Well, the new school year is definitely underway (can you believe it’s nearly half term??) and I, particularly, am loving being on the other side of education for the first time. Prior to having my kids, I was a teacher – but a teacher without her own kids. Now I’m enjoying being a parent who’s also a teacher. Maybe one day I’ll go back to my first career and be a teacher who’s also a parent. Suffice to say there are advantages in seeing the other perspective – so that’s why I wanted to write this blog post: to encourage all you parents (especially those, like me, whose eldest has just started school) to be a blessing to your children’s schools. The title says ‘mum’ but really this is for dads as well – it just had a better ring with ‘mum’ than ‘parent’. Forgiven? Great, let’s move on.
Be a grateful parent. Want to know what your child’s teacher does for them? They know exactly where your child’s strengths lie, and, as you read this, are probably constructing ways of moving them on to further learning. They know where your child struggles, and will sit patiently with them for however long it takes, giving them one-to-one time whilst the rest of the class get on with an activity the teacher set especially so that they could give your child some individual time. They know how your child is doing in each of the curriculum areas, where they were last week, where they should be next week, and how to get them there. They know your child’s interests, hobbies and quirks. They teach your child phonics via flashcards, building towers, or jumping in the sand pit – because they know how best to get through to your child. Amazingly, at the end of this year, your child will do all sorts of crazy clever things that you tried in vain to teach them over the last four years – because their teacher is flippin’ awesome at knowing how to get your child on board. And then multiply this by 30, because they do all this for every single child in their class.
So – be grateful. Thank them. Regularly. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just say thank you. If you can, write a card every so often – at half term, perhaps – to tell them you’re grateful for what they do. Yes they get paid, but with what they do in evenings, weekends and holidays, I work it out to be around 24p an hour – and it’s always nice when people thank you. Make a point of doing this – write a reminder in your phone, week commencing 20th October. I don’t care how you remember – just remember. It might be in our heads that we’re grateful – but teachers, however fab they are, are not mind-readers. Get what you’re thinking out on paper.
Be an encouraging parent. When your teacher – or the school – does something great, tell them. Drop an email. Mention it verbally. Teachers – and especially senior management – get a lot of flack. Brighten up their inbox – your email may be the only positive one they receive that hour, that day, that week. I went to assembly at my son’s school the other week. It was so positive, so affirming, so celebratory, and I loved how the children were rooting for each other, clearly pleased with each other’s success. I spent two minutes writing a quick email to the head – and, whilst I wasn’t expecting her to reply, got a lovely email in return. Who wouldn’t want to open up an encouraging email first thing on a Monday morning?
Don’t complain before you’ve praised. Teachers, particularly primary teachers, get to know you quicker than you think. Establish yourself as a Good Parent to have around. Make sure the teachers know you’re supportive. Being grateful and encouraging will definitely help to establish your ‘parent persona’ around the staff room. If you ever need to complain about some aspect of school life (although read below for how to do that!), at least the staff won’t be rolling their eyes when they read your letter or listen to your phone message. Honestly, when I was teaching, there were some parents who we just couldn’t take seriously because they were always being so negative – you start to become deaf to it. The school will take your concerns a lot more seriously if they know you’re generally supportive.
Sometimes you will have to apologise for your child. When I was a childless teacher, I couldn’t understand why so few parents ever seemed apologetic about their child’s effort/attendance/punctuality/behaviour/whatever. Now I’m a parent, I get it. For 4+ years, you’ve defended your child, protected them from the world, cushioned them from pain and spoken up for them when they couldn’t speak for themselves. You’ve learned to put your child first above all else, even to the point of embarrassing yourself for their benefit. Quite rightly, you’ve learned how to ignore the critics and stand up for your child’s needs, whether that was breastfeeding in public or standing up to another child’s parent when that child hit yours in a toddler group. Now, however, your child is going it alone. They don’t have you by their side, and they won’t always make the right decision. Sometimes they will make a mistake by accident, unintentionally. Teach them that we apologise to others even when we didn’t mean to hurt them or disobey them. Sometimes, they will make a mistake deliberately. This does not mean that your child is a horrible person. Quite the contrary: reassuringly, it means that your child is human. Apologising for them, or getting them to apologise (whichever is appropriate), is not losing faith in your child, yourself, or your ability to parent. Don’t be defensive about it. Just know that this is part of the process of letting your child go into the world and make their own mistakes. Teach them that mistakes have to be sorted out, and an apology is the best place to start.
When things go wrong – think carefully. Do you have a genuine concern? Is something worrying you? Don’t storm into school or write an angry letter. Give the situation a little while to settle – this might be a day, a few days, a week or a couple of weeks, depending on how urgently you feel it needs to be sorted out. But don’t attempt to try and sort it when you’re feeling emotional. When you feel calm enough to approach your child’s teacher, first of all give them the benefit of the doubt. The story your child has told you may not be the whole story – don’t assume it is. Again, when teaching, I was surprised at the number of parents who would believe their child’s version of events before even asking us what had happened. If, as you talk, you realise that the situation is just as you thought, then make your point firmly but kindly – remembering that the teacher is a human being too, possibly a parent just like you. How would you want to be spoken to? If the situation is not resolved, seek the perspective of others that you trust – fellow parents, friends who are teachers – before approaching the senior management or head.
Above all, aim for a good relationship with your child’s teacher. The success of a child’s education is largely dependent on the relationship between school and parents. Give your child the best possible start, and be a great parent to have around.