What Your Child's Teacher Would Love to Tell You - But Can't
Having been a teacher for over eight years, I have experienced some of these sentiments (though not all). I have overheard hundreds of conversations with teachers about the day-to-day grind.
I've worked in two states, taught college, high school, all the way down to preschool.
Teachers are hardworking people and they want all children to succeed. However, there are certain things they wish they could say, and do, to help improve successful outcomes for students and to have a higher overall satisfaction in their careers.
From parents, to volunteers, to society at large, we can all help teachers in their tall task of making a difference in the lives of the children they teach.
Help Your Child Succeed
Parents love their children and would do anything for them. When it comes to school, many teachers have expressed some advice they wish they could give:
- Kids will be kids. Sometimes they will get upset at each other: they'll lose a game, feel like something is unfair, tease (but not necessarily meaning what they're saying), and make bad choices. The one thing you can do as a parent? Let the kids work it out. Nine times out of ten, they will. When they don't, then contact your child's teacher. A good teacher will likely know of the problem already and want to contact you.
- Your child will, at one time or another, act up. He or she will also exaggerate or sugarcoat their side of the story. It's always a good idea to find out from the teacher what happened before automatically believing what your child tells you.
- Belligerent parents are an everyday reality. If you yell at your child's teacher, it doesn't make them like your child any less, but it will make the teacher truly want to avoid you at all costs. She might not be as inclined to go above and beyond for your child as she might for a parent who's truly appreciative of her efforts.
- Yes, your child is special. Your child's teacher understands that. However, so are the other 18, 24, 38 or even 40 students in her class - each with their own needs and strengths that she must keep in mind and address.
- If teachers ever call you, it's out of concern for your child. If your child can't sit still, and the teacher lets you know, it's not because she doesn't like him/her. It's because she's legitimately concerned about his/her success.
- Also, teachers don't call parents because they want to cause trouble. They call because they're truly concerned about making school a place where your child wants to be.
- Teachers love to talk to and get to know the parents of their students. However, early in the morning when she's getting ready for the day isn't always a good idea to have a 20-minute conversation with her. Schedule a time to talk to her and then you'll have her undivided attention.
- Teachers and students spend most of their waking hours together. They know your students and evaluate them professionally. Parents need to give teachers room to be professionals. "Helicoptering" over your child does not help: it hinders them from becoming more independent.
- If you have a problem, contact your child's teacher and set up an appointment. Emailing or texting is one way of communicating, but for more sensitive matters, it's best to talk in person. You can only say so much via text or email - the emotion and human factor just isn't there. That can lead to misunderstandings.
- Children act like their parents: they repeat what they say, adopt similar attitudes toward school and learning, and have the same manners. Therefore, children are a reflection of their parents. If little Maggie constantly burps in class, someone at home most likely has taught her that behavior. Little Ben will tell the class that his mom stayed out all night with her new boyfriend after she's told him not to say anything.
Regarding School Culture
There are certain things about the teaching profession that can make even the most dedicated teacher doubt why he or she chose this occupation - more so in recent years. However, if more people understand where teachers are coming from, together they can work toward a better future.
- Teachers want to be more creative and they do their best with the tools they are given. Teaching to the test, many feel, stifles creativity and doesn't help learning - yet, so many teachers feel compelled to do so because their jobs are on the line. Assessments are needed, but not for more than one entire month during the academic year when you've added all the practice tests and the real ones at the end of the year.
- Teachers are required to have students "practice" taking their end of grade tests at the elementary level. These practice tests happen throughout the year, about once per quarter. Teachers must suspend actual teaching in order to administer these tests. True, they use the data to help them determine where students still need instruction, but there are other many other ways to measure progress.
- Most teachers wish that the "high stakes testing culture" would go away in favor of creating student portfolios, having end-of-unit assessments, and having the freedom to change and modify what they're teaching so that they can meet their own students' needs more effectively - every child and every class is different!
- Merit pay is not a motivator. It's a source of stress. How would you feel if your own job is on the line based on how the employees under you perform on one day of testing? Furthermore, teachers have no control over whether their students get a good night's sleep before the test, whether they eat breakfast (unless the school provides it), or if little Josh's parents got into a huge fight and kept him up all night crying.
- Similarly, teachers feel that there is so much mis-conception with tenure. Tenure is not a guarantee of employment. Tenure just means that before a principal dismisses a teacher, he or she has due process to make sure the dismissal is fair and just.
- In fact, the education profession doesn't usually fire a teacher outright for doing substandard work. If a principal feels that a teacher is not up to par, he or she will essentially "move" into a classroom and constantly observe and evaluate that teacher. Some teachers survive that intensive review process and some don't. It's an incredibly stressful process for everyone. Thus, a teacher who doesn't meet expectations usually doesn't survive for very long in the profession.
What's most surprising about the typical teacher work day?
