I rearranged the picture frame of my family three times before the first parent ever sat down. I had never been on that side of the desk—the side the teacher sat on. But there I was, a first-year, middle school teacher, and I was about to lead my first parent-teacher conference. Terrified, but still excited, I began telling the parents how their child was an excellent reader, how she scored high above the standards set by the school district and how she excelled in math comprehension and problem solving. They nodded and held hands, smiling in delight. Then the conference turned to areas of improvement.
"As academically strong as your daughter is, she still shows a need to improve her socialization skills. At times, she has answered rudely to questions I have asked, as well as treat other students in a manner that is against the rules of the classroom," I said.
"What do you mean?" they asked, looking confused.
"Well, she has pushed two children on the playground and has had to sit out of recess once due to yelling inappropriately at another student," I answered.
What amazed me was what happened next and the words they chose to say in response: "Not our child. Our child would never do that."
I was stunned. They didn't believe me.
As teachers, we had to document every altercation and issue that came up in the classroom. So, I showed them my log. I showed them the dates and times the issues occurred. Yet still, looking straight into my eyes, they said again, "Our daughter would never do that. You must be confused."
It was at that moment that I realized there had been a shift in our overall educational outlook. Gone were the days where what the teacher said was taken as gospel, like when my mom would come home from a parent-teacher conference and not even ask my side of the story. She would simply tell me to stop passing notes to Jeanine Liscomb or else I'd lose my Walkman.
Now, teachers' words are doubted, questioned, and at times, simply dismissed with no basis or previous reason for doing so, other than not wanting to believe them.
I had never met those parents before, and our conference was only after four weeks of school. Yet, still, they had already decided I must be wrong.
The power of trust in our educational system has moved from teacher to student. And it's happening across all grade levels.
Kelsey Padgett, a former kindergarten teacher, felt frustrated by the lack of trust exhibited from some of her students' parents. One parent in particular wouldn't sign a behavioral statement because she didn't believe her child had hit another student. When Padgett explained that her son had already admitted he had done it, she turned to her son and said, "Did you do it?" The son shook his head "no," and the parent immediately replied, "See. He didn't do it. My son doesn't lie."
Padgett was confused by how these parents could believe a 5-year-old child over her stellar teaching record.
However, Eva Gording, a parent of two school-aged children, sees things differently, "I know my children better than anyone else—even their teacher. As much as I appreciate all they are doing, it's my right to disagree and see things differently. I know what's best for their education."
But do they really? Have parents been trained in the state curriculums? Have they gone through a teacher certification program? Are they familiar with all the requirements and standards teachers experience every day in their occupation?
Teachers have gone through those rigorous requirements. And with all the pressure on them, they still want to see a child succeed, not bring them down. Bolton Carley, a middle school teacher, says: "If a teacher emails, calls, texts, or contacts you in any form because there's a problem, then there's a problem. No teacher has ever said, 'Oh, I want to deal with an angry parent today.' Teachers go into teaching to make a difference, not to torture your child."
So where do we go from here? How can we return to a world where parents trust teachers at their word?
Julia Gallo, a school social worker in New York, advises parents to take a different approach. "At times we see parents deny behaviors or discount reports from teachers and administrators and attempt to rescue their child from consequences. Even more often, parents will acknowledge the negative behaviors but will refuse to implement strategies and consequences at home for fear of being 'the bad guy.'"
She offers this suggestion to parents: "Getting a report that your child might be exhibiting some negative behaviors can be hard to hear for any parent. You might feel worried, frustrated or even a bit embarrassed. It's important to remember that every child can act differently at times to what you are teaching at home. The teacher understands this concept and is not there to judge you."
In the end, asking questions of your child's teacher in order to understand a situation better is something every parent should feel open to doing. But believing the worst in them and exhibiting the "Not-My-Child" Syndrome is simply closing a door to one of the most important relationships you need to have—the one between you and your child's teacher. And that's the relationship that will truly pave the way to your child's educational and personal well-being.