perspective.
“[The teacher is] the expert on how your child behaves when you’re not around, so take that seriously,” Kennedy-Moore says. “Be open to sharing what works and what doesn’t.”
Show empathy for your kid’s teacher
If you disagree with your child’s teacher, it’s tempting to disparage them in front of your kid. While letting off some steam can make you feel better in the short term, you might actually be exacerbating things.
“If you say anything critical of the teacher, you’re creating a problem,” Kennedy-Moore says. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t have to listen to them.’ That’s not going to go well for your kid in terms of how their teacher reacts, other kids react, and how they learn to get along in the world.
If your child is complaining about their teacher, help them to empathize with the teacher and think through why their teacher might be doing things the way they do.
Learn the teacher’s pet peeves
Getting along with people is a fundamental skill we work on for our entire lives, so it’s good for our children to learn how to successfully interact with others, including their teacher. They’ll have to adjust their behavior to do that. Kennedy-Moore says it might be helpful to discuss with your child the idea of pet peeves so your child can learn what gets under their teacher’s skin and avoid that behavior during class hours.
Be open to what your child’s teacher is saying
It can be jarring to hear a teacher talk about behavior that seems atypical of your child. Try to be open to what the teacher is observing. Don’t view it as the final verdict on your child and your parenting.
“The teacher is the expert on education and kids in general,” Kennedy-Moore says. “Every year, they see 20 or more kids of that age, so they really know child development better than anyone. But you are the expert on your child and family. Only you’ve seen your child develop over the years and in multiple contexts. If you can talk about what has worked at home, that might be useful.”
View your child’s teacher as a resource and share what you observe in their behavior at home. The teacher will know if that reflects what they are seeing, and they can make the appropriate adjustments in class. For example, if homework is a nightmare, they could modify expectations or find ways to make it more interesting.
When should you talk to the principal?
We’ve all encountered that moment when someone freely offers unsolicited advice on how you should raise your child. While we have an idea of how we want our child’s teacher to do their job, they’re the ones in the trenches with the knowledge and expertise on how to educate kids.
Kennedy-Moore says if there’s an issue, respect your child’s teacher’s process and do your best not to go over their head. Try to work with them first. Send them an email or give them call. Unless there is a consistent problem or something outrageous happening in the classroom, which doesn’t happen very often, think twice before bringing in administrative help.
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