I will never forget the summer before my twin boys went off to Kindergarten. After five years of painstakingly screening every babysitter, questioning every child care worker, and examining every preschool and Sunday School paper, I was about to put them on a bus with a driver I don’t know to send them to spend all day with adults I had never met and certainly never interviewed. The craziness of the whole thing astounded me, and I wondered how a society of good parents could possibly think this made sense. I anxiously waited for the letter from my sons’ teachers. I analyzed their references to teaching methods and curriculum, their font choice, their Facebook pages….and then I had to let go.
Over the last fifteen years, I have spent a lot of time on the other end of this equation. Parents have sent their children to me and trusted me to be their teacher. They have asked me for advice. They have listened to my recommendations, and now that I’m a mother sending her own kids off to school, I realize just how important those partnerships and relationships have been.
This will be my fourth year sending my boys to spend the day with “strangers,” and somewhere along the way, my experience in education and as a mom have come together to help me develop a partnership with each of my sons’ teachers.
First, I try to make first contact. I want to make sure the teacher believes that I am on his or her side from the outset. I don’t ask them for anything or tell them anything special about my son. I just send a note or an email that says I’m glad they are my son’s teacher and that I am here to help. I try to send this first communication in my boys’ backpacks because it sends the message to my sons that I am in contact with their teacher and we are on the same team.
Second, I try to normalize my communication with the teacher for my kids. If I say that I talked to their teacher or sent them a note, my boys barely bat an eye. I tell the teacher if my husband has been traveling extensively to let her know that my son is feeling sensitive because he is really missing his dad. I send an email to let her know that my son was able to tell me what he learned that day and that I appreciate her hard work. I try to be in communication about once a month. I find this to be a good balance between “being a pain” and “being a partner”!
Third, I try to approach tough situations with curiosity rather than judgment. As a teacher myself, I know how hard I worked, and how tough it is to feel like you and your motives are being questioned by a parent. When you put so much of yourself into your work, everything feels personal. So, as a parent, when something doesn’t seem right to me, I try to approach it with curiosity and ask real (not passive aggressive or challenging) questions about what I’m noticing. This shows the teacher that my assumption is that he or she has a good reason for the decision or action and that I just want to understand the situation better.
Fourth, be open to the teacher’s perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat across from a parent in a conference who described a child I had never seen. Kids are often very different at school with peers than they are at home. I also try to be open to the teacher’s viewpoint. Especially since I am a teacher, I sometimes think I know exactly what my son needs, but I have found when I really listen to what a teacher is saying, I learn so much about my sons and often find new ways to encourage and support them at home.
Lastly, I try to assume that the teacher really does have my son’s best interest in mind. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that as an educator and as a parent, I have run into some teachers who weren’t on top of their game, but I have very, very rarely run into a teacher who didn’t have the best intentions. If I assume my son’s teacher has his best interest in mind, the information I share with the teacher is not to show that I’m right; rather, it’s to help us both reach our shared goal: to make sure my son has the best education possible.
I love teaching, and I can tell you that the parents who have been involved and supportive have had a significant positive impact on my ability to help their children become stronger students.
When I become a partner with my boys’ teachers, it doesn’t take long before I know they’re spending each day, not with a stranger, but with a trusted friend and caregiver.