What does my teacher think of me?
Dealing with teachers
If judgments are made in this general way, it shows that each group has prejudices against the other, does not understand their position enough, and cannot empathize with them.
- Both build up a picture of the other from their own fears, feelings of inferiority, defensive attitudes, which is not true.
- Both believe they have to counter their own feelings of inadequacy or possible criticism by blaming the other for failures.
Parents are often afraid of teachers
Many parents today approach their children's teachers with the feelings they felt towards their own teachers as children. You feel as inferior and helpless again as in your own school days. And when they enter a school, many things bring back those old memories - the smell in the hallways, the many closed doors, the oppressive echo of your own steps.
At the parents' evening in the class, the teacher may sit behind her table, as it did then, the parents in front of it on the smaller children's chairs - and those who arrive late quickly and shyly push themselves into the back row - right?
But even if parents are emphatically brisk and self-confident, their behavior is often determined not only by the current circumstances, but also by the time when they were children themselves.
- What role do your own school experiences play in the way you assess teachers today and deal with them today?
- Do you still believe in the infallibility of teachers and in your own inferiority?
- Do you attribute motives and behaviors to teachers that you yourself suffered from in the past?
- Would you like to bring them down from a pedestal that is supposedly too high because you have experienced your own teachers as so overpowering?
- Would you like to prove to yourself that you are who you are now and that you no longer need to be told by teachers?
- Or do you still tend to back down for fear of incurring unpleasant consequences?
If we judge from today's circumstances alone, we can see that the authority gap between parents and teachers has become overcome, that parents' meetings can also take place “around the table” with the same chairs for everyone, that discussions and actions with equal rights are possible.
Even so, teachers still have great power over a child's future well-being. And that is why parents' fears and reservations are not only fed from the “then”, but also very much present.
- Teachers use grades and recommendations to decide on the fate of the school, and thus often also on the children's career opportunities.
- Teachers have specialist knowledge and school knowledge that many parents do not have or have long since faded.
- In what they do, teachers have the powerful school behind them. Parents, on the other hand, often feel powerless.
- Teachers enjoy a “home advantage” in almost all parenting contacts because almost all of these contacts take place in school.
The teachers' fear of their parents
But what many parents don't know: teachers are also afraid of parents! They are afraid of parents' evenings where they sit alone facing a whole pack of parents, before which they have to justify their work and their successes. They are also afraid if a certain mother is waiting in front of the staff room again, with whose child they have difficulties. And some brisk teacher behavior may also have the purpose of covering up one's own feelings of inferiority.
- Does the teacher need the raised desk to hold on to?
- Should the informally interspersed foreign words signal a high level of knowledge?
- Does the teacher teach so much because she feels more confident about it than when she is asked to answer questions?
- Does she defend herself against visiting parents in class because she is simply afraid of them?
Teachers often find it difficult to account for their work to parents. In particular, they only know the presence of other adults in class from exam situations. Otherwise, they are literally left alone in their work. Apart from the learning progress and the joy of learning of their students, they have no control over the quality of their work. It is still the exception that female colleagues teach together or sit in on each other in their lessons to give each other tips and learn from one another.
Otherwise, however, teachers have little opportunity to hold onto the judgment of colleagues who value them. You are therefore often quite insecure, depending on how things are going in your own class. And parents who want to sit in, who ask questions, who criticize, easily appear threatening.
Teachers also hardly learned how to deal with parents in their training. Parents' evenings or parenting days are an unpleasant duty for many; what goes beyond that is an additional burden. While parents often find contact with the teacher very important, they often mean extra work that is much less appreciated for the teachers. That is why such contacts can easily turn into polite requests on the one hand and half-hearted granting on the other.
So let's keep in mind: the behavior of many parents towards teachers is determined by the fact that they are fundamentally afraid of the teachers. But teachers are also afraid of parents. With this level of insight, shouldn't it be possible to make it clear to each other that it is unnecessary and impractical for one to show the other the bogeyman?
