Different times of the school year are easier than others. Where we live, the winter months bring long spans of school with few days off. The time between Christmas and spring break can be especially difficult because we have nearly 13 weeks of uninterrupted schooling. Both students and teachers have hunkered down for the long haul. It may not be the case for all places, but here, the snow is deep, the days are gray, and school can be exhausting. As I was thinking back over my time as a teacher, this came to mind as one of the most difficult times of the year.
Another difficult experience, which would frequently crop up during the long school days, was communicating with upset parents. And while the long winter season cannot be avoided, I’ve often believed parent-teacher conflict could be. So, I decided to write a few tips, both from a teacher and parent perspective that might help keep conflict at bay. If you need to interact with a teacher because your child is having a problem, or you are a teacher who needs to contact a parent, these three suggestions should help the resolution process go much smoother.
Parent-Teacher Communication – Three Tips
1) Find something positive to say.
Proverbs 15:1 instructs us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
As a teacher, I can always find something positive to say about a student. Even the most disrespectful troublemaker has a good quality or two. Sometimes he is funny. Sometimes she is a good artist. It is important to look for the good in people, even if it takes some effort. So whenever I start a parent-teacher conference, I always try to begin and end on a good note.
Unfortunately as a teacher, we are met with a lot of negativity. It isn’t uncommon to only hear from parents when there is a problem, so the ratio of positive to negative feedback tends to lean negative. Certainly there are poor teachers in the world, but communication might flow better if both parties decidedly tried to find something genuinely good in the other person. I once had my son’s teacher start a conversation with me by saying, “Your child isn’t as smart as you think he is!” Being a teacher myself, I told her that she might think that, but in general, demeaning my child to my face doesn’t put us on good rapport with one another.
I know firsthand that both parents and teachers can be guilty of speaking harsh words and choosing to focus on the negative. Yet every student, parent, or teacher, has a positive qualities. Choosing to focus on the positive while addressing the negative can make the situation palatable for everyone involved and make the resolution process more productive and efficient.
2) Approach the problem with humility.
Philippians 2:3b says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
As a very conscientious high school student, I wasn’t pleased when I found a mistake a teacher had made grading my paper or with my grades. When I talked to my mother about it, she gave me some invaluable advice. She told me to approach the teacher with humility. Even if I knew I was right, I should suggest that maybe I had been the one to make a mistake and then ask them to show me where I went wrong. She also offered some specific ways to start the conversation: “Mr. Smith, I saw that I got this wrong on my paper and I’m really having trouble understanding where I went wrong. Would you mind showing me?” Or, “Mrs. Smith, I think there may have been a misunderstanding. Would you mind explaining why you wrote…?”
Most of the time, a teacher would be more than willing to look at the paper again, because I had been respectful. Many times, they would catch a mistake they had made. Other times, they kindly showed me where I had messed up. Approaching my teachers with humility saved me from a lot of embarrassment and also brought resolution much faster than if I had approached them with an accusatory tone. This lesson has served me well in life, and I think it is really important that we all approach conflict similarly.
There are a lot of moving pieces in a classroom. With 30 or more students, teachers are not privy to all that is said. Even though we try to keep an eye on everything, undoubtedly, some things go unseen. Similarly, students are not always focused on the lesson. Sometimes they miss instruction or mishear what is being said. If parents, teachers, and students all enter into conflict resolution with a sense of humility, the chances of actually solving the problem are much greater.
We are all imperfect. Instead of trying to point out the imperfection in others, we should first recognize that we, ourselves, are full of imperfection. No one likes to be blamed or hurt just because someone else demands to be right. Humility sets the correct tone.
Sarah and her husband have six children under the age of 12, 2 dogs, and way too much laundry! When they aren't busy with school, sports, and church, Sarah enjoys exploring northern Michigan and camping with her family.