I’m about to delve into a touchy subject for many parents of school-aged children, so I’m going to preface this by waving a white flag. First and foremost, I am a mom to three kids in school. One of them has special needs and has had an IEP in place since he was three years old. In other words, I understand why many parents feel compelled to micromanage what is happening in their child’s classroom.
I know all too well the anxiety a lot of parents feel as the new school year approaches. They are hungry to know everything and anything about their child’s teacher. What is their age? How long they have taught? How strict or lenient are they? Do they have children of their own? What do they look like? And so on.
This is an assumption, but I have a feeling it will resonate with many parents: You want to like your child’s teacher. Probably more importantly, you want that teacher to like your child. Basically, you want them to make all the same decisions that you would, because you know your child best, and you know what’s best for them.
When your child is with you, everything remains under your control. You are captain of the ship. But once your baby is on the bus, you relinquish all the decision-making that affects your child while they are spending their day inside those brick walls. It’s unnerving.
Things will go wrong. Your child will be teased. Sometimes, they will be bored or frustrated. They will, from time to time, get embarrassed. Or be hungry before lunchtime. Or trip and fall. Or be rejected by their peers. Or feel the sting of not being the best at a particular task.
You will not be there to work damage control. It will be up to…your child’s teacher. The worst part of all is that you won’t be there to witness it and make sure it is up to par with your expectations.
When your child comes home with a pout on his or her face, you will do a little digging for facts. Who is at fault for your child’s unhappiness? Why wasn’t the problem dealt with properly so that all is well in the world in your child’s eyes?
I’m going to cut to the chase right here. It doesn’t matter what happened. It’s the teacher’s fault. Here’s why I can make that statement with utter conviction (and you may have already guessed this by now): I was an elementary school teacher for eight years.
Somehow, along the way, our general culture has shifted from an accepted truth that teacher knows best to the opposite end of the spectrum, which means every move a teacher makes is under intense scrutiny from all directions. This has some benefits, as teachers should be held to high standards for the sake of the children they teach. But in many cases, this mindset can veer off onto a slippery slope where the only human being in the classroom held accountable for anyone’s actions is the teacher.
This might seem like an overreaching argument, but let me back that up with a few examples of everyday correspondence modern-day teachers receive from parents:
My child is annoyed with the student who sits next to her in class. Please change the seating arrangement in your classroom.
My child is discouraged because he has not been recognized as student of the week (or whatever positive behavior system that school has in place). When will it be his turn?
My child came home hungry from school today because she did not eat the sack lunch I packed for her. Can she be allowed extra time to eat?
My child is not being properly challenged by the amount of homework given. Can you provide additional homework for my gifted child?
In response to a negative behavior notice sent home: My child only behaved this way because so-and-so in class did this or that. She was only reacting and is not in any way responsible and therefore does not deserve any kind of consequence whatsoever.
This is just a sample of the ways (and there are many more) that parents do a disservice to everyone involved by stepping on the teacher’s toes. Of course, circumstances will arise that warrant parent intervention, such as bullying, abuse, etc. But overwhelmingly, these common interjections only accomplish one thing:
They teach your child that if they complain to mom or dad, the mess will be cleaned up. That certainly may be a temporary relief, but there is an inherent problem with that sequence of events. Your child has not learned any life lessons he or she will need to be successful down the road. We have essentially removed any natural consequences for mistakes that, as unpleasant as they may feel at the time, leave a lasting impression that actually changes behavior for the better.
To illustrate the point, try and recall a humiliation or let down from your youth. Maybe it wasn’t making the soccer team. Or somebody made fun of you because you forgot to wear deodorant and you smelled bad. Maybe you didn’t bother to study and bombed the test.
Those memories make us wince. We hated going through that. But guess what? We probably decided to do something differently because of it, if not just to avoid the experience in the future.
What if mom or dad had called the school and made everything a-okay without you having to change a thing? Where’s the motivation to push yourself if someone else is going to take care of it for you?
Herein lies the problem that so many kids struggle with. They don’t know how to come up with their own solutions because they haven’t been forced to yet. A certain gumption and mental fortitude is disturbingly lacking in so many upcoming students. Of course, I am generalizing here, but it is a problem for too many that will reap unwanted consequences for the future.
Let’s revisit our parental request examples from above and imagine that the teacher complied:
The child who had her seat changed because her neighbor was annoying? Now she doesn’t know how to manage being around irritating people. (If you’ve ever worked a job a day in your life, you realize this is a necessary evil.)
The student who earned a reward just because he thought he deserved it and is tired of waiting for recognition? Where is the push to keep going when he will have to keep working hard before a goal is in sight?
The child who now has extra time to eat lunch because she was too busy jibber-jabbering with friends to focus on what they were there to do in the cafeteria? She has missed out on learning how to prioritize her time when there’s a schedule to keep.
Extra homework because your gifted child was too smart for what had been assigned? If he really wants to be challenged, he needs to learn to motivate himself to explore ways in his free time to extend his knowledge and imagination.
And lastly, the child who only misbehaved because someone else did. How will she come to know that she cannot control the actions of others and instead take charge of her own attitude and behavior?
I make these cases in point to paint a picture of what starts to happen when we succumb to the urge as parents to swoop in and remove any painful experiences from the lives of our children. Sure, the tears subside for the moment. But what happens when they grow older? Isn’t our purpose as parents to guide them to self-sufficiency?
Maybe it’s a clearer perspective from the teacher’s point of view. As parents, we tend to mix our emotions with our child’s daily reality. But I’m willing to bet that if your child’s teacher has his or her best interests at heart (and most anyone who enters into a career in education does), that teacher is not only concerned with preparing your child academically. We also want to prepare them for life.
That’s what you want, too, isn’t it? We are all on the same team here, folks. Next time you feel inclined to save the day with a suggested alternative to a teacher’s method, ask yourself if perhaps the best course of action is to let your child learn the darn lesson.
Your kids may not thank you today. But you will thank yourself when they are older.