I didn’t know I was “one of those parents” until I became one.
Marcus and I were sitting in our first parent-teacher conference; quite ridiculous actually, seeing as Mia wasn’t yet two, but her nursery school ran twice a year conferences much like every school in which I have ever worked. And there we were, super excited to hear all about our brilliant child.
Miss Dana, who we and Mia grew to love, but at that moment we barely knew, uttered shockwave upon shockwave as we sat there, dumbly smiling. Even there, I kept thinking, “I won’t be one of those parents,” through my ever-growing false smile. You know, those parents who make excuses or explain away everything the teacher says; as teachers, we’ve all sat through those conferences where we couldn’t finish a single sentence without the parent interjecting.
“…and don’t worry that she isn’t talking yet. It’ll come,” uttered Miss Dana reassuringly.
What? Whoa? Are we talking about my child?
“Excuse me, could you say that again?”
And sure enough, my chatterbox who started uttering non-stop nonsense sounds at just four months and was speaking in full sentences by sixteen-months, was apparently mute at school.
Until Miss Dana said, “Don’t worry,” we hadn’t been worried.
And it was then that I heard myself saying it; being it; one of those parents: “But she talks all of the time!”
And it was then that I really, truly got it.
“Those” parents aren’t making excuses. Not all of the time. Sometimes, the child is not the same. Sometimes, the child we know as a teacher is not the child we know as a parent. Oftentimes… Perhaps most of the time…
Swiftly humbled, I knew that the best thing to do was listen, but I also knew that I would be listening much more closely to the parents I met with in my role as an educator. Waves of empathy rocked me.
I don’t think you need to be a parent to be a brilliant educator. I know scores of teachers who are brilliant and aren’t parents. Still, I don’t think we can ever truly understand the anxiety and love of a parent until we sit in that chair and get a view from a different side of the conversation.
With regards to Mia, she’s a sideliner, an observer, an old soul. I knew that before the conference. I knew it even better after. She observes and needs a lot of time to get comfortable. If pushed, she retreats, but when allowed her space, she will soon engage fully.
A perfect example occurred this past May, years after the naiveté of that first conference. Marcus and I were sitting at her first ballet recital. Mia was by far the most timid and perhaps, the least coordinated. Marcus was worried because she was so shy. I knew better.
“Just wait until tomorrow,” I told him.
The next morning was her end-of-the-year class party. I have the privilege of dropping her at school every morning, so I know how comfortable she is there. With ballet, we started mid-year and she was still observing. But in school, she was completely at ease.
Sure enough, watching her on a Tuesday afternoon at ballet compared to the following Wednesday morning during the class show, was (excuse the cliché) night and day. Mia was the life of that party. She knew all the songs and dances and she performed with great enthusiasm, one of the most animated kids in the bunch. In fact, she was the one they substituted in when one of the other children got stage fright.
Recently, talking to a couple of good friends who also happen to be awesome elementary teachers, I heard two great ideas meant to foster the parent-teacher relationship and help everyone understand the dual nature of children at home and school:
- In the first weeks of school, parents write a letter to the teacher introducing their child.
- On the first days of school, teachers meet individually with every parent. The parent does most of the talking, speaking to their hopes for their child and their fears.
With both of these strategies, teachers not only get insight into the child, but also the parents and the relationships they have with their children.
As I continue to say, we are all on the same team – Team Child – and therefore we, the adults, should work to make sure we all understand one another as well!
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