By Dr. Giani Clarkson
If you listen to Frankie Beverly and Maze….we are on the same team. There is a song that has one of the most memorable intros of all time. Even as I type this, I can hear the drums and unmistakably recognizable guitar riff from the song so clearly, but the motif of this song is not heard throughout classrooms across our country. In 1983, Frankie Beverly released their sixth album overall entitled – We Are One. The title track on this album is six minutes and thirty seconds of pure soul on ice. Frankie Beverly’s silky vocals on another unmistakable Maze track makes this my favorite song by the Bay area group. Some people pick the cookout classic, Before I Let Go, or the party anthem Joy and Pain, but We Are One is my favorite.
I wish that this title track was played on repeat in schoolhouses across the country. It is not because I love the song, but I believe this song would help eliminate the war of the roses that happens in classrooms every school year – parents versus teachers. As I have spent over ten years in education, I have seen the blame game go on for what seems to be ages. Some parents believe that teachers are lazy and do not truly care about the well-being of their children while some teachers believe that parents are entitled and do not respect the profession of teaching. This tennis match of hauling insults across the net at each other leaves children across the country stuck in the middle. Teachers and parents have each other in their crosshairs when really this dynamic duo should be working together to fight for the futures of the student. How do you mend a broken relationship that is riddled with shrewd email exchanges and parent-teacher conferences that sometimes mimic your favorite reality television show reunion episodes? Who is at fault? How can these battlelines be erased, and connection drawn anew?
The truth is that both parties must take responsibility for the destruction of the relationship between parents and teachers. In recent studies when asked about how parents and teachers felt about each other, the results were extremely negative. It is a long-standing blame game, but I believe that these relationships can be salvaged and turned into beautiful partnerships if both parties are ready to work and be on one accord.
Step 1: Teachers: Be intentional about building relationships with your students’ parents.
I have had this conversation with many first-year teachers. The first time you talk to parents should not be when their child has done something wrong. It is a horrible way to start off a relationship and the school year. Imagine meeting a long-lost family member and after you exchange greetings, the next thing they ask for is money for a book they are writing. How would you respond? More than likely your response would be extremely negative and any time you see that long-lost family member you will always remember the first time you met and they asked you for money to sponsor a book. What is this book even about?
Teachers can control the narrative by introducing themselves to their students’ parents/guardians by simply saying “Hello” from a phone call or an email. In this introduction, teachers should ask the parents/guardians about their expectations from the teacher and ways to help the student throughout the school year. I call these phone conversations, sunshine calls. We all appreciate a little sunshine before there is rain, therefore teachers should consider this tactic when building relationships with their students’ parents/guardians. Those first impressions are memorable, and you do not want to be remembered as the family member nobody wants to deal with.
Step 2: Parents: Teachers are not out to get your child.
This is a huge misconception of teachers. Teachers are overworked and unpaid trying to do life-changing work where it is underfunded. Teachers do not have time to pick personal vendettas out on children. Let us be honest here for a second, children do things that make them unlikeable, but I have never known a teacher to personally hold a grudge against a student. The reason why this does not happen is because teachers understand that children are going to make mistakes. Mistakes are all a part of the learning process therefore teachers cannot hold grudges against mini adults trying to figure everything out. The best thing for parents to understand is that although teachers may say things about your child that are not always positive, it is not personal – it is part of the job. A teacher telling you that your child is misbehaving in class, did not turn in their homework, may run the risk of failing, or having trouble learning a concept is not personal – it is part of their job. I understand as a parent that these negative comments about your child may be taken personally because it may feel like an indictment of your abilities as a parent, but it is not. Teachers are the other group of parents for 180 calendar days. They are your teammate, let them be on your team.
Step 3: Parents and Teachers: Your best ability is your availability and understanding.
I am a huge fan of mental health and I understand the importance of taking time for yourself as a teacher, but we must set boundaries and office hours. There is the famous scene in The Five Heartbeats where Big Red politely say that his office hours are between 9 to 5. Now of course Big Red was not so polite, but parents and teachers can be polite with one another when it comes to office hours. My biggest suggestion that I make for teachers is to give parents a block of time where you can be contacted to discuss topics and the progression of their child throughout the week. Let’s avoid waiting until parent-teacher conferences or a report card to voice concern. That is disingenuous and harmful to teacher/parent relationships. Teachers can set up a signup sheet using a google form, signup genius, calendly, or any other scheduling software. As a teacher, you sometimes do not have the availability to make or return phone calls during the day. Also, some subject matters are more sensitive than others and an email is not good enough. Teachers should refrain from hiding behind email and open up dialogue through a phone call. Of course, teachers should document the phone conversation in a follow up email, but the human voice is healing and builds pathways to understanding.
In the same token, parents need to understand that teachers are not on-call employees. Teachers live full lives of their own and need to be around family members, work on outside projects, and be left to mind their own business. Teaching is hard so being kind and understanding you cannot call your child’s teacher all the time shows professional respect and empathy.
Everyone involved in a school community is dedicated to building a scholar that is strong, healthy, successful, and happy. I do not know a parent or teacher that wants to see a child fail. When we believe in each other’s best intentions and understand we share a common goal of success – then truly we are a team; we are one.