Saturday, March 04, 2000

And now, what teachers hate about parents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Good thing I don't have voice e-mail that says, “You've got mail.”

        This week, it would have been hoarse.

        Last Saturday I wrote about what drives us crazy about teachers, and what we love (Feb. 26 column). The response was great, heartfelt and in two particular ways surprising.

        I was amazed and, frankly touched, at how willing teachers were to consider the points I raised.

        A few disagreed with everything I wrote (one teacher called my comments stupid, trite and not at all honest) but many others said they found some points valid. One teacher wrote, “Much of what you wrote rang true, but did you have to be soooo honest? OUCH! I think you stepped on a lot of toes.”

        Some teachers said they dis-agreed as educators, but agreed, in part, as parents themselves.

        The second surprise was how willing teachers are to be heard. Many wrote long responses, what they'd like to say to parents but never can. It is a terribly uneven relationship, isn't it? Anybody can criticize a teacher, but what teacher can say, “I don't think you're pulling your weight here as a parent”?

Too many stressed students
        So today the honesty exercise goes the other way.

        Teachers are tired of parents who value good grades more than happy children, who pressure children to do what they cannot do. “We hate it when parents cannot be satisfied with their children's best efforts, when they can't accept that their children are human beings who are not perfect academically, emotionally or socially,” one teacher wrote.

        Teachers see too many tired kids. Even their elementary students are overcommitted, overorganized and under-rested. Sports, extracurriculars and frantic family lives take precedence over schoolwork.

        And teachers would like a few boundaries. We stop in their classroom whenever we like, call them for long conversations at home, expect a conference at the drop of a hat. Revelation: They have homes, responsibilities, families, too.

        On the other hand, teachers love it when we show up at concerts, athletic events, open houses, and especially to help out in the classroom. We walk into the room and our children's faces change, along with their attitude and behavior.

        One thing that infuriates teachers, however, is when we lie for our kids. This is common, and takes many forms: We lie to get them out of trouble. We lie about absences. And we lie about their homework. “It's amazing how many elementary students are excellent with power tools, computer technology, vocabulary for which I need a dictionary,” one teacher wrote. “Let the students do their work.”

        And speaking of work, we all seem to think we know how to do a teacher's job better than he or she does. Constant criticism and second-guessing weaken any teacher's confidence and enthusiasm.

The worst is silence
        Teachers like feedback (before the problem gets unmanageable), children with manners and materials, gift certificates (“we're drowning in bath beads,” one wrote) and the benefit of the doubt, at least occasionally.

        Phrases teachers have heard too often: Call me after 7 tonight. I'm calling my lawyer. You assign too much homework. You assign too little homework (both in the same classroom). But the worst thing teachers hear is silence.

        Teachers hate to be attacked through the parent grapevine, and yelled at in front of their students. Teachers love parents who pass on a child's compliment, support classroom rules and read with their kids. A “thank you” has a shelf life of at least three months.

        One administrator summed up most everyone's feelings: “We don't like it when the signs we put up mean only, "This applies to everyone else.'”

        I know one woman who should hear every bit of this.

        Let's just say the thank-you note is in the mail to my daughter's teacher. I'll drop forgotten objects off in the office. And I'll be as willing to listen as I am to speak.

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, or e-mail her at