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Parent-Teacher Combat
Mom with a View

Parent-Teacher Combat

It wasn't only my daughter who was being called to the mat.


Parent-teacher conferences can’t be avoided, even though there are only so many times you can sit through a recital of the 6th grade curriculum. Since they are the individualized reports on our child’s progress, the face-to-face meetings with the teachers we have heard so much about (!), it is incumbent on us to attend.

When I saw the notice for sign-up sheets (that alone is a drama as parents vie for their desire spots, wrestling 3-ring binders to the floor with papers spilling in all directions, in order to write their names in first and avoid a 20 minute wait between appointments) this year, I was reminded of a parent-teacher evening a few years ago.

All the teachers smiled and said lovely things when we announced whose parents we were. “You didn’t need to come.” “Do you have a big bag for all that nachas?” We were beaming – until we came to the last teacher where we were brought crashing down to earth. “Your child has a hard time understanding the material.” “Your child may have done well at her previous school but the competition is greater here.” “Maybe the material is just too difficult for her.” We felt like deflated balloons.

And then (I really couldn’t stop myself) I interrupted the teacher’s tirade to question why my daughter’s difficulties seemed unique to this particular class. In fact (and I’m not proud of myself for this), I even said, “None of her other teachers say that; she’s doing extremely well in their classes.” Yes, I need to watch my tongue. Yes, I let my frustration get the better of me.

The evening finally ended and we had a few choices to make. The first was what to tell our daughter and the broader one was how to react to the whole experience.

On the first issue, we decided on a carefully monitored discussion of the situation. This was one of my younger children and subject to my “no more rescuing” philosophy that her older siblings had been spared (to their detriment I believe, but that’s another blog). A significant aspect of life is the ability to deal with difficult people. We need to learn to respond politely even when ideas are not expressed clearly. We need to learn to treat teachers (and others in authority) with respect, despite our frustration. We need to find ways to do our best even under adverse conditions.

The key is to focus on the positive while calmly accepting the negative.

Yes, there are worse circumstances than a teacher who lacks competence and understanding but in a child’s eyes, and given the amount of time they spend together, this looms large. “Managing this challenging situation will help you grow in ways you can’t even imagine,” we told our daughter. (I think she rolled her eyes but I pretended not to see.)

I’m not sure she was comforted by this resolution of the situation – although her grades in that subject did improve – but I was taken aback by my own words. Here I was lecturing (okay, speaking softly and gently to) my daughter on the appropriate way to respond to this teacher while I was still reeling from the evening’s experience.

And then it came to me. Of course, my reaction should be no different than hers. This was also an opportunity for me to learn and grow, to respond calmly to the teacher’s negative report and to discuss working together instead of going immediately into attack mode. And on a deeper level, it was a lesson about life. Instead of basking in the pleasure of all the positive comments, I allowed the negative remarks to shape my whole experience of the evening.

I needed to change my attitude before I could hope to help my daughter. There is almost no experience in life that is composed on only “good” moments. Vacations and travel can be wonderful but there are certainly plenty of hassles involved (I will pointedly refrain from bashing the TSA). A wedding is a time of such joy but there is also a lot of family dysfunction surfacing during those moments – just ask any even planner! Childbirth is one of life’s most precious miracles but it is certainly not without pain.

The key is to focus on the positive while calmly accepting the negative. It’s the challenge of life in all areas, both big and small. So now, with the passage of time and perspective, I can thank that teacher for reminding me of this important life lesson. And for giving me the opportunity to try to implement it personally, as well as teaching it to my daughter. Although, if you are reading this, I want you to know that she is a genius with exemplary character traits – just like all her other teachers said!

November 27, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, March 28, 2011 4:47 PM

Do Teachers equally learn life lessons?

I read through this in my desparation to find an appropriate reply to an email I recieved from my youngest son's teacher - and while I follow and agree with all of the lesson's to guide the child - I wonder at what point and to whom do the Teacher's look in the mirror to see if they could handle situations differently? Could they have handled a situation - instruction, student, what have you in another way that would been received better? It seems to me that they are also an example of defensive when parents show concern. IMO

(6) sheila ginsberg, December 31, 2010 7:10 AM

If teachers did not give negative feedback then there wou ld not be the opportunity for the parent to objectively analyze their child's strengths and weaknesses. Parents can help their child by learning in which areas the child needs help, and with advice from the teacher, a way can be found to improve the child's performance. I have found that most children who have difficulties in interpersonal relationships are a mirror image of their parents. Many children who have problems due to lack of motivation .behavioral difficulties, poor study habits etc. could improve significantly if parents weren't so very defensive ,and combative .They blame the system and the teacher. Lack of ability or learning disabilities need to be recognized and proper remedial help offered.But often the problem with the child falls squarely on the uncooperative parent. We need to get back to the times when parents showed more respect for the teachers. They think they know what's best.I'd like to see them try to micromanage their doctor's or dentist's decisions.

(5) Heather, December 3, 2010 3:04 PM

Yes, but...

So your child does well in almost every class and yet you felt attacked by the one teacher's class in which your child does poorly. Not every child can succeed everywhere and it is wise to remember that a child can severely struggle with a class and have problems in it that are not visible in other classes (and vice versa.) I met with a parent and gave a great report. He said, "This is surprising, it is the only class my child is doing well in." I also had the opposite, "My child has A's and B's in everything else, how can he be failing in here and have such a terrible attitude." Every child is different, every class is different, and all materials are different. I agree that one negative evaluation should not be used to mark the entire evening's events however, there is no need to feel attacked when a teacher tries to explain your child's problems. After all, isn't that why you attended?

(4) Rosalie, December 2, 2010 7:24 AM

Let's all respect each other

Being a teacher myself, I try to'sandwich' bad news between pieces of good news. It is a pity that some teachers seem to want to vent their frustration with a child when they see the parents. Of course parents will be defensive if they are being verbally attacked, it is a natural response. I tell my pupils at the beginning of the year that they would not all like me, but that is life, and it will show their strength of character if they can achieve good marks in spite of that. Good advice was given to their child by the parents of the article.

(3) nechama, November 30, 2010 9:44 PM

thanks for the great post.

i would like to thank you for the inspring and uplifting words.

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