I think if there is one piece of advice I could give to parents it would be this: leave your child’s teacher alone.
Of course, if you think your child is in danger, do something.
I’m not talking about predatory or unstable people who happen to be employed by a school. This is advice for middle class suburban parents who send their middle class kids to middle class schools with competent and compassionate staff.
Seriously, leave your kid’s teacher alone. Don’t email her late on a Sunday night because you aren’t willing to make a decision about what your child should wear on free dress day. Don’t call her in the early morning darkness because you want your child to go on the afternoon field trip but not take the morning math test. Don’t run into your child’s classroom 30 minutes before school ends demanding that your child must leave NOW for her sister’s lacross game. Don’t tell her every afternoon at dismissal the endless reasoning you have for why your child doesn’t have homework completed. Don’t spend months badgering her because you KNOW your child is a math genius despite poor performance on work and un-memorized addition facts. Don’t threaten to call the cops because your child threw away her own lunch. (Maybe don’t send mashed potatoes for lunch.) Don’t discuss with your child your personal views on completelty inconsequential habits your child’s teacher may or not have.
I accept that I will never make a great deal of money in my chosen profession. My sister, who generously pays my cell phone bill and various other expenses, also accepts this fact. I accept that I will work long hours, including weekends. I accept that I will often feel overwhelmed by just how much each student needs and the fact that I am but one person. I accept the fact that my feet will hurt ALL THE DAMN TIME. I accept that I will often think of myself as a failure.
What I’m having more difficulty accepting is the idea that I should be a martyr. Wait, that’s the wrong word. A martyr willingly accepts death rather than betray the truth of God. Nope, martyr isn’t it. Sometimes I act like a martyr for my job. (And unintentionally make my job the god of my life.) I don’t do anything but work and then I complain that work is taking up my entire life. That’s my choice, and it’s stupid, and I’m trying to do that less.
No, the phenomenon I’m encountering is much more the assumption on the part of parents that I don’t deserve a life outside of my work. And that within my work I don’t warrant the respect of working without constant non-emergencey interruptions. I firmly believe the solution to so many situations is perfectly simple: “Back off.”
There are a plethora of reasons why you, as a parent, should back off of your child’s teacher. But I’ll start out with the number one most important reason that all parents give as the unassailable arguments from which there is no escape: your child. Bombarding your child’s teacher with after-hours, non-essential garbage is bad for your child. Because here is what happens. You pester and degrade your child’s teacher repeatedly, at times when your child’s teacher should be thinking about anything else but your child. Then, when the school day begins, your child’s teacher looks at your child and can’t help but think, “wow, your parents are making me batty, I wish they would cool it.” See how that works? Your child’s teacher isn’t thinking about your child, about his or her needs, strengths, attributes, and innate dignity as a person. No, your child’s teacher is thinking about you, the parent. Then instruction becomes less “is this correct information presented in the most accessible way for my students” and more “yikes, is so-and-so’s mom going to throw a hissy over what so-and-so is going to tell her I said and start sending endless emails again?” The focus gets all skewed. And that isn’t the kind of classroom you want for your child, is it?
But just for fun, I’ll point out the greater human argument for “back off!” Your child’s teacher is not your hired help. I know this is a shock. But it’s true. No matter if it’s a public or a private school, the “I pay your salary” attitude is completely ridiculous. I have a responsibility as a teacher to educated each child to the best of my ability, but I am in no way EMPLOYED by the parents. And email barrages, text floods, daily spontaneous “do you have a moment” meetings implies an attitude that you as a parent are entitled to take up my time until you feel satisfied, similarly to a supervisor who asks a subordinate to continually repeat a task in hopes of perfection. (Of course, if you have such an attitude you will never be satisfied.) I am not “on the clock” for you 24 hours a day. And you know why? Because I am a separate person with innate dignity due to the gift from God of my individual soul. That means that you have to remember that I am as worthy of privacy, respect, and a non-work life as you are. So every time you pull your “but you’re my child’s teacher, so I demand you attention no matter how inappropriate the timing or content of my request” bullshit, what you are actually doing is denying my human dignity as endowed by our Creator.
So think about it the next time you’re ready to fire off an email, text, meeting request, phone call, etc. to your child’s teacher. Ask yourself if your concern necessarily needs the teacher’s input, or maybe could you take care of it yourself with a little common sense? Ask yourself if your concern is an emergency, or could maybe wait until a time when you know your child’s teacher would be available to help you.
Ask yourself if you are approaching your child’s teacher as a person or a robot. If it’s not the former, then…
(3 Years, 1 Month, and 10 Days Sober)