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Memo to the nation's self-help gurus: Why not a book on fixing relationships between teachers and parents? I think most problems between parents and teachers could be resolved with just a little more understanding. The key concern is a fundamental difference in how each group thinks about education.
While parents worry about what their kids learn, teachers are more concerned with how they learn. While the parents see the product, the teachers live the process. Are students working in small groups or discussing as a class?
When schools do things that seem crazy to parents, the issue of HOW vs. WHAT is often at hand. For example, if a school offers European history from 1000 to the present, a teacher can cover that much material in a year by lecturing. But suppose the school wants to integrate the curriculum with English. That will mean work that combines both subjects -- in-depth study of particular periods and more collaborative activities -- and that could mean that the course will cover only 1500-present. Parents are then likely to ask why 1000 to 1500 was cut, especially if the material isn't taught elsewhere. From critical thinking to deeper learning, many controversial education initiatives are intended to improve the how of learning.
But even the most brilliant curriculum won't work if students and parents don't believe in it. As a teacher and administrator, I can offer a few tips for building positive relationships between parents and teachers:
Make Your First Interaction Positive
If a parent greets me with a warm hello and kind word on curriculum night, I'm much more likely to be receptive if she comes to me with a problem later.
Don't Get Angry Before Getting the Facts
Even the most trustworthy child sometimes garbles important information. Parents and teachers who know different parts of the same story can often resolve issues with an exchange of information.
Don't Go Over their Heads
As a teacher, nothing makes me madder than learning about a parental complaint about my class from the principal. Talk to the teacher first, then go to the principal if you're not satisfied.
Remember that Most Teachers Are Sensitive
Teaching is an intensely personal job -- teachers are people who are paid to care about the thoughts and feelings of others. It's critical that you be respectful of feelings.
Good teachers welcome dialogue with parents because it gives them a better understanding of their students. Parents have the right to expect periodic updates from teachers and timely notification of academic problems. Remember: In the parent-teacher relationship, like most others, communication is the key.
Bruce Hammond is an education expert and author.