Teachers also have weaknesses
For some parents, especially for many students, it may be an unfamiliar perspective to see the teacher as a completely normal person with strengths and weaknesses who is just as dependent on the goodwill of the parents and students as she is on his. Teachers often believe that they should definitely not let their weaknesses or fears become apparent because that would cause them to lose authority. But in my experience that's not true. Teachers who are able to admit their own inadequacies often gain understanding and sympathy with parents and children. Or do you like to see a figurehead in the teacher who must not have any mistakes?
If teachers could rise from their pedestal of infallibility to which they have often fled their own feelings of inferiority, if both could admit that each one is likely to be a little right and a little wrong in the mutual attribution of blame, then they could follow as equal partners Looking for solutions to problems that one has with school children.
There is no point in looking for the guilty party
It is basically an idle question as to who is actually to blame for a condition. Finding someone to blame only leads to the victim feeling challenged to defend himself. And that doesn't help. I want to explain this with an example.
A girl doesn't dare to say anything at school, just sits in her seat in silence. The teacher says: It can't be because of me, because I'm always friendly to the children. Probably the parents at home scared her. The parents say: At home our daughter is not shy at all, only at school. So the teacher has to scare her.
They won't get anywhere like this. It would be more important and correct to ask:
- Under which conditions does the child dare to speak and under which not?
- In which areas does it dare to do something and in which not?
- What can parents and what can the teacher do to make the child more aware of his strengths, to take away his fears?
Conversations among equals
The basic principle here is that different professionals - and parents are also professionals - who only know the same child in different parts of his life, pool their knowledge and experience in order to help him through a difficulty. If you look at it that way, parents and teachers do not need to feel attacked in their competence either, because everyone has something ahead of the other.
Parents should not presume to talk the teacher into the methods with which she tries to teach the children to paint, or even to claim that this is not art, after all, anyone can do it. You must acknowledge that she understands more about this area. But maybe she has no idea how some of her peculiarities affect the children, because they don't talk about them at school, but they do talk to their mothers at home.
Teachers often rely on parenting experience when they want to improve the social climate in the class, for example when trying to find out what makes the “big boss” in the class so attractive to his classmates. In this area, the parents have a better idea again, because their interaction with the children is more familiar, because they usually learn more from them than the teachers.
If, in this way, everyone respects the other's experiences, which they have ahead of them, a fruitful, equal cooperation can result. Unfortunately, this view is often difficult for teachers too. Many try to treat mothers like assistants. The mothers must defend themselves against this.
There will be conflict too
Cooperation, however, does not mean that parents and teachers always have to pull together in a peaceful and amicable manner. The fact that both have different interests cannot be denied, nor can the fact that a different view of things often includes criticism of one another.
- For a teacher, teaching is a profession. With all her dedication to her students, she is also interested in a workplace that is as stress-free as possible and in regular working hours. You probably also have this interest in your job.
- The task of the teacher is to do justice to all the children she teaches, not to favor or discriminate against any one. Individual parents, on the other hand, have a legitimate interest in seeing their own child supported as well as possible. In the interests of your child, you will therefore sometimes demand behavior or a level of commitment from the teacher that the interests of your child have to refuse. This will lead to conflict, and it will have to be resolved until a solution is found that both can live with.
Recognizing one another cannot mean always agreeing to the same opinion. For example, if I tell a teacher that his supposedly funny comments like: “Well, you've probably been lying with your head in the sun too long” offend the children - or at least my child - then I am also telling him that he should please refrain from such sayings in the future. But I say it as far as possible so that he can accept the criticism and really change his behavior, instead of just feeling challenged to reply that my son does not always weigh his remarks in class on the gold scales.
So after I have tried to describe a basic attitude between parents and teachers that seems desirable to me, we now come to individual behaviors that appear more or less expedient in dealing with teachers.
Don't just talk about accomplishments
When talking to teachers, do not limit yourself to the narrow area of performance and behavior. You risk that the teacher only reports and that you listen more or less embarrassed. Also talk about the impact of school on your life at home, about how the efforts of the teacher are “received” by the children or at least your child, whether they like to learn, whether they are bored or overwhelmed. Discuss hobbies and habits, friendships and hostilities among the children, and everyday joys and sorrows. So that your child's teacher doesn't just get to know one student, but an entire child.
