Don’t Gang Up on Us
Recently, I overheard a conversation between a father and a teacher. With his daughter sitting next to him, he said, “I want my daughter to be responsible, but only if you’re doing your job first.” I was struck by the way she sat up taller, more smugly. This is the first step to undermining a productive partnership. Teachers want to help students solve problems; in fact, problem-solving is a fundamental part of what we teach. But this was clearly a conversation about blame, rather than one intended to solve a problem. I found out, later, that this same student all but demanded an A for the semester because she had “worked hard and was getting an A in all of her other classes.” Luckily, the teacher coached her through different ways to advocate for herself, but imagine what the lesson would have been if she hadn’t.
Talk to Us, Not About Us
Partnerships can become doomed when communication breaks down. One way to invite strained communication is by avoiding teachers and talking to their administrator first. So many times I’ve heard administrators recall a phone conversation where their first response was, “Have you talked to the teacher yet?” If the answer is “no,” then an important piece of the conversation is missing. A teacher explanation can usually fill in the gaps and start the problem-solving process. We really do want to know when something is amiss, but starting with mistrust can make for a tenuous partnership.
You Have to Do Your Part, Too
A great way to forge a new kind of partnership is to be present when you can. When you show interest in school and in education, the children will too. Make every effort to come to parent/teacher conferences. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts of the year: I get to learn something about my students that only their parents can share. Volunteer if you have time or check the school’s website to see what is going on.
There’s just one exception to this: Respect the rules of the classroom. If you have to contact your child during the day via his cell phone, make sure he knows that doesn’t mean he has to answer it. Just last week, a phone rang in class. I glanced in the direction of the sound thinking I’d see the student putting it away, but instead I heard his voice, “Hello?” I asked why he was answering a phone call in the middle of class. He replied, “It was my mom. She needed to tell me where I’m supposed to go after school.” I reminded him that’s what a lunch break and the front office are for. We want to see you involved and aware, but not interrupting class with a call.