Neither teachers nor parents are perfect, but sometimes both groups are better at recognising the faults of those on the other side of the desk than seeing their own.
It’s unrealistic to expect every teacher will always be caring, sensitive, socially-skilled, dedicated, and a good problem solver. Or that parents will always be appreciative, involved, understanding, and able to communicate assertively but not aggressively.
What tends to happen is parents and teachers act in ways that are interpreted in a negative light. Teachers may think parents are uncaring or over-involved, demanding, entitled, and perhaps even dangerous. Parents may think teachers are cynical, overly-critical, or judgemental.
We need to remember that both parents and teachers are only human, and can at times be anxious, depressed, or have unrealistic expectations of themselves or others. And on any given day, anyone can dig their heels in and find it hard to see things from the other’s perspective.
POTENTIALLY DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
Unsurprisingly, this can create potentially stressful or even confrontational situations, especially because both parties feel they are doing what’s best for the child. Conversations between a parent and teacher or other school official can become delicate, strained or emotionally-charged in a variety of situations, such as:
- Child is falling behind in their schoolwork or homework
- Child has been frequently misbehaving at school
- Another child or a parent has complained about the child
- Parent(s) have had a strong negative reaction to a school request, decision or action. (It’s not uncommon for this to be “my child hasn’t been selected…” for example, in a sports team.)
Things can be complicated further if the child has asked mum or dad not to say anything to the teacher about the issue. You have to use your judgment in a situation like this, but there are times when you’ll have to go against your child’s wishes, and take on the responsibility of saying something anyway.
Other potentially embarrassing or difficult topics include:
- break-up of the parents’ relationship
- financial hardship
- the school has concerns about the family situation, for whatever reason.
Another thing to bear in mind, and this can be the case for both parents and teachers, is that these conversations can come as a complete surprise. The person being approached didn’t notice or know there was a problem. As a result they feel like this very difficult, intense conversation – possibly involving crying, shouting, or, in extreme cases, physical or verbal aggression – has come out of the blue.
Why do these conversations seem to go badly, from the parents’ point of view?
Parents may also feel that that child is being treated unjustly; that they or their child are being unfairly blamed. This tends to make the parent feel defensive and highly emotional, which will make it harder to look at the situation objectively. And there are some parents who forget that their child’s version of events may be not the whole truth or may be exaggerated, or based on a misunderstanding. Sometimes the parent may already be at their wits’ end trying to deal with a problem, but the school assumes nothing’s been done. (Although sometimes this could have been prevented if the parent had shared more information with the school.)
What about from the teachers’ point of view?
Teachers may feel like the parent doesn’t understand the situation properly, because they’ve automatically accepted the child’s version of events. Since teachers have the benefit of experience and are dealing with a class full of children, they may feel that the particular problem being discussed is not all that significant or serious. The conversation may take place in public when it should be private. In addition, because the conversation is happening at the teacher’s work environment, this raises the emotional stakes. And, of course, teachers may be worried if parents or students appear to be aggressive.
Have changes in parenting and education contributed to the complexity of parent-teacher relationships?
In earlier generations, teachers were regarded as beyond reproach or criticism. Teachers had knowledge and wisdom and were not to be questioned. Now, parents may be more comfortable in discussing things with teachers. But unfortunately, teachers may feel less respected. Some parents have a sense of entitlement, as though they’re purchasing a product and as a “consumer”, can complain if their child gets anything less than high marks.
Worryingly, many children and adults turn to violence when there are problems at school: apart from those incidents that make the news in the worst possibly way, there are also many unreported physically assaults and threats made by either parents or students.
But differences of opinion, managed properly, can be healthy and normal. Resolving conflict requires understanding each other’s point of view, and finding ways to work together. Both parents and teachers can set good examples for children on how to deal with conflict, but some may need professional help to do this. Currently, few professionals, and virtually no parents whatsoever, have adequate training in dealing with the issue. Let’s hope that isn’t always the case, because this isn’t an issue that’s going away anytime soon.