The Typical Day
So many misconceptions persist about what a teacher actually does. Here's are some of the main tasks a teacher does during the course of a day (though this list is far, far from being exhaustive): (This is for an elementary teacher; middle school and high school will vary from this, but not by much.)
- Lesson planning on a weekend: 8+ hours
- Arrive to school forty-five minutes before classes begin, about 7:10 am; call and respond to voicemail.
- Respond to email.
- Prepare classroom and make copies.
- Make sure students have all materials; sharpen pencils and wipe down desks.
- Monitor arriving students and make sure they put their things away.
- Call parents for those who forgot lunch.
- Reserve the media center and take students to check out "leveled-books."
- Assess students in reading.
- Reserve appropriate technology so students can practice a math concept.
- Respond to a student who just got on the McKinney-Vento list (in other words, make sure this now homeless student has a place to stay).
- Coordinate with the school counselor about making sure students in poverty get canned food for the weekend when they're not at school.
- Monitor lunch; make sure kids are eating; listen to their wonderful stories.
- Take students out to recess but create organized activities for students.
- Watch for any bullying, signs of abuse/neglect.
- Talk to a student who's crying. (Her mom went to the hospital.)
- Prepare for a math lesson and see if tutors are coming to help the different groups of students (Many times a tutor doesn't show up), but before you finish...
- The principal has just called an impromptu meeting to review your summative evlauation during your planning time. You call an assistant to watch your class until you return; she's supposed to be in another class.
- When you return, figure out why little Nathan just had a break-down in class (He hates math, but he also has a learning disability, so this lesson is exceedingly difficult for him).
- Check on little Manuel. His parents just arrived into the country and he speaks no English. Call the LEP teacher (Limited English Proficient, or English as a Second Language teacher) to assess him.
- Quickly check on the other students and make sure they're on task.
- Practice a fire drill and/or a lock-down drill; make sure all students are accounted for.
- Listen to the stories students have to tell during "show and tell."
- Give hugs to every child - because each one is special and needs to be heard and loved.
- Send one group of students to their buses; the other walks with you to the auditorium to wait while parents line up to pick them up - after verifying that they are authorized to do so.
- Address the parent who's concerned that little Nancy has not tested well on her recent practice end-of-grade test. Address another parent who called and wants to know why Billy pulled her daughter's hair.
- Finally use the bathroom at 3:15 pm. Eat your own lunch in five minutes.
- Attend professional development meeting after school. The meeting runs until 4:30 pm.
- Begin to call back all parents who called during the day, respond to emails; attend another impromptu meeting with the school's social worker about a student whose parents just got evicted from their apartment and what steps the district is taking to keep life as normal as possible for that student.
- Document any incidents, or any other issue of importance that arose during the day.
- Take stack of papers home: all the math work and reading journals need to be graded and checked. Organize lessons for the next day and see what copies, if any, need to be made. Go out and buy extra construction paper, glue, markers and cotton balls for an upcoming reading project knowing the school won't be able to reimburse the cost.
- Try to follow up with more phone calls in the evening. Find out why Matilda was wearing the same clothes two days in a row.
Effectively, if more people understand how hard the typical teacher works, then they'll understand why that email went unanswered for a few days, or why Mrs. DoGood didn't call you back for a day or two, or why it seemed like she was "elsewhere" when you were speaking to her this morning. Teachers really do have a lot of responsibilities.
Thank a Teacher
What Teachers Need
Teaching is not the easiest profession, but educators stay because they love children and want to see them succeed. Parents and society alike can help teachers to do just that.
- Send a thank you card. Teachers love and appreciate these. Avoid sending teddy bears and bad candy - they get way too many of those things.
- Become a volunteer at your child's school: you can be a good role model for your child, but you can also be there when the teacher needs to use the bathroom.
- Teachers definitely love seeing parents and having them help out in the classroom - just be sure to let them know beforehand so they can ensure that they have work that they can give you. Showing up and saying "how can I help?" might sound good, but if a teacher is teaching a specific activity that only she can do, you might have just made a trip for nothing.
- Set aside time to read to your kids. Every single day. Parents who read to their kids - all the way through high school if they can help it - have children who tend to be much more successful in school. These children also behave better.
- Remember, there are days when teachers want to give up - just like in any profession - but a parent who reports on a child's success or how a teacher has made a difference makes it worth it. Better yet, a student who has gone on to do great things because of a particular teacher is the ultimate compliment - and lets the teacher know - will have her crying happy tears - literally!
- Don't forget: teachers are human. They do make mistakes - just like anyone else. There's no need to get riled up if your child brings home a C and it should have been a B. Just take a moment to talk to the teacher and she'll remedy the problem. So, it's also good to be an advocate for your child.
- Many parents don't volunteer nearly as much at the high school level as they do at the elementary level. Teachers need parents' help at the high school level almost as often: they still need volunteers to help with food, supplies, grading, field trips, coordinating other out-of-school activities, etc.
- Finally: teachers are on the same side as parents. They all want what's best for a student.
© 2014 Cynthia Calhoun