Conflict and disagreements are a part of life. As an adult you understand this and you employ skills that help you mitigate conflicts and avoid future disagreements. Your children, however, may not have developed these skills yet. That means they will rely on you for help in dealing with these situations. Your help is especially important when the disagreement involves your child’s teacher. Approaching this situation in the proper way is important. It provides a good example for your children and sets them up for a successful learning experience the rest of the school year.
“When parents are active in their child’s education, the child is likely to perform better academically in school,” says Dr. Deborah Hammond-Watts, an adjunct professor in the College of Education at Argosy University, Chicago. “A good working relationship between school and home sends the message to a child that his/her parents and the school work together for his/her educational and emotional benefit.”
When a child approaches a parent with an issue or comment related to school and/or the teacher, parents should be willing to listen and to not jump to conclusions. “Whether you believe what your child is telling you or not, it is important that your child knows you are willing to listen,” says Dr. Dominick Ferello, professor in the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Education at Argosy University, Tampa.
The next step is for the parent to reach out to the teacher directly. Request a conference or time to discuss the matter with your child’s teacher directly (without your child present) to gain some understanding as to what the teacher perceives the concern or issue to be. “When requesting to talk with a teacher, keep in mind that the teacher’s job is to teach the children in the classroom during the school day. Schedule an appointment to make certain that the teacher has time to speak with you. Showing up at school and demanding to see a teacher may not always work in your favor,” says Hammond-Watts.
“Try not to make assumptions about what is going on before you have an opportunity to meet with the teacher,” says Ferello. “The goal for the meeting is to gather information about what may be going on, as well as make it clear that you want to partner with the teacher in helping your child to feel that the focus is on their education and helping them succeed in the classroom,” says Ferello. “Even in some of the most difficult situations, a compromise can probably be reached if both the teacher and parent keep in mind that they are working for the benefit of the child in the educational setting,” says Hammond-Watts.
The reality is that teachers aren’t perfect and neither are parents, says Ferello. As such, the outcome may not always be what either party had hoped for. “Teachers are faced with questions and concerns from a number of parents and children on any given day,” says Ferello. “Given the number of students they teach and the demands placed on them, it’s not hard to imagine that even teachers can get frustrated. Given that parents naturally want to stand up for their children and see the best in and for them, it stands to reason that parent/teacher conversations can sometimes go in the wrong direction.”
“If that happens, it’s important to acknowledge that you got off on the wrong foot,” says Hammond-Watts. “To change the relationship or the conversation, someone needs to address the ‘bad start’ and be willing to start over. Either the parent or teacher can do this.”
If you and the teacher just cannot get along after much effort and frustration, the principal or another administrator may need to get involved. “The presence of a third party may assist both teacher and parent to try to communicate in a way that demonstrates less conflict,” says Hammond-Watts. “After the meeting, the principal/administrator can meet separately with the parent and teacher to critique the meeting and offer solutions toward a better working relationship. While the principal can instruct the teacher to work with the parent in a professional manner, the teacher needs to be sincere in any efforts to do so.”