How Parents Help (or Hurt) When They Reach Out to Their Teens’ Schools

Where is the line between advocating for your teen and alienating your child’s school? Finding the balance – always important to your child’s school experience –  is more important now than ever.

During this pandemic, emotions are running high. Most of us are feeling vulnerable and fragile. We are tired, on alert, wanting to exert what little control we have over our daily lives. We are inordinately aware that our children are fielding the greatest challenge of their young lives, and there’s little we can do to make it right or good. We are all just trying to endure.

Parents and teachers have the best interests of their teens at heart. (Twenty20 @Geanna)

Parents need to be thoughtful in the way they communicate with teachers

That said, when we do feel like something needs to be communicated, we need to make conscious choices and consider the impact of how we approach teachers and school administration. We need to keep our eye on our goal – to make things as good as possible, despite the challenges and limitations of this charged and difficult school year. 

Many parents have expressed gratitude to their children’s schools and teachers. I personally had a parent tell me recently that I was a “rock star,” another commenting “I can’t tell you how grateful we are for you and all the work you are doing, not to mention just taking the risk of showing up every day.” These small moments of appreciation are not just validating, they are motivating.

Receiving this positive feedback is energizing. It helps teachers get out of bed in the morning and do, what is undoubtedly, the hardest work of their careers. 

There are also countless reasons why parents may feel upset right now. These feelings are of course as valid as their appreciation.

My child is a weak reader, and there’s no way this kind of education is going to fill in the gaps. My child is feeling socially isolated and in a cohort without friends. My child is in need of extra help, and there is little opportunity for that in this model.

My child is being called out on misbehavior in a way that is too public during Zoom. My child failed a test because the material wasn’t explained in enough depth. And the list goes on… 

Both parents and teachers have the best interests of teens in mind

Parents and teachers both have the best interests of the teens at heart and they both bring an expertise to the work of educating them that is distinct and unique. Parents know their kids better than anyone else.

Teachers know learning and what kids need to be successful students from an educational and work habits perspective. Before parents pick up the phone, or more likely, these days, click send on the email, it’s crucial to stop and contemplate the approach. The tone needs to be deliberate and one that will ultimately serve a child’s best interest. 

This is especially critical when the feeling behind the impending communication is anger. Hostility often results in attacks on school personnel, demands, or going over the head of our child’s teacher. The bold and honest truth is that many parents don’t understand is that while parents may, in some form, “win” and feel victorious for getting what is wanted (and this is a big maybe), a dynamic is being created that will absolutely have an effect on the way the school staff interacts with the student over time.

There are many situations, over my 30 years of teaching, where I have felt incredible empathy for a student, done what I truly believe is in the child’s best interest – with best intentions at heart – and yet still do something with which a parent disagrees. Historically, when parents approach me wanting to understand or express some disappointment about what’s happening in the classroom, I’ve had meaningful, at times difficult, but productive conversations that leave me understanding another perspective, having some compassion and remaining in the child’s corner.

Sometimes a parent’s perspective can help a teacher see things differently

There are times that a parent’s perspective has helped me see things differently and become a stronger teacher. I have walked away from many of these conversations with the sense of being able to relate. I am a parent. I’ve been displeased with various aspects of my child’s educational experiences. Parents are doing what they can do to ensure their child’s needs get met. 

On the contrary, when a parent raises a concern with an air of aggression and hostility, it matters and has the effect of leaving teachers wary of engaging not just with the parent, but with the student. Most teachers I know who are battered with this level of parent anger respond with an attitude of moving forward by following the letter of the law, doing what “must” be done, and creating distance between herself and the student from that moment forward. This is a fight or flight response.

Teachers are protecting themselves from the barrage that is coming directly at them, so they retreat. Hopefully, it is obvious how counterproductive this is. We want our child’s teacher in it with us. Creating fear will not bring out the best in them and will not help any kid. 

Teachers are people too, parents need to remember that

In these exceptional times, remember that teachers and administrators are people. They have families, aging parents, often their own children. They, too, are feeling fragile and vulnerable, even more so because of their job.

The human being on the other end of that email or phone call gets up every day and heads to work. They put themselves at risk, work endless hours, and do everything they can to make the best choices for their students. They wake up in the middle of the night worrying about their kids and what they cannot do to help them in this model of education.

It is not a perfect system. Of course, there will be mistakes. But parents and schools are on the same side. Take a deep breath and hold onto that idea before you click send. It will be a win-win. 

More to Read:

I’m a Teacher and I’m on an Emotional Roller Coaster Right Now

About Leslie Cohen

Leslie Cohen is a teacher and the mother of two college age sons, 18 and 21. As a consultant, she offers workshops for parents about how to highlight literacy when raising children in this technology-driven age. She enjoys sharing what she has learned in her 30 years as a teacher and 21 years as a mom. Currently, she teaches reading and writing in a Westchester County middle school, just north of New York City.

Read more posts by Leslie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.