412. Caring Parents and Defensive Teachers

I recently had a talk with a mother who cares deeply about her daughter. She doesn’t want her daughter to have to deal with some of what she used to have to deal with in school. This woman has bitter memories of teachers who worked to prevent her from being who she was, and she is not about to let that happen to her daughter. She also does have good memories of her childhood, and wants her daughter to grow up with good memories, too. That’s pretty natural; it has to do with caring. The girl is lucky to have someone like that in her corner.
If a teacher is a source of trauma for a child, good communication can often help resolve the problem. Parents, who usually know their children much better than teachers do, can let teachers know how to deal with children in ways that don’t create trauma. I’ve sometimes heard, from parents of children I’ve taught, that my way of doing things was making life difficult for their children. That’s valuable feedback, and I’ve usually appreciated it. While some parents were annoyed that I was so ready to alter my approach (Doesn’t this guy know what’s RIGHT for children?), most of them appreciated my flexibility.
But sometimes there is a wall that separates a teacher from a concerned parent. Some teachers don’t want to consider the possibility that they might not be doing what’s best for a child. For some, that’s a scary possibility; maybe it means the teacher has to grow. Maybe that involves thinking differently, and making adjustments. If a teacher had difficulty learning to teach and developing confidence in the first place, being thus challenged can bring back the feelings that went with those difficulties. The teacher gets defensive, and there isn’t much effective communication. The problem is treated as only the child’s problem. Or the parent is treated as a major source of the difficulty.
It’s too bad about that wall. I understand it; I’ve faced parents who seemed to be suggesting that I was the reason things weren’t going right for a child. And I got defensive. It didn’t happen too often; usually, I was able to listen to concerns, and learn from them. So I didn’t develop a large arsenal of defensive moves. But it happened enough for me to understand what’s going on when a teacher feels attacked.
Teachers, I know it’s hard to listen to parents who aren’t happy with your teaching. I know it’s tempting to dismiss complaints – to think that a parent’s real problem is having too much spare time, and that she/he is complaining just to have something to do. But educating children really works best when the adults who have the most influence on children – parents and teachers – work together. And that means listening to each other. Even when it’s difficult.

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