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Monday, Aug. 9, 2021

The Parent-Teacher PARTNERSHIP

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Pitfalls and Opportunities

In the fall of 1987, I was a firstyear teacher in my very first set of parent-teacher conferences some six to eight weeks after school had started. Two parents sat in my classroom to discuss how their son was doing in my 9th grade world history class. I was 22, and they were probably twice that. I had deposited all of two paychecks as a teacher, and they were successful enough in their careers to send their son to a not inexpensive boarding school.

I proceeded to describe the various difficulties their son seemed to be having in my class and reviewed his grades, after which the mother looked at this exceedingly young and inexperienced teacher and said, “Well, Mr. Carter, what do you think we should do?” I remember thinking to myself, “Why are they asking me? They know their son far better than I do!” I gulped and proceeded to talk about what their son needed to do differently to improve his grade and how those changes could be accomplished. I asked them about their son and his previous school experiences.

It was a 10- or 15-minute conference, but it has stuck with me as an example of the partnership that should exist between parents and teachers. They never questioned whether I really knew what I was doing as a teacher (and I certainly had plenty to learn), nor did I have any doubt that they knew their son better than I and wanted him to be both accountable and successful.

One of the challenges that often arises in parent-teacher relations is that all parents have been to school and have clear memories of how school worked for them. If the parent was a successful student or had positive school experiences, they tend to assume that their child will have the same experiences if the teacher can only replicate what was done for the parent.

Suppose the parent was not successful in school or had negative experiences. In that case, they often assume that the child’s teachers will be like the parent’s and that school will be a similarly negative experience.

In either instance, parents usually draw upon their experience without realizing how curricular goals and pedagogical methods may have changed without recognizing how different their own child’s temperament and experience in school may be from their own.

Of course, teachers can bring their own set of assumptions to the relationship. Most teachers become educators in part because school was always a positive experience for them. Teachers often fail to realize that parents may have had very different experiences in school and may bring those negative experiences to the parent-teacher relationship. Teachers can also forget that parents may not be aware that certain behaviors are typical to a given age or grade and that curricular expectations might have changed in the past two or three decades.

I always like to say that the teacher and parents are both experts but in different areas. The teacher knows the curriculum and current academic expectations. The teacher also works with many children and understands the developmental norms of behavior and learning at a particular age or grade.

Parents, on the other hand, know their children. They know what excites or frustrates their child. They know their child’s prior school experiences and social habits. Parents don’t always know current academic standards or developmental norms for kindergarten or fourth grade or 11th grade, even if they remember being in those grades.

Likewise, teachers don’t know an individual child’s family dynamics or personal history or the parents’ school experiences and how those affect the parents’ feelings about the child’s school experience. But when teachers and parents share their expertise and experiences and recognize each other as experts in different but related fields, amazing things can happen.

As a new school year begins, teachers and parents must work to get to know and trust each other. Both parents and teachers want each child to succeed, and each has a valuable perspective that the other needs for achieving that success. When each party recognizes the expertise of the other, when parents and teachers are both willing to learn from each other, then the student is in the best position to thrive academically.

The beginning of the year presents parents and teachers with the opportunity to put negative assumptions aside and recognize each other as valued, competent partners in the mutual endeavor of school.

ON STANDS NOW!

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