I have the privilege of meeting a lot of teachers through Kidpower, and most of them do a tremendous job under challenging circumstances with very limited resources and not nearly enough appreciation.
Like heroes in an adventure story, teachers often have to overcome adversity, doubt, and struggle. Every day, most teachers do their best to address the often-conflicting social-emotional needs of students, meet the expectations of parents and administrators, and impart the academic curriculum their students need to learn.
A small percentage of teachers misuse their positions of trust and power. Highly publicized media stories about teachers bullying and abusing their students serve to raise awareness we need to protect young people from these risks, but the stories are not representative of the vast majority of educators who dedicate their lives to the well being and safety of the kids in their care.
As parents, grandparents, volunteers, or people supporting a school community in other ways, we have the power to honor the people teaching our kids by taking action that supports their efforts. Here are nine ways of making their job easier:
1. Don’t take teachers for granted. Teachers and administrators receive an overwhelming number of complaints by phone, email, and in person. In addition to speaking up about problems, make a point to speak up about what you appreciate. Instead of saying, “This is just their job!”, recognize that this is a hard job and that people perform better when their work is appreciated. Even if you are tired or busy, thank teachers in small ways even for simple things at least once a week. A warm smile across the room and a heartfelt “thank you” can work wonders at the end of a long day. Write a note or leave a voice mail to express gratitude. Tell administrators about something beneficial your child’s teacher does.
2. Help out in ways that make less work for the teacher. Read the teacher’s newsletters and messages. Respond to inquiries the first time, whether your answer is yes or no, so the teacher doesn’t need to ask you twice. If you are not living with your child’s other parent, do all in your power to strengthen your communication with your parenting partner so that, if possible, the teacher does not have to communicate twice about issues or arrange two separate conferences.
Offer your time with specifics, such as, “I can arrange to come in once a month for two hours. I have knowledge about biology, math, and programming. I could help with reading, file papers, or clean up messes. What would be most helpful for you?” Offer to write a parent newsletter or call parents to volunteer. Drive for a field trip. Step in if you see kids being mean to each other.
Organize an activity that fits your interests and skills. I remember once when my husband Ed took off work to bring frog eggs into our daughter’s second grade classroom. He explained about the life cycle of a frog, set up a tank so the kids could watch the eggs turn into tadpoles, and took the tadpoles back to release them into nature before they became frogs. Be sure to take responsibility for care and cleanup of special activities that you bring into the classroom.
3. Coordinate parents’ resources, such as time and money. If you can, use your time to organize other parents to help in a more substantial way. Your parent group might help regularly with cleanup or reading support. Or, coordinate holiday or end-of-year gifting so that the group’s financial resources provide something more substantial, useful, or meaningful than any of you could provide on your own.
4. Bring up problems or concerns promptly, directly, persistently, and respectfully. It is normal to feel extremely upset and angry if you are worried about the safety, well-being, or emotional or physical health of your child. Take a moment to calm yourself before going to speak to your child’s teacher. Try to remember that almost all teachers really want the absolute best for the children in their care. By coming from a place of working together to come up with a solution, you can help prevent problems from growing. Even excellent teachers can become overwhelmed with too much to do or might misunderstand your concern. Instead of getting angry, be prepared to persist if you don’t get a useful answer right away.
In general, communicate with your child’s teacher in the way that you would want to be told if someone has a problem with what you are doing. Even if you feel very upset and anxious, use respectful language in describing what happened. Talk about specific behavior rather than attacking the character or intentions of the teacher or anyone else. If you are feeling triggered, it can be hard to hear and listen well. Take a deep breath and write things down so you can refer to them later when you have had some time to think. Of course, if nothing works after you have made a sustained effort to address your concern directly with the teacher, be prepared to go to the school administrator and, if need be, to put the problem you are having into writing.
5. Use email or written notes carefully. Relationships of all kinds, from business to family, have been badly damaged by email messages or written notes that were misunderstood. Email can be a good way to make an appointment to talk. If you have feedback or want to discuss a concern, do this by phone or in person. Writing a letter instead of talking first with the teacher can leave the teacher feeling blamed and does not lead to solutions. Ask the teacher what the best way is to make an appointment to discuss a concern and schedule a time to talk in person or on the phone.
6. Avoid talking badly about a teacher behind his or her back. Whispering or emailing about a teacher behind her or his back is a form of adult bullying and does not solve the problem. If you need support to figure out how to take action to address a problem, talk with a trusted support person outside your school community, if possible. Then, take action by communicating directly with the teacher. If you find yourself talking negatively, ask yourself whether your behavior is productive or destructive. Bonding with other parents by complaining about a teacher behind his/her back can be destructive.
7. Be supportive if a teacher seems down or discouraged. Smile and say, “It looks like there is a lot going on. Is there anything I can do that can help?” Let teachers know about the Kidpower technique we teach kids of throwing away hurtful words that other people say to them or they say to themselves and of taking in compliments. Then, give a genuine compliment to take in such as, “You are doing a hard job really well!”
If they feel bad about something that went wrong, remind them of our Kidpower sayings that, “Mistakes are part of learning” and “You don’t have to be perfect to be great!”
8. Teaching can be a lonely job – help build community. Teachers are often alone with children for hours on end every day. You don’t have to become best friends with every teacher your child has, but speaking with teachers as educated adults about things you are both interested in and having appropriate personal conversation is a wonderful way to get to know each other as people.
9. Tell your child’s teacher about Kidpower. Kidpower resources for teaching and using social-emotional skills can make a teacher’s life easier and their children safer and happier. You can buy the teacher a book or point out articles from our extensive free on-line Library.
Download our free coaching handbook of 30 Kidpower skills that will help to protect children from all kinds of bullying, abuse, and other safety problems by registering on our One Million Safer Kids page. These are short lessons that can be easily be discussed and practiced with one child or a group of kids. We have extensive cartoon-illustrated explanations and social stories about secrets and other safety issues in our Safety Comics and Teaching Kits, which can be found in the Kidpower.org bookstore.