We hear a lot from children about their teachers – good and bad. But parents, too, have complaints about – as well as praise for teachers. Teachers, in turn, have their own complaints and points of view about parents. The relationship between parents and teachers can be a challenging one that bears on the attitudes of their children toward the teacher, as well as the relationship between teacher and child.
Working for many years with both parents and teachers, a number of the obstacles to successful communication between them have become clear. To begin with, there is a conflict of interest in the underlying focus of parents and teachers. Parents, rightly, have their own child as their primary concern. Teachers, however, are concerned with the entire class, the functioning of the classroom and the requirements of the school itself.
Parents often expect more attention be paid to the needs of their child. Teachers see themselves as mindful of the needs of individual children but find parents not mindful of the needs of the class. As children move through the school years, a shift takes place in the relationship of parents to both the teacher and school. When children start school – especially in the preschool years – parents have anxieties about separation and how their children are doing. Both parents and teachers expect to have greater communication with each other and schools generally are geared toward that need.
Usually beginning with kindergarten or first grade, the expectation is the nature of the contact will change, with teachers having little contact with parents. This can be a difficult transition for parents who may suddenly feel cut out of a significant portion of their children’s lives. Parents often feel they are not clear about the expectations for their children and how their children are meeting them. They often express the frustration they feel about having no information from a teacher until a scheduled parent/teacher conference. In the later grades, even such conferences are not routine unless specifically about a problem experienced by the teacher or child.
Teachers express frustration about what they see as parents’ intrusiveness or need to control. If a child is generally functioning in line with the class, a teacher may not see a problem or need for greater communication with parents. Parents, however, may have an issue arising from the homework, or children’s expression of concern about school work or classroom expectations. At times, parents feel they are getting communications about problems that they should have heard about earlier, in order to make appropriate interventions.
Unfortunately, when problems do arise, the question of blame or responsibility rises to the surface. Teachers are too quick to blame parents or the home for children’s difficulties and that feeling on their part can come through in their communications. Parents, for their part, often look first to a fault of the teacher or the class.
At times, there is some justification for each point of view. However, the feeling of being criticized or blamed leads to defensiveness on both sides and prevents constructive discussion of an important issue. My young student reporter pointed out that it is not always the teacher’s fault. Sometimes it’s the way the “kid’s brain functions.” So the question really is not who is to blame, but rather does a problem reflect for an individual child the way the material is being taught, an issue in the home, or a specific difficulty for that child.
In many “problem” situations these are the issues that need to be clarified. In my own professional work these are the questions about which I am often consulted in order to arrive at an appropriate intervention. At times some changes in teaching or – modifications in the parents’ approach to the child can make a significant difference. At other times, it may be a child who has a specific difficulty requiring special attention or intervention.
It is clear that good communication between parents and teachers can play an important role in a child’s well-being and successful school experience. The key is for each to be able to hear the other’s point of view without feeling criticized or blamed. Of course, this requires not only listening but communicating in a way that does not seem like an attack.
No parent, child or teacher is perfect, but they each have different perspectives. Understanding what they are can help achieve more successful communication to the benefit of all.