Achieving Good Teacher-Child Relationships
Whenever our kids head back to school, or step up into the bus for the first time, we usually feel relief that they are off to, or have resumed, an important journey. We have done the shopping, tried to reinstate the old bedtime hours, gotten the physical exam, and stocked the emotional pantry for the shortened hunting season that lies ahead. Simultaneously, as parents we have reclaimed a few hours back into our own lives. But most of us are also feeling some uneasiness about who will accompany our kids on this new journey in our stead. The uneasiness comes from feeling that we have so little control over this critical new relationship in our kids' lives.
Breaking the ice
And yet our kids and their new teachers have a right to discover each other in their own ways and on their own terms. Teachers are there to teach our kids because the parents and taxpayers of the community have organized the resources of that community to instruct the young. When it goes well, it feels like a trusted partnership between parents and teachers on behalf of our kids. But as a fresh cycle begins, it seems timely to reassess that partnership, and the expectations we have of how it should go.
What you want from your children's teachers may not mirror what your kids want from them. And what your teacher wants from your kids may not mirror what you want from your kids. Your teacher is usually a trained professional with a curriculum to weave into your child's developmental appetites, likes and dislikes, personality strengths and weaknesses. He or she must create a temporary community in fairly short order in which the needs of the many are continually balanced against the needs of the few (Thank you, Dr. Spock). You have a set of values and beliefs anchored in your own culture, ethnicity, and family history. Your kids want to be liked by their teacher, feel good about learning, make some great friends, have some fun and grow in competence and autonomy. With all these differing lookout points, it's no surprise that the view is far from monocular. But our fondest hope as parents is usually that the teacher will like, respect and admire our kids, and come to understand something of what makes him or her special to the world.
Finding a good fit
What further complicates this question of fit between teacher and child is that it is reiterated every year. Moreover there are variations across age groups. The younger the child, the more emotionally connected kids like to feel to their teacher. It helps when you are quite young to be a little in love with a teacher who is going to be teaching you a lot. This connection, when it is a negative one, can work against the same child in middle school, when kids find it hard to perform academically for teachers they do not like (and probably vice versa). Furthermore, these are days of significant tension between parents and schools.
Teachers and parents are both experiencing dips in job satisfaction. Teachers are often feeling overwhelmed by increasing class-size and the frequency with which they have to deal with children in their classes with social, or academic difficulties, or both. Help and support are harder to come by as school budgets are trimmed of "fat". Incidents of verbal and physical abuse from students to teachers are on the rise, even in the most experienced teachers' classrooms. Even seasoned teachers are more leery in the face of growing parental criticism and are finding it harder to hold up their end of the coalition for the good of the child.
Meanwhile, parents are feeling besieged by electronic tidal waves of powerfully seductive TV, computer, video, and movie consumables. Their own jobs and schedules can feel barely in control, and so a teacher-kid problem can threaten an already shaky balance between work and home life. It is hard to understand how to assess a problem when a child comes home with a complaint about a teacher - and who among us has not had that experience?
School competence is about a lot more than grades. It's about learning how to learn from someone other than your family, things that are important to help you live your whole life in the human community. It's about waiting your turn, learning how to be wrong without feeling stupid, making and losing friends, being popular and being left out, being away from home, and confronting values and beliefs different from your own. Teachers and parents that work together for the well-being of their kids, have kids who feel safe and welcome in school, and who are willing to take risks in order to learn. Teachers and parents who struggle with one another have kids who are suspicious and stingy about their school environment. As this new year begins, let's all at least start on the same side of the problem for our kids.
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