How You as a Parent Can Be Your Child's Advocate with the Teacher
Problems in School
As a parent, once your children are in school there are bound to be problems:
- Managing schoolwork
- Relationships with teachers
- Relationships with other students
- Learning disabilities
- Behavior problems
Whether your child's problem stems from something they did (or were supposed to do, but didn't), something somebody else did, or challenges they are facing, you are your child's best resource for resolving the problem. In working with parents and educators, I have noticed that some people, because of culture or the way they were raised, have difficulty in communicating with teachers and others at their child's school. Language barriers, fear of authority, or lack of belief in the value of education can lead parents to avoid interacting with the school.
Assess the Problem
Before you do anything, you need to figure out what the problem is.
- Ask plenty of questions. Kids aren't always great about providing details. The more information you have, the more prepared you will be to handle the situation. Find out who is involved, what happened, when it happened, where it happened, how it happened, and even why your child thinks it happened.
- Don't assume that your child's version of events is accurate. They are interpreting things through the eyes of a child their age. They don't see the bigger picture and struggle with taking responsibility for their own actions.
- Resist pointing the finger (assigning blame). Your precious darling may have actually done something wrong. As you talk to your child, let him/her know that you want to find out all the information before deciding what to do. This attitude will be very helpful when you talk to the teacher or principal so they don't feel defensive right away.
Once you figure out who you need to talk to and what kind of problem you're dealing with, it's time to do something about it.
Time for Action
By action, I do not mean to storm the school and harass the teacher. Keep yourself together as you move forward to help your child. Here is some advice:
- Prepare yourself. Make sure you have as much information as you can and bring it with you.
- Make an appointment. Whether you need to talk to the teacher, the principal, or another parent, let them know that you want to talk to them and figure out when to make that happen. Give them a brief (and calm) description of what you want to talk to them about so they have a chance to be prepared too.
- Keep your emotions under control. Nothing will be solved by going in ready to attack. Pause a moment if you need to so you can continue the conversation.
- Keep an open mind. Easier said than done...I know! Make sure you actually listen to what the other person (or people) is saying. Give yourself a moment to process what they said and try to understand it from their point of view. Avoid statements that blame the person you're talking to and focus instead on phrasing it like this: "When XYZ happens, I feel ignored/unappreciated/hurt..." or "It's frustrating to see Johnny so upset/confused/lonely..." There is more than one way to see any situation.
- Take responsibility. People are more likely to own up to their own responsibility when you own up to yours. "I should have noticed earlier in the school year that he was having problems." "I should have handled that differently." "I forgot about that note you sent at the beginning of the year." No guarantees, however, that this will be reciprocated. You'll have to be the bigger person.
- Think of solutions. Did you go to the school just so you could gripe and complain or did you really want to solve this problem and help your child? Let them know what you need to solve the problem. Listen to their solutions, too. Be open to compromise and creative solutions.
That Didn't Work - What Now?
Sometimes, things don't go smoothly. You can't control other people. If you weren't able to solve the problem after staying calm, discussing the situation, and offering solutions, you have other options.
- Go up the chain of command. If talking to the teacher didn't solve anything, talk to the principal next. If the principal wasn't cooperative, talk to the superintendent of the school district. Following the same advice listed above and explain the problem, who you talked to, and what happened in the meeting. See what help they can offer you.
- Safety in numbers. Enlist the help of other parents. Perhaps other people are having the same problems. They might have some advice or even other people to talk to. Even if your child is the source of the problem, it helps to talk to other parents. You aren't the first parent to go through this and you won't be the last.
- Publicize the problem. The news media can sometimes get answers when the average person can't. Use this option VERY carefully! Publicity can put pressure on the school and that can sometimes lead to more problems. If you go to the local newspaper or tv station, make sure you have your facts straight. Be clear about what is fact and what is speculation and remember that the media will spin the story that way they want to. You could end up being portrayed as some weird or stupid parent trying to bully the teacher.
- Let it go. After all this, why should you let it go? Because some problems aren't worth waging war over. Choose your battles carefully. Is this really the hill you want to die on? There's nothing wrong with telling your child that life isn't always fair and sometimes we just have to make the best of it.
Model Good Behavior
Your children are constantly watching what you do and learning from it...like it or not. Every step of the way it is important to model the right kind of behavior for your child. Teach them to separate the behavior from the person. Keep your cool and refrain from attacking or putting the teacher (or whoever you're upset with) down. Even if one teacher is doing a bad job, there are so many other great teachers who deserve respect and support.
The other think I hope your child will learn is that they have the right to stand up for themselves and be heard. They don't need to give in or tolerate things that are unfair, but they need to go about it the right way. For now, you are their advocate and can show them how this is done.
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