I would also like to urge you to be completely open to the teacher if the parents are about to separate, the father has left the family or the mother is mentally ill. Because that helps her to better understand some of the child's behavior. But since the school as an institution also has power, and not all teachers only make good use of such information, you will probably first check whether your child's teacher also deserves this unreserved trust.
Some parents are also reluctant to put a slight disability of their child on record because they fear the cancellation more than being overwhelmed by a lack of understanding. I hope that such fears often turn out to be unnecessary, I cannot talk them out of parents.
Also express appreciation
Don't just go to school when there's a problem or something to criticize. If parents only show up when something is wrong, it is no wonder that teachers are afraid of their showing up.
Teachers also need the recognition of their parents, especially where they can hardly count on recognition from the school or where they risk inconvenience for the sake of the children.
- In school, the least noticeable are the teachers whose classes are calm and do not give rise to complaints. That seduces to remain anxious in the old rut. But when someone tries something new, perhaps new methods that are supposed to increase the children's enjoyment of learning, there is a risk of creative restlessness, or even that an experiment with timpani and trumpets will go wrong.
- Enthusiastic children are often noisy children. Teachers who “maintain discipline” are less likely to be uncomfortable than teachers who teach children “lively”.
- You get more praise for classes that never attract attention. That is why teachers who inspire children or at least try to achieve this need even more urgently the recognition and backing of the parents who experience this childlike enthusiasm at home.
But if parents only react when there is something to criticize, if they give them no support otherwise, they drive the teachers back into unassailable boredom.
Therefore it is definitely worth talking to the teacher,
- if your child likes going to school and loves their teacher,
- when it suddenly becomes fun z. B. gets to write,
- when the excursion to the fish ponds resulted in weeks of interest in frogs and tadpoles.
After such a previous history, the teacher can then more easily digest the message that she has often overwhelmed the children with her homework or has failed with a stupid remark.
Apply criticism sensibly
Parents should not be uncritical about what teachers say and do. But criticism can be expressed in different ways.
- Do not criticize the whole person, but specifically criticize the behavior that you think is wrong. So not: “You are incompetent as a teacher”, but rather: “The homework that you give the children often cannot cope with without parental help”.
- Avoid blanket insults such as: “The teachers just want to make life easy for themselves today”.
- Do not try to dispute the teacher's competence: "These new methods are all crap!" But talk about the observations you made at home: “My daughter did not understand how to paint as you explained it”; or: “We noticed that many children only advise when they are supposed to read something”.
- Allow the teacher to explain something before making a criticism. So not: "You seem to give your marks as you like", but: "I would like to know the standards by which you censor the children's writings."
- Build bridges that make it easier to accept criticism: "My daughter is otherwise very fond of you, but lately she often feels treated unfairly".
- Do not collect individual annoyances until the measure is full and overflows, because then the conversation can easily turn into a general settlement and the tone becomes too aggressive.
- It is better to find a quick conversation between the door and the hinge more often, or write a note in the note booklet.
As I have already said, the aim of criticism should not be to be right or put the other person down, but rather to achieve improvements in the interests of the children. And that is easier to achieve if you also take the other person's sensitivities into account. You can still be tough and consistent in the matter.
Include the children
Conversations about school topics do not always have to take place between parents and teachers. It will often make sense to involve the affected children, especially when it comes to questions of attitudes towards one another, misunderstandings or mutual insults. I don't even want to try to limit it in terms of age. Children tend to react intelligently the sooner they are trusted to do so. And what shrewd statements I haven't heard from six or eight year old children.
Such conversations do not always have to take place in school. Teachers understand a lot more of a child's behavior when they experience it in their home, in dealing with their family.
Eight-year-old Clemens, for example, has problems with his music teacher. He would really like to play on the xylophone during the lessons, but never dares. Instead, he makes derogatory remarks to cover up his insecurity. The teacher thinks he is rough and uninterested and reacts accordingly. At home, Clemens complains to his mother because he feels misunderstood. The mother asks the teacher if he would like to come to your home for a cup of coffee so that they can talk to each other in peace. And the teacher is really coming! He looks at Clemens ‘poster and strokes his cat. This creates a completely different atmosphere than conversations at school. With the “home advantage” and mother's understanding behind him, Clemens feels much more secure and can say things that he would not say at school. Both react differently outside of school with their established role clichés and can talk to each other more freely. In the end, all three have the feeling of seeing themselves in a completely different light than before.
