Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Parents Should Know About Teachers

Ideally, parents and teachers are allies, teaming up to help students succeed. However, things go wrong when there are hidden, often unrealistic, expectations. As a parent and a teacher, I have glimpsed both sides, and everyone’s expectations would be much more realistic if they knew a little more about the other. This week, I am writing parallel posts, what parents should know about teachers and what teachers should know about parents.

It’s because they are crazy busy
The most important thing that parents should know about teachers is that they are busy, like super freaky busy. The actual teaching is a very small part of a teacher’s day, eclipsed by classroom discipline, record keeping, lesson preparation, and grading.

Be your child’s advocate
If your child can’t see the board, doesn’t understand the assignment, or still has last week’s homework in her backpack, it’s not because the teacher doesn’t care, it is because he is crazy busy. The teacher wishes he could give each student individual attention, but when he can’t, send an email. Better yet, encourage your student to talk to the teacher before class.

Make manageable requests
If your child needs special attention, try to make it something the teacher can do quickly, because the teacher is crazy busy. Appropriate request: move the child to the front of the class, send home an extra copy of the textbook, reply to an email asking about a low test grade. Inappropriate request: give one-on-one tutoring after school every Monday, call the parent with a behavior report every day, type up the notes from the board since the child didn’t write them down.

They don’t stop working at 3:00
Save the “Must be nice to only work half the day” jokes. I would regularly plan lessons and grade until 10:00 most nights and grade research papers for most of Spring Break. Like most teachers, I either had a summer job, taught summer school, or took care of my own kids during summer, so it’s not like I was lounging around for three months a year.

Don’t go to Hawaii during a school week
Because the teacher would have to write up a special set of instructions and assignments just for your child and process all of the makeup work late just for your child. And the teacher is crazy busy. And because you’re spoiling your kid.

Doing your child’s homework is worse than you think
Teachers really do use homework to gauge the student’s progress, and when the parent does the homework, it really cheats the student. The teacher believes that the student is ready to move on to more complex concepts. When a student does not know how to do something, he needs explanation either from the teacher or the parent, which is one of the reasons I created my Essay Engine program so that kids could get appropriate help writing essays. But when the parent just writes the essay herself, that robs the student of a learning experience and wastes the teacher’s time. I once had a student turn in an essay that was full of words she did not know. The next time I saw her mom, I told how great it was that her daughter was writing at a 9th grade level! It was all she could do not to mention her master’s degree in French lit.

Save your peppermint bark
Making a batch of your favorite homemade desert seems like a great holiday gift, but when 17 other families have the same idea, it's enough sugar to send a teacher into diabetic shock. The best gifts are either a card with a heart-felt message inside or a Starbucks’ gift card. Don’t you people know that caffeine greases the wheels of academia? Unless you are a Tiger Mom; they give super good gifts because they don’t mess around.

Realize that teachers are happy to work hard for the kids
Just about every teacher I know went into education because they have a heart for kids. Though they make mistakes, they honestly are doing their best for the greatest number of students that they can. The veterans have seen enough “D” students go on to run companies and seen enough class clowns go on to be well-known public figures, so they know that every child has potential to succeed. The teacher never “has it out” for your kid, unless you take your kid to Hawaii during a school week. That will go in the secret file in the principal’s office that gets attached to the kid’s college application.