Seeing the view from the other side of the parent-teacher divide

Seeing the view from the other side of the parent-teacher divide

‘Teachers leave them kids alone’, the line from Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall, must resonate with some parents of children who are different, and who feel their children are in an oppressive school system. Miscommunication and misunderstanding do not make happy bedfellows between parent and school.

I have sat on both sides of the ‘wall’ and often on top of it, trying to bring together all the antagonists to a positive outcome. I have spent many hours talking to teachers about understanding the parents’ situation and what they are going through.

In this blog, just for a change, I want to show you what many teachers are feeling and perhaps then, with greater understanding, there can be better, bigger and more positive outcomes. I am not going to get embroiled in education politics and finances but will concentrate on just….people.

Acknowledge feelings

One of the life skills that I used to teach my Year 6s, was to let the other people, like their mum or a friend know how they were feeling: "When you do this, it makes me feel this."

As a parent, a teacher and an education advisor, I have found that clarification and openness is a vital tool in creating harmony. Read the following emotions and decide … who do you think these are about?

  1. Tired, stressed
  2. Frustrated, annoyed
  3. Concerning, caring
  4. Anxious, worried.

Many of you would say ‘me.’ They are, in fact, from recent research investigating how teachers feel when they have children with ADHD in their class, but read any disability, and the results will be similar. So perhaps parents have much more in common with teachers than you would think.

The first time that a teacher understood my own child and expressed a willingness - and indeed eagerness - to get the best out of him, I burst into tears. The empathy was overwhelming to me, as I had only experienced it once before (from a Psychologist) in nearly seven years. This teacher had the key attributes for working with children who are different:

  • Enthusiasm and commitment
  • Warmth and compassion

My son and I communicated with her for years and she gave me the confidence to work with his teachers proactively, rather than just hoping the phone wouldn't ring and then fire-fighting when it did. Being honest, it didn’t always work, but it worked enough to gain him a degree, a scholarship and a job with an international company -  not a bad outcome!

Nurturing isn't just for children

Disability of any kind is a 24-hour condition. The greatest gift for parent and child is to be accepted at school by teachers and peers. Some schools are very good at this and by the way, if your child ever has the chance to join a nurture group, accept with alacrity.

Parents have unconditional love for their child and the most effective settings work towards developing a nurturing ethos with parents, as well as children. They have a welcoming setting with sensitive and empathetic staff. They help parents become more involved with their children’s learning and can replicate some of the practices in the home. But what do you do if you're not lucky enough to be in that position and feel as if you are either side of a 'wall' that's impossible to climb over?

Achieving the best outcomes for children who are different, means providing awareness, education and support for their teachers. You may say that's the school's responsibility and of course, teachers do have CPD (Continuing Professional Development) throughout the year. However, you are the one who knows your child best of all. You can tell the teacher about the individual aspects of your child’s particular autism/ADHD/dyslexia, etc. The time and effort required to do this can be an issue, but can usually be surmounted. When the teacher listens, it can certainly help lessen the stress in a stressful job.

What is my child's teacher thinking this morning?

Of course like everyone, your child's teacher is an individual with their own personality type and family stresses.  But, by way of example, here is an example of a teacher’s thoughts, as the day begins, on the challenging child in their class;

  • Smile, be welcoming
  • Be assertive.
  • Think of the other children.
  • Where’s my TA?
  • What mood are they in?
  • Keep calm
  • Don’t get cross/frustrated/disappointed
  • Only two days until class assembly. Help!
  • There’s a bee in the room – chaos.
  • Hungry – no time to eat/rest/go to the loo
  • Lesson observation tomorrow –adapt plan!

Dial down the defences!

Stressed teachers are defensive. Stressed parents are defensive. Working together can ease this situation. After all, we have had enough of that wall and our children do need education!

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Barbara Follows

Barbara Follows

Founder at MaMBiC
Barbara Follows is the parent of an adult who had behavioural difficulties as a child. She also has a Masters degree in Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) and is an experienced SEN and child behaviour consultant. Barbara has worked in mainstream and special schools in the UK and abroad across the full age range, including five years at a secondary boarding school for teenage boys with severe behavioural problems. Since 2001, she has run the MaMBiC (Managing and Moderating Behaviour in Children) service.
Barbara Follows