I would like to recommend such home visits by teachers to the students for imitation. But I know that few teachers are willing to do this. On the one hand, they too do not like to forego the home advantage that they have when the talks take place at school. On the other hand, they usually have to make such visits in their free time, because they are not included in their work schedule. And even with many parents the fear may prevail: "If the teacher comes into the house, it must be really bad!" Does it have to be like that? What would happen if your child invited the teacher for a birthday? I know some who would come. And I also know some who insist on visiting every child in their class at least once at home, even if nothing special is going on.
Visit in class
If a home visit by a teacher can help to gain more understanding for a child, a visit to the classroom can bring parents more understanding of the teacher's task. In many federal states, parents have the right to such visits. Teachers aren't always excited about it, they're not used to it. However, if you only come to watch your own child in class, you will be disappointed. Because your child will be the first to behave differently that day than usual.
If, however, you don't go away after an hour, but stay for a whole morning, the chances are high that the children (and the teacher too) will forget you and find their way back to their normal behavior. And then you can surely make a lot of interesting observations that even the teacher can easily miss, since she is not as unencumbered in this situation as you are.
When you later talk to the teacher about your observations, then at the end of the day you should also calmly tell her that you now understand much better how difficult it is to keep this lively bunch at it with pleasure. You are sure to take some of the fear from her that you have come above all to check whether she is up to the task.
If your child has problems at school, always ask the other parents whether their children are the same. Because this turns an individual problem, which is best solved in a one-on-one conversation with the teacher, into a general one that should be discussed together at the parents' meeting. Unfortunately, it is often still common for parents to tell each other only positive things about their children, but keep the problematic to themselves. It's very short-sighted. Because it is immensely comforting to find that other people have the same worries. And you can achieve a lot better together than alone.
Try to create the atmosphere on parents' evenings in such a way that really equals can talk to each other and non-dependent listen to a report. The seating arrangement contributes to this, as does the choice of the right parent representatives or the fact that parents deal with each other without prejudice. Also, exercise the rights that school law in your country gives you. Where, as in Berlin, the parents are to convene and lead these evenings, they should not hand over this function to the teachers out of uncertainty. Everyone will be unsure at first, but the skills grow with the demands.
There are limits to understanding
Despite all the appeal to mutual understanding, I do not want to sweep one thing under the rug: You don't want to appease the fact that there are teachers, you want to attack them hard; that there is teacher behavior, you simply cannot understand that, you have to do something about it.
- If a teacher does not allow herself to be dissuaded by massive parental protests from pounding first graders daily with page-by-page copying exercises,
- if a teacher thinks that reading aloud particularly bad work increases the motivation of those affected to improve,
- when teachers harass children, mistake school for a barracks yard, want to turn happy children into little doctors,
then parents have to put a rough wedge on this rough log.
If the teacher cannot be brought to understand, the next path leads to the rector. But I would really only recommend this path if all attempts via the teacher herself have led to nothing. Because a principal feels he has a duty of care for the teachers in his school and will try to protect them against unfair attacks, for example those who reach him without informing those affected “from behind”. If you get stuck with the rector, you have to contact the responsible school council. Here, too, parents would do well if they do not fight such conflicts individually, if possible, but together. In joint actions, there is less fear that your own child might have to bear the unpleasant consequences of such engagement.
If nothing changes, a school strike (not allowed, but effective), a joint visit to the education authority or a report in the local newspaper can at least generate public attention, which puts those responsible under pressure. Children who suffer from unsuitable or tyrannical teachers have a right to such radical support. The parents are also giving them an example of moral courage, because they too shouldn't put up with everything later.
Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook
Helga Gürtler is a qualified psychologist. She writes books and magazine articles on educational topics, gives lectures, works with parent groups and in the training of educators.
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