How can parents best support teachers during this tumultuous time? The Washington Post collected written responses from teachers about what they want parents to know about their job — and what makes for a good parent-teacher relationship.
“Parents are often surprised by stories of teachers being treated by other parents,” wrote Margaret Flaherty, 42, a high school English teacher at a public school in Byfield, Mass. “When I share some of the things that parents have said or written to me, my jaw drops. They can be mean. Very mean. And we’re so tired. Start by assuming good intentions and go from there.
Many of the teachers’ remarks focused on communication: urging parents to go to grade sites rather than asking them for updates, acknowledging emails sent by teachers and giving teachers time to respond, but above all trying to be tuned even team.
Annika Dukes, a 45-year-old alternative education teacher at a public college in Vancouver, Wash., advised: “In the first week, a quick email of, ‘Hey, my student really likes…’ something something about the classroom or the teacher is meaningful. It opens up lines of communication to associate with student learning, rather than only meeting when there is a problem to be solved.”
Most striking was the heartfelt appeal to parents to understand that teachers mean well and do their best. The atmosphere became so tense that a public elementary school teacher in Texas wrote on condition of anonymity, citing the risk of negative attention in a “dangerous” climate for educators.
“We love your children,” wrote the teacher. “We love our job (even if we are exhausted). And the only things we are activists for are your child’s academic and emotional growth. The constant anger and vitriol we see over book bans, and [critical race theory] seriously weigh on us. We don’t indoctrinate anyone. We are just trying to teach your children.
Below are additional comments, which have been edited for length and clarity.
What is the best thing you would give parents about interacting with teachers?
Do your best to try to get to know your child’s teacher and to get the teacher to get to know you better.
— Juliana Yoes, 47-year-old bilingual first-grade Austin public school teacher
Consider me a teammate. I always aim to have a real partnership with my families. We can celebrate the great things their child is doing and work together when there are specific areas the child needs to work on. If home and school have similar goals, the child is more likely to feel safe and reach all developmental milestones.
— Nora Rosenberger43, early childhood educator at a public school in Falls Church, Virginia.
Communicate before you go crazy. Reach out when you feel inclined, not just when you’re upset. Be prepared to accept that teachers have an idea of your child that you don’t.
— Laurie Chin45, speech therapist at a public school in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Recognize that the demands of our work cause so many of us to leave our profession. Be intentional about how you approach a professional, as they may be desperately trying to tread water in this storm.
What is the main “prohibition” you would give to parents regarding interaction with teachers?
Don’t assume your child is the same at school as they are at home.
— Elizabeth Villemez36-year-old third-grade ESL teacher at a DC public school
Don’t introduce culture wars into your interactions with your students’ teachers. When I was in high school, my mother said to me, “I don’t always agree with your teachers, but I know they push you to think and grow better than me. She and my dad made sure to discuss our learning with us, helping us solve problems and ideas through my family’s values. My parents expected public schools to prepare us for life and work in a diverse society, rather than serve as an echo chamber with our family or religious tradition.
Don’t assume that everything your child tells you is a complete picture. Start by giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt and preface any questions, concerns, or comments with, “I know I’m only hearing my child’s point of view here, and I understand that there are high chances that this point of view is incomplete, biased or biased.
— Ellie Pojarska45, Grade 11 English teacher at a private school in Los Altos, California.
Don’t belittle teachers in front of your student. If you disrespect teachers and schools in front of your student, they will never meaningfully engage with us. It’s fine if all you want is day care, but if you want them to learn and grow in school, expect them to respect us. It’s okay if you disagree with us as a parent, but address your concerns through productive channels and avoid speaking ill of schools and staff in front of your student.
— John Perfetto38, public school special education teacher in Columbia, Md.
What do you think parents don’t understand about the teaching profession that you would like them to understand?
We have their child’s interest at heart at all times. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be teaching.
— Rhonda McDonnell46-year-old sixth-grade math teacher at a public school in Ellicott City, Maryland.
We work so hard, but it never seems enough. School systems constantly give us new responsibilities, new curricula, and new tests, and most of them are not developmentally appropriate. We need help with life skills and behaviors.
— Katherine Reck37, kindergarten teacher at a public school in Ellicott City, Maryland.
The school operates from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from mid-August to May. It looks like an “easy” program, but it’s not. My workday is usually 7am to 5pm, plus a half day each weekend, then I teach summer school until June and take classes the rest of the summer. Saying I only work during school hours is like saying lawyers only work when they’re in court or professional footballers only work 18 Sundays a year!
— Elizabeth Pauls57, accelerated fourth- and fifth-grade math and language arts teacher at a public school in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
How many teachers sacrifice their lives for your children. The after-school work, the weekends, the vacations, the professional development, the stress, the low wages, the dozens of standardized assessments we’re supposed to do that do nothing to show who your child really is.
— Peak Karen51 years old, substitute teacher (elementary and special education) in the public schools of Woodbridge, Virginia.
There’s just nothing easy or glamorous enough about teaching that would be worth sticking around for if your motivation was to play with kids. Every teacher who remains is fighting the good fight and trying to help children despite the politics, rhetoric and sentiment that undermine us at every turn. Please trust us to help you, otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all.
Do you have a question about parenthood? Ask for La Poste.