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May 10, 2014

Meeting With Your Child’s Teacher? Read These 6 Points First. ~ Eli Ronick

Teacher in Classroom

Here is what teachers do day-to-day, the state of education in this country, what you might be surprised to know, and some ideas to further mutual understanding.

In many ways, teaching is one of those jobs that might be difficult to understand just by watching. What I mean by that is if you go into a classroom on a given day to watch a teacher give a lesson, you might be hard-pressed to understand why or how, he or she is interacting with students.

I sympathize with parents who feel like they don’t know what’s happening in their child’s classroom, a point I hope to be able to address here. As a teacher I can tell you it can change often, some days every 30 seconds.

In the seven years that I’ve worked as a teacher, primarily at the Upper Elementary level, I’ve found students to be equal parts inspirational and unpredictable. I’ve compiled this list to give an insight into what a teacher’s job is like in the classroom, in the hope that it can lead to better understanding between parents and teachers, an issue of great importance to the child’s learning:

Teaching and parenting share some similarities, but are different.

Chances are that you care deeply about your child’s education because you know how vitally important it is to their future. Your path as a parent is a delicate one, knowing when to give more freedom and when to be stricter, also which values to emphasize, among others.

While we care deeply about these things, our focus is more centered on the academic potential of the student. This may seem like an obvious point but it’s worth noting.

I have been involved in alternative education models like Montessori, Waldorf and bilingual, and while art and emotional development are often rightfully given more focus at these schools, teachers don’t always have time to give the individualized attention that each student needs.

Of course, we will never admit that to you, that’s part of our job as well.

Teachers take your children for a few hours each day, do our best to instill in them a love of learning and at times, we are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to profoundly shape a student’s life. Like any other job, our ability to do well depends on the resources we are given and our ability to adapt. Teaching is an act of acceptance, realizing what you can control (very little) and doing the best with what you can’t (everything else).

Parents who get it make a teacher’s job easier and more enjoyable.

Each year that I have taught I’ve been fortunate to come across many a parent who has helped both in and out of the classroom. They understand that the teacher’s job is not easy and when volunteers are needed, they graciously give their time and even make us laugh by sharing a joke on a stressful day.

I simply can’t put into words how much this can mean to a teacher. I’m eternally grateful to those who have come to help, whether in the classroom or on a field trip. Those parents who come with the attitude “I’m here. What can I do?” can make an otherwise average field trip spectacular.

Be aware that teaching is a more difficult and lower paying job than it once was.

The quote I hear most consistently from parents is this: “I could never do what you do.” At times, those aren’t easy words to hear, even if they are meant, at least in part, to convey admiration.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole truth but these two stats from the National Education Association are telling. The average national starting salary of a teacher is $30,733 and close to 50 percent leave the profession within the first five years. More and more it seems the societal expectation is that working many overtime hours without pay is simply part of the job.

Remember this. It’s students, not teachers—who often spend much of their July and August working second jobs, renewing licenses or preparing for the coming year—who have summers off.

It’s hard to put into words just how much it takes out of you to be in a classroom with 30 or so students, for five to six hours a day. No matter how much you love your job or how healthy you are in your personal life, leaving school exhausted is the norm.

The way you discuss teachers, whether with your peers or your children, matters.

There are many educational models that have proved fruitful throughout the world. Some with standardized testing (South Korea and Japan) and others without (Finland), but the universal truth found in many studies, including a global one by Pearson, found that countries with the best education systems routinely “give teachers a high status and have a ‘culture’ of education.”

Parents can help create this culture by leaving the curriculum to the teachers.

Certainly we all are guilty of a little gossip, but even a few negative opinions, spread in the community about a teacher, can prove very harmful to an educator’s ability to do his or her job.

Maintaining a positive attitude about the teacher when talking with other parents is vital. Gossip can be destructive to a teacher’s livelihood and ability to connect with families.

Take your child’s test scores (high, medium or low) with a grain of salt.

In the world we live in, testing well is not something to be taken lightly. If you have a student in public school, chances are that they first experienced standardized testing in the 3rd Grade.

Teaching has become a microcosm of American society in respect to economic, political and social disparity.

In many states, like here in Oregon, if a school is deemed “Low Performing,” all students are eligible to transfer to another school of their choosing. This trend often leads students testing at higher levels to transfer, once their school has been labeled, furthering decreasing the school’s performance level.

I can’t stress this point enough—children are not receptacles that you put information into and that information is then regurgitated when they take a test.

There are incredibly intelligent and creative students who simply don’t test well.

Testing well is a skill, one unfortunately, given the utmost importance, while creativity, ingenuity and other things that cannot be tested are not given ample weight. Here in Portland, this national trend is especially pronounced; only 18 percent of Portland elementary schools offer a full-time arts teacher compared to 70 percent nationally.

As a teacher, treating a lower than hoped for standardized test score with due, but not colossal importance, has proved a valuable technique and even helped ease some of the pressure many students feel to perform well, often resulting in better scores.

Wait until you are in a place of peace before you talk with a teacher.

I can’t remember ever meeting someone who went into teaching to make money, so be conscious of the fact that people are doing this job because they are, generally speaking, altruistic individuals: helping students endows their lives with meaning.

My advice is to come into a potentially difficult talk with a teacher with understanding, even if you feel the teacher has erred in some way (we do make mistakes). Love, be it for a child, friend, partner, can lead us to be hard on those whom we feel have not protected our loved ones and this protective instinct can lead us to lash out.

That being said, talking to a teacher in a respectful manner is necessary, both as a cultural responsibility towards the profession and as the best avenue to help your child.

Children, especially pre-adolescent ones, are very perceptive when it comes to their parent’s attitude towards individuals. Coming from a place of openness and understanding while conversing with a teacher will only prove beneficial to everyone involved in the long run.

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Apprentice Editor: Lauryn DeGrado/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Audio Luci Store/Flickr

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