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Family Matters: Married Life: What’s one of the most important things I can do as a parent of a school-age child?
BY Tom and Caroline McDonald
Simple: Present a united front with your child’s teacher.
Back up the teachers. Veteran