Friday, October 21, 2011

Parents vs. Teachers

Sometimes the issue is not miscommunication, but a true disagreement. Below are six topics where parents and teachers frequent disagree along with suggestions of what you ask to best help your child. It is important to get an accurate idea of how the teacher perceives a situation in order to advocate effectively.

Note: Peter will be home-schooled at least through the early elementary years. I am confident I can meet his needs better at home than a teacher can at school. Teachers must cope with a wide spectrum of behaviors, high turn-over among staff, various top-down decisions that do not work well in real life, and a barrage of testing. If you are considering home-school, check out these posts for answers to common barriers.

Peer Interactions
            Students often behave differently at home and at school. If teachers are concerned about your child’s social interactions, listen. These teachers work with many different children every year and have a good idea of when behavior is not age-appropriate. Although it is tempting to rush to your child’s defense, consider asking the following questions instead. This will give you a better idea of what exactly is going on and how you can help.
  • How often does this happen and where?
  • Are other children upset by it? How do they react?
  • Is this behavior triggered by any particular person, event, or setting?
  • Is this behavior disrupting class?
  • How does this affect my child’s and other children’s learning?

Academic Expectations
If you know your child is capable of more than he is achieving, it is frustrating when teachers appear unconcerned. In some cases, the teacher may be overwhelmed by other students with greater needs. In other cases, the teacher may feel you have unrealistic expectations for your child. Remember, Cs are considered average. While you may not be able to get special services for your child, the following questions may elicit some useful information. This will help you work with your child in bringing up his grades.
  • What types of questions does she usually miss on tests? (If tests are not sent home.)
  • Has he been turning in all of his homework on time?
  • Is she participating in class discussions and lessons?
  • Do you use study guides or other study strategies?
  • How can I find out when tests and quizzes are approaching?
  • Do you know if his notes are well-done? Are teacher notes posted anywhere?

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
            ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis. Teachers and parents often disagree about whether a student’s irresponsibility, impulsivity, and inattention are due to a medical problem or a motivational problem. Parents and teachers are on both sides of this argument. A thorough evaluation of a child with ADHD symptoms should include the following components. Without convergent data from multiple sources, a diagnosis of ADHD* is unwarranted.
  • Parent and child interviews
  • Parent and teacher-completed behavior rating scales
  • Student self-report measures
  • Cognitive and academic measures
  • Review of school and medical records
  • Pediatric examination to rule out any unusual medical conditions
  • Possibly vision, hearing, and/or speech and language screening
*If a child does have ADHD, the disorder is an explanation, not an excuse!

Homework Responsibility
            Teachers see their role in homework to be assigning and correcting it. Getting homework home, completed, and turned in should be the responsibility of the student and possibly parent(s), depending on grade level. By middle school, most teachers are unwilling to check students’ agendas. Also, very few teachers at any grade level are willing to call or email you on a regular basis. If you want to know what homework is assigned, consider asking the following.
  • Is homework posted online?
  • What peers in class reliably complete their homework? (Get their phone numbers!)
  • Can work be turned in late for partial credit?
  • Do you have an outline of when major projects will be due this year?

Substance Use
            No parent wants to hear that their child may be using drugs or alcohol. Likewise, no school professional wants to be the one to tell you. While your first reaction may be anger or denial, try to listen objectively. If there is a problem, you are the person most likely to be able to help your child. The following questions may help you clearly understand the situation.
  • What behaviors make you think my child is involved in substance use?
  • Has my child been heard talking about substance use? Who heard him?
  • Are any of her peers suspected of substance use?
  • If there is a problem, what resources can the school provide to help?

Home-School Communication
            Parents of students who struggle want to know as much as possible about their child’s performance and behavior in school. This makes sense. Teachers, particularly at the secondary levels, may have more than 100 students in a day. They do not have time to email or call parents on a regular basis. If you want improved home-school communication, ask about the following.
  • What is the best way to contact teachers about my concerns?
  • Are weekly progress reports available?
  • Are grades available to be viewed online? Do I need to sign up for an account?
  • Do teachers have individual websites? How frequently are they updated?
  • Is there a course schedule of major tests and projects?


  1. As an educator turned SAHM, I can relate to much of what you write about here.
    If I had more time right now, I'd love to become an education advocate. I really think teaching is an underpaid, under-appreciated, under-recruited profession in America. Add bad parenting to bad teaching, and you have a recipe for horrible school systems. Ugh!
    I am considering home-schooling for at least the early years too...especially if we live in an area with poor schools.
    I considered myself a top-notch teacher, who worked very hard to plan engaging lessons with a variety of modifications for different types of learners and maintain positive relationships with parents, students and administrators. There are, however, many more teachers who fall very short in many categories for which I would expect my daughter's teacher to excel.
    What I've told me husband is, "There are just too many crappy teachers out there, and I don't want to play the lottery with our daughter's most formative years."

  2. As a teacher, I was offended by your comment that "very few teachers at any grade level are willing to call or email you on a regular basis." In my school district teachers are required to have a 24-hour turn around on parent phone calls and emails. I can confidently say that all of the teachers in our district respond well before the 24 hour time period. I can also confidently say that most teachers in our district willingly seek out parent/teacher communication, communicate with parents on a regular basis, invite parents into the classroom often, and are open to any concerns or questions parents have. And no.. I do not work in a well-off school district. I work in a low-income, rural district in which the students and families struggle in many ways.

  3. @Kaylene: I know very few teachers OR parents who are happy with the current system. It's definitely a frustrating time to be in education. It would be wonderful if you were able to help families advocate for their kids!

    @Anonymous: I intended no offense. I write from my own experience in three districts (urban, working class suburban, and upper class suburban). I think it is wonderful that your district encourages parent-teacher communication the way it does. I wrote what I did in response to a request I heard from many parents, that the teachers email each day what homework was assigned. In my experience, I found very few teachers willing to accommotdate this, especially in the upper grades. I apologize if this was interpreted as a slur against teachers.

  4. @Catholic Mommy, As a teacher (considering leaving the profession due to helicopter parents), I truly appreciate the phrasing, and the thought put into the questions. I wish more parents understood, we have 24 other students in the classroom, and our own personal issues. Working as a team to help a student improve is very important.

    My only comment is on the ADHD. I agree it is not an excuse, but when we look at 504s we have to remember we are trying to successfully give the student tools so they do not need accommodations. That point needs to be understood by both parties. We want the child to succeed and become independent.