My first year of teaching I worked in a Pre-K class. It was a mixed ability group in a special school and most of the parents were very young. My students (but for one) were first born and so the experiences that their parents went through were novel to them. I had first hand exposure to the fears and hopes of the parents as they went from therapy to therapy and adaptive furniture to assistive technology aids.
I learned to listen, question, and support them through the years and we maintained our friendships. At times we switched roles and they listened to why I made certain decisions in the classroom and such. They taught me that my job was more than that and my communication skills were very important…how I said something mattered as much as what I said.
Twenty five years later I still learn from them—now it is about the challenges they face in trying to integrate their young adults in society and how they negotiate with the general public.
Since then I’ve worked with older students with severe behavioral challenges, in inclusive programs with ‘regular ed’ students and with young children with emerging emotional needs. Those initial years of close interactions with parents have stood me in good stead.
I doubt if any teacher goes through an entire academic year without concerns about one student or the other…it can be academic, social or behavioral concerns. So what do we do?
When we bring up concerns it scares parents. It puts them on the defensive and sometimes leads to denial. It is very common for parents to attack the teacher’s ability. “She doesn’t know what she is talking about, she doesn’t know how to teach, she doesn’t like my child, she just wants to have an easy job, he (she) does fine at home—it is only at school. So the problem must lie there.” Sound familiar? We’ve all gone through that. But what can we do, ignore the concerns? That doesn’t benefit the child does it? Our main goal is to get the child the necessary help to succeed. Otherwise we will be doing the child a disservice.
Some questions to think about:
How should we teachers bring up concerns about our students to parents and administrators?
What kind of information/details should teachers present to explain our concerns?