Dancing the “Teacher Tango”

Back to SchoolIn the business world, you quickly become aware of the influential people and managers in your department. I submit to you that it may help to think in these terms when meeting your children’s teachers through the years.

Does that sound odd or manipulative to you?

Think about it carefully. These are the people who are going to teach and role model for your children for a huge percentage of each day, for nearly an entire year of his or her young life. Statistically, one to six of them will be catalysts for change for your child in some way or another. These are very important people in your child’s life, and any parent who discounts their influence for positive or negative is making a grave error.

What can you do to increase the odds of positive interactions? Make friends with your child’s teacher if you possibly can.

Don’t automatically discount a teacher because some other parent complains about them in regard to their child’s experience. I learned early on that each child is very individual and learning styles differ. You just never know who is going to click with which teacher. Our daughters had different teachers and learned in different ways from all of them. In all of the years that our daughters attended public school, there was only one teacher that was a negative experience for both of them, and even though that was not the most pleasant of school years, they came away with two very valuable lessons from this teacher.

  • They learned that they would not always be liked and that not all people can be charmed. Instead, they had to figure out what this teacher wanted and simply give it to her with no hope of automatic approval. She was more like a high school or college instructor in this aspect and it was a difficult leap for them to make, but we were proud that they did. Daughter 1 learned how to anticipate the style in which a teacher wanted something done and this served her well in college, but Daughter 2 (who actually disliked this teacher even more intensely) benefited even more in an unexpected way. She learned that there were some instructors that you just couldn’t “please,” and who could even be a negative influence on the learning process. She internalized her experiences with this teacher and used them many years later in her application essay to Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.  She suspects her essay may have been a strong element in her eventual acceptance and admission! Thanks a lot, Mrs. X!
  • They accepted there would be some instructors who were not as effective as others. Burn-out, distraction in their personal lives, lack of training, youth and inexperience or countless other things could cause this, but that didn’t change the fact that both of our daughters were there to learn what they could from every teacher they had and make the very best grades they were capable of making. These were some of the life lessons we were hoping for from their public school experience and we believe they got them, along with the ability to handle social choices and work with people of all different backgrounds and nationalities.

You will decide the best educational path for your child.

It may depend on your location, your school system’s condition, your educational background and your economic capabilities, but I strongly suggest that you provide opportunities for your children to interact with children who are not “just like them,” so they learn to make friends in many different places. If you are in the work world, you know what the reality is and how global it has become.

Specific Ways You Can “Dance the Teacher Tango”:

  • Elementary or Primary Grades: If you can, volunteer in the classroom. Keep an eye out for what the teacher needs. When holidays and gift-giving occasions come up, bypass the kitschy “teacher themed” stuff they already have in spades and instead ask them what they could really use for their classroom. You will be amazed at how many of them are using their rather limited income to buy supplies to enhance your child’s educational experience because it simply isn’t in the school’s budget. If it is a larger item, team up with other parents and combine your gifts to give your teacher something truly useful, or consider fundraising through your PTA/PTO if you have one.
  • Middle School or Junior High: The opportunities to help in the classroom decrease, but they can still be found, particularly in the fine arts areas or bilingual education assistance. Offer to mentor, assist in the library or really anything that gets you on that campus if you can fit it into your schedule. If you can’t, then get involved in your PTA, Campus Advisory Council, or any parent organization that gives you face time with the Principal and Teacher leadership and other involved parents in the evening. Make sure you are thanking your teachers and do it in a personal way. It means a lot at this age level when a parent acknowledges the extra time and effort that a teacher puts in with pre-teens. Again, in addition to a personal note, see if there is something they need. These teachers too, are often dipping into their own pockets to enhance your child’s lessons. See if there is a “teachers’ needs” fund through your PTA/PTO and be sure to donate if you can.
  • High School: Join your PTSA or other parent organization and again, get to know the needs of your school and teachers. Personal notes to teachers thanking them for taking time with your student and a small gift card at the holidays goes a long way toward making them feel appreciated, but make sure you are donating to any fund that helps to provide for teachers’ needs in the classroom. If your school doesn’t have one, talk to other parents about forming one.  Again, the pattern is that teachers are buying their own supplies for the classrooms; things that you may assume are provided by the school.

There are many ways we OQMs can think outside the box and make solid and lasting contributions to our children’s education. You can be a leader, a help to teachers, and a role model to your children in how to support education. After all, when we get down to it, teachers are just people, too. They have families of their own and the only thing that sets them apart from us is the desire to teach and to touch young lives. Some are better at that than others. Some have been doing it too long and are tired and bewildered by the constant changes that never give them time to see results. Some find themselves dispirited by the trend toward constant testing over constant discovery. But many are still inspired and energized and will touch your children with their wisdom, their sarcasm, their brilliance or their offbeat sense of humor… those teachers are pure gold.

They will open your children’s minds, change their paradigms and in the words of our older daughter, “He made me see the world in a different way.”

I have found it incredibly rewarding to help them do just that.

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