Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What do you think?

Today's blog post was inspired by an article I read entitled, "What Your Child's Teacher Wants You to Know." I think it is always important in human relations to understand where the other person comes from, so I heartily recommend reading the article, and keeping in mind that teachers are people who care, have legitimate concerns, and should be understood and heard. With that in mind, I will take two comments from the first teacher's list and then pose a question that I would like the followers of this blog to answer, and, if possible, for the followers of this blog to pass the question on to others, including their children's teachers, and seek a response.

Among the writer's points are the following:

"If there is a pattern you’re not liking or a problem, reach out and express your concern. State the problem as you see it and then listen (note I didn’t say ‘ask for an explanation’). Don’t immediately assume that your lawyer must be your next phone call."


"Let the teacher know if there is an issue at home (a trauma, an upset, an illness, a change in circumstances). Information is a very helpful thing."

So I'm going to write two hypothetical letters to the teacher related to the second point, to let the teacher know what is happening at home, and ask everyone to leave a comment about which letter you think is better. If I get enough responses, I will then post a comment on the website that published this article, with the results, and, if I can, contact the author and ask her for her thoughts.

Letter 1

Dear Mrs. Jones:

I am writing to let you know that something has been happening at home that is making it difficult for Johnny to do his homework. The issue is personal, and I would prefer to keep the details private. I have told him not to worry about his homework, a decision I plan to review again as things go on. It will be very helpful for him to have a positive and supportive experience at school. Please do not penalize him, but rather, continue to offer him the excellent education that you have always offered him in class.

Thank you for your understanding.

Mrs. Smith

Letter 2

Dear Mrs. Jones:

I am writing to let you now that I just learned that Johnny's father is having an affair. This has created a great deal of upheaval in our home, and is making it difficult for him to focus on his homework. I know the final decision is yours, not mine, but if you could waive some of the penalties for work not done, that would be helpful.  Even if you have to give him lower grades, it would be helpful if he did not fail so that he could preserve his position on the school sports team.

Thank you for understanding.

Mrs. Smith

So what do you think? Is letter 1 or 2 the better letter? Should the parent have the choice between writing letter 1 or 2? Should the parent have the authority to write letter 1 with the expectation that the decision she has made will stand without further explanation (note that I reprinted the first of the teacher's two recommendations to the parents because she emphasized that the teacher did not owe an explanation to the parent).

Please leave your comments and I will summarize and report the results.

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.


April said...

I found most of that teacher's advice rather off-putting. Again, it's the assumption that we're there to support them, and doesn't appear to be a 2-way street at all.

Ken said...

I think teachers confuse the concept of support with the notion of blind agreement. I think most parents are ready and willing to support the teachers in their efforts to educate our children. I don't know of parents who go into their role of parenting planning to buck the system. I was certainly highly supportive of my children's teachers with my older two children. Things changed with my third child, when I saw things go downhill. It was shocked to see how little respect I received for my analysis of the issue and my ideas about what should be done.

I agree with you about the teacher's advice being off-putting. I'm a psychologist and I've spent thirty five years in the field. I know about human behavior and, even then, when I offer people my thoughts, I always do it with deference to their analysis of their own situations and problems. Teachers are trained to teach, not to oversee the home. They get shockingly little training in how to give homework. They need to develop more of an "I don't know" attitude when it comes to behavior in the home, and defer to parents and to the resources those parents choose to use, than to make decisions for them.

Thank you for posting your thoughts.