Do you ever feel judged by your child’s teacher?
I promise you, teachers have an internal checklist of what they hope their students will be bringing from home. They know they won’t get it all the time. They know that their job is to deal with the child who walks through the door no matter what he brings. They know that every family—no matter how wonderful the parents—suffers ups and downs and may take some time to right itself. But if they were able to write a list of what they consider primarily the parents’ responsibility for sending kids ready to learn, this would be it:
1. BASIC NEEDS MET. Perhaps it seems obvious that it is the parent’s job to make sure that the child comes to school with enough sleep, not smelling, well fed and appropriately dressed. This is too often not the case, however. Parents will claim they can’t get their child to bed on time or they can’t get their child to wear anything but the too short shorts and the diaphanous top slipping off the shoulder to school. Many of us teachers are parents ourselves. We get it. We know it is hard. We still see it as your job to figure out how to make it happen (though we are happy to offer our perspective and experience).
2. SHOWING RESPECT AND CONSIDERATION. A teacher has to help kids develop a definition of what respect means at school, but the basic concept needs to come from home. Have you worked in an office where in the break room there is a sign that says, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean up after yourself"? Well, the same idea goes for school. Your teacher is not your mother. Her job is to teach you academics, not to nag you to clean up after yourself or to lecture you about touching other people’s things without their permission or to stop interrupting.
3. HOMEWORK DONE BY THE CHILD. Someday, I will write a whole column on homework (including my general belief that there should be very little of it), but for today let me say this: The main purpose of homework is to give the child the chance for independent practice. It is much less important that the child do the homework right than that she do it herself. If she has worked the allotted time (find out what your school’s policy is), have her stop. If her teacher gives her a hard time for not finishing, train her to talk to her teacher ahead of class, to explain to her teacher that that is how much she got done in the allotted time. Teachers do not know how long the work they assign takes: They need accurate feedback. They do not need perfection, and they certainly do not need you to sit with your child, while he does his work. Sure, if you have a kid who takes 15 mins. to settle down, you can make sure the timer starts after that 15 mins., but the actual work should still be done on his own.
4. TEACH YOUR CHILD TO ADVOCATE FOR HIMSELF. Did your mother write notes to the teacher all the time? Mine didn’t. She would, however, talk through with me my conflicts with a teacher. She would listen to me, acknowledge my frustration, but then she would ask me how the teacher was likely to be feeling, what the teacher’s priorities were. She would help me sort out where I was only one of thirty children in the room and where I could reasonably make a request. She would role play how to talk to teachers, so I could respectfully let them know my wants or needs. If a few of my tries did not solve the problem, only then would she approach the teacher—and then it was to enlist the teacher’s help in solving the problem, not to condemn her, and certainly not to make excuses for me.
5. LIFE AND CHARACTER SKILLS. Caring, consideration, compassion, gratitude, thoughtfulness, diligence, organization, persistence, tolerance, trustworthiness, patience, etc. These get practiced at school, of course, but they need to be taught and modeled at home regularly and explicitly. These are all traits you can start working on in toddlerhood. Yes, mastery takes time and repetition, and teachers will work to reinforce these skills, but you have the greatest power to train your children in these areas. Your daily reflection with them of where they have—or how they could have--displayed these qualities establishes their importance to your child.
Kids who come to school with the above conditions in place at home learn better and take more joy in their learning. They are able to regulate themselves and are ready to take full advantage of all that a teacher has to offer. This is teachers’ greatest hope.