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You might think only a whacked-out tiger mom in a helicopter calls to complain daily about the teacher, or sues the school over grades deemed too low (A instead of A+), but I think the phenomenon is pretty common. I’ve heard of parents suing the Toronto District School Board for the same reason. It’s not that there are no scenarios where complaint or litigation is valid; movements for racial and gender equality started this way. But for the most part, mediocre grades are given for mediocre work.

Parenting is a job for life, it’s true — but do these folks envision themselves at 65 suing their 35-year-old child’s employer for not giving them a promotion? Because that route to “success” necessitates  a lifetime of intervention – not something to look forward to.

I am not advocating a return to the days of teacher knows best, no questions asked. But the pendulum sure has swung. Parents are riding the wrecking ball, brandishing their swords at anything remotely negative. If I were a teacher, I’d duck and cover. And it should be no surprise to parents that this battle-weary, head-in-the-sand strategy makes for shit teaching.

So shouldn’t we be arming ourselves with information we need to support and advocate for our kids? Absolutely. But we need to think through to determine what will best serve them. Guaranteeing their success at everything they try – fighting their battles, smoothing out lumps and adding sugar to any medicine – is not it.

I’ve had my share of negative feedback on my kid’s performance and behaviour. It’s brutal to hear. My first instinct was to trust that the teacher was raising something I needed to know. Once my heart stopped racing at the sight of the school’s phone number on call display and I was assured no-one was being taken to the hospital, I braced myself for the bad news.

When he was in grade one, my son’s teacher called repeatedly to complain he was provoking other children and rolling around on the floor yelling. The consequences we imposed at home were frequent and demoralizing for all of us. It turns out the school backed a teacher who was unable to cope with boys, never mind outliers, and they pushed us to have him tested — expecting some explanatory pathology. Turns out he was gifted.

The school apologized and offered to modify the curriculum to meet his needs — hoping not to lose his tuition fees and potentially those of his younger brother. I learned right then that knee-jerk trust of the teacher, like knee-jerk criticism, would not help me be my kid’s best advocate. Though trust first was a good approach, it had to be applied with caution, and in earned increments.

Whether we helicopter or fly hands-free, as parents we need to access something beyond our protective reptilian brains to help improve our kids’ chances of success. Most teachers are working hard, managing a multitude of pedagogical, mental, socio-economic and hormonal factors (x 27) in their classroom every day. Whenever possible, we should work with them rather than against them — or we’ll end up with duck and cover. No one wants a  “Take the mark and leave me alone”  approach.

This past year when that same kid was in grade eight, blowing off homework assignments and providing unsolicited comic relief, I was yet again in regular contact with his teachers.

SYMPATHY FOR THE TEACHER

PHOTO OF VINTAGE ILLUSTRATION: JAN WILLEMSEN

This time things were different. They liked my son and they appreciated my willingness to acknowledge problems and collaborate on improving outcomes. Seems this attitude made me a bit of an outlier among parents. So when I complained that they were failing him by giving him higher marks than he deserved – they heard me. They trusted I wasn’t bitching just to bitch.

And I knew that although there was no sure fire way to get it right, we shared an understanding of what might serve the kid’s best interests. And really, that’s the best I can expect.

Aviva Rubin is a writer and mom to two boys in Toronto. She blogs at nothinginmoderation.

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