Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents with high expectations- Bob Beauprez
In the previous article of this series, we saw that students spend 1540 of their waking hours in school vs 880 hours at home. This factoid was substantiated with the norms laid down in section 19 of the RtE (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009). Given the enormity of the time they spend with people other than family, we had then delved into the critical nature of school climate and its impact on learning and well-being.
In this article, we dig deeper into another significant relationship that your child(ren) will have with an adult who is not family- their Teacher. Ideally, a Teacher and a Parent have a shared understanding of the aims and goals of education. i.e. the parent and the teacher should be on the same page with regards to expectations between student-teacher and teacher-parent. Parents are a big part of the picture because greater parental involvement is positively correlated with student achievement.
Assuming that every parent reading this piece is an involved parent, how would one leverage the parent-teacher meeting to create a shared vision for your child and student? Especially given that such meetings are often a hotbed of controversy and conflict due to the mismatch between stakeholder views, opinions and expectations.
Described below are a few scenarios to help avoid conflict and pave the way for a supportive parent-teacher relationship focused on the student. Remember that you need to meet teachers periodically and not just at PTMs to build a sustainable and deep relationship, because Parent-Teacher Meetings are usually capped at 10-15 minutes and this is just enough time to address only academic progress and learning.
One parent-teacher meeting I attended as a parent in 13 years, in particular, stands out because it was such a long drawn out affair. A parent ahead of me was probably meeting the teacher for the first time and decided to bring up every single problem in the same meeting. So, what should have been 15 minutes took 3 times as long. By the time my turn came up, the teacher was exhausted and irritable and rushed through the rest. Do not be that parent! Be courteous and considerate and stick to your time slot.
Having said that, certain concerns go beyond the scope of a Parent-Teacher Meeting and you may need to involve other stakeholders as required. The scenarios described below are addressed to different stakeholders, depending on the relevance of the matter to the authority figure. For example, the Principal would be a good ally in a few scenarios and needs to be in the loop insofar matters such as teacher incompetence or verbal/physical abuse are concerned.
Leveraging Parent-Teacher Meetings(And Beyond)
1- Your child complains of teacher favoritism on multiple occasions.
What to do:
- First and foremost, have a conversation with your children and acknowledge their feelings. A good way to begin would be to ask open-ended questions to understand the whole picture.
- Encourage your child to share examples that lead her/him to believe in teacher favouritism. For example, the class teacher in my daughter’s 5th-grade class would consistently use one particular student as a role model and would praise only this student and effusively at that. These would be behavioral examples of favoritism.
- Determine whether the favoritism is limited to verbal praise or does it get reflected in assessments and opportunities? If it is the latter, it is relatively serious and would require immediate addressing.
Who to address it to:
- To the Principal:
- By the parent, if it impacts assessments and opportunities.
- To the teacher:
- B the student if it is a case of verbal praise for a particular student during classroom transactions.
With the teacher – during a PTM.
- Let your child take the lead and express her/his feelings without directly accusing the teacher of favoring another student.
- A few good opening statements could be “I feel hurt/bad/sad when I am not praised for something but xx is.” Or “ When you only praise xx and make an example of her/him, it makes me feel like I don’t do anything right”.
With the Principal: By appointment on a non-PTM day
- Remember that teacher favoritism is tricky to prove.
- You can encourage your child to keep a record of the times s/he observed instances of favoritism that resulted in higher scores in assessment despite answers/responses being the same.
- Do not meet the Principal unless sufficient proof or evidence has been collected
2. Child feels she deserves more marks than what was received in a subject exam.
What to do:
- Remember that teachers are human and it is possible that she/he has made a mistake.
- Do not ascribe malicious intent to the teacher unless there are other behavioral signs that lead you to believe so. For example, the Teacher might be a harsh examiner and It is likely all her students are graded similarly.
- Before you bring this issue up with the teacher, carefully look through the entire answer sheet with your child. Ask questions such as “Where do you think she gave you low marks and why”
Who to address it to:
- During a PTM.
- Keep it matter of fact and focused on understanding the rationale in student assessment.
- Open the answer sheet and point out instances where the student feels she deserved more marks than was given.
- Let the teacher explain her/his rationale for the scoring.
- A good follow-up question is to inquire about the scoring rubric which will prevent future confusion .
- It is very likely that the teacher will not have a formal assessment rubric, in which case, ask for grading parameters with regards to student responses.
- Request that she/he prepares a formal rubric for further tests so that students are aware of teacher expectations and can clearly prepare for the same. After all, assessments should not be a guessing game for either the student or the teacher.
3- Teacher complains about the student (your child) during a PTM
What to do:
- Do not, I repeat, do not rebuke your child in front of the teacher during the PTM.
- Hear the teacher out and ask follow up questions to understand the whole picture. For example, the Teacher complains that “Your xxx is very bossy and I’ve told her many times not to boss other students around but she doesn’t listen”.
- Follow up questions would be “Can you give an example of what you mean”, “Can you rephrase what you said”. “ Have other students complained to you?” “ How do you suggest we tackle this issue?”.
- Once you and your child are in a safe space, communicate the Teacher’s concern to the child by tactfully by rephrasing it to “Your Teacher feels you behave in a manner that disrespects other students. Do you agree with her concern?”.
- Brainstorm solutions for the problematic behaviour without attaching a negative label to it.
Nurturing Parent-Teacher partnerships Part 2 is published HERE.
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Preeti is a Teaching & Learning Specialist (M.A. Ed) with expertise in pedagogy and instructional design. An inquirer at heart, she constantly seeks to question and challenge the status quo. In the recent past, she has designed and facilitated teacher workshops on engaging pedagogical methods. She is particularly interested in issues related to gender biases in education.