I was fuming. Mr 5 had come home from school, again, and dissented all over the lounge room. School is no fun Mummy, he says. All I do is work work work. He tells me his teacher tells him he is silly, naughty, not good at school. I boiled. Mr 5 is not silly, he is not naughty and he is not not good at school. He is 5 and, like other 5 year olds, he has the developmental handicap of being 5. Not only that, he will remain 5 until such a time as he turns 6, when he will thenceforth have the impediment of being 6. It’s as if he and his classmates have the attention span and impulse control of a bunch of 5 year olds. Oh wait.
Since my son started school I have been unhappy with numerous things. Poor communication. Inaccessible staff. Questionable and nonsensical messages coming home via disoriented messenger pigeon. Finding out by accident that my son had been identified as needing early literacy learning support. Being told by my son that so and so teacher at school said not to tell his parents x y and z because it was a secret.
Whether or not my son was told to keep secrets (he wasn’t), whether or not my son needs literacy learning support (he doesn’t) and regardless of whether the school communicates well with parents (they don’t), I have a problem. School conflict. And it’s my problem. Not the school’s and most definitely not my son’s. It’s my problem because the school is not going to come looking for me with hat in hand ready to mediate. If I want to sort this out, I can either ferment on it until I’m incoherent, or I can confront it.
The single most important thing to remember in moments of conflict with your school is to keep your kids out of it. Confronting class teachers in front of the child is unforgivable and does layers of damage. The teacher is undermined from that day onward. Knowing your parents will march right in there and give that teacher what for is a guaranteed way to increase poor school behaviour, disengage your child and create a very unpleasant power struggle for your child for every school day to come.
The next golden rule of school confrontation is one your Mum probably taught you. Don’t go in angry. Giving yourself a few days to cool off is in your best interests and that of your child. Nothing destroys relationships quicker than a bad tempered toe to toe. Cooling down will also help to clarify the issues. You may find a bit of clear space allows you to see things from the school’s perspective and get your priorities in order. I have found some issues wash away with a little time and I am thankful I held my temper and didn’t end up looking like a fool. The issues that stay around week on week are the ones that are important enough to put your neck out for.
So, if you have decided you need to go into battle, it’s important to prepare. Here are a few ideas that may help all parties come away with the win.
- Remember that nobody is trying to do harm here. Unless we are talking about abuse of some kind, chances are, the people involved actually do have good intentions at heart, care about children and are trying to do their best.
- Really, really take some time to think about what really matters. Becoming that parent with a rant every other week will inevitably result in you being taken less seriously. And it’s no good for your child.
- Call ahead and ask for a meeting. Like any busy worker, teachers and other school staff cannot just drop everything to meet with you and are likely to be caught off guard (and hence may be defensive) if you walk in and demand a meeting. Ask for an hour and stick to it. It’s worth waiting a week or two if you have to, in order to get a mutually convenient time. Remember and respect that teachers will rarely have any time during the school day to meet with you so it’s going to have to be before or after school.
- Know exactly what it is you are seeking answers to before you ask for the meeting. Try to have two or three clear points as agenda items and offer to email them to the teacher to give him or her time to prepare or gather any necessary reports or data.
- Never make accusations. Use statements like can you help me understand why…. or I’d like to see if there are some ways we can work together to resolve….I have used statements to the effect of this is our first year of school as a family and I am struggling with….
- Ask at the start of the meeting if it’s OK that you write a few notes. In order to appear non-threatening, I’ll often say that it’s so that I don’t forget everything that is said and make a lame joke about my twins induced memory loss. Importantly, record in writing any agreed actions, who is responsible and what timeline is reasonable. I’m never trying to be sneaky, but meetings like these can be stressful and you may well forget what was agreed to. That said, if problems continue, your notes will be a template for your next meeting.
- Thank the staff member for their time and end the meeting with a positive encouragement that lets them know you notice the good and value them.
The relationship you have with your school will be a long one, years hopefully. Unless of course you move your kid to a new school every time there is a problem you can’t resolve (that I’ll save for another post). Like any long-term relationship, there will be rocky patches. Look for reasons to make positive comments as often as you can, and your grievances will be heard more openly. Be a part of the community too. Parents who criticize but never support the cake stall aren’t likely to be seen favourably. Above all, remember that teachers are human, imperfect and make mistakes like all of us.
Written by Tracey Egan from the awesome blog Passing Phase (make sure you check it out)
I live in Australia with my husband and three boys. I work outside the home with other people’s kids and inside the home with my own kids. It’s a world of kids. All views are my own and do not reflect that of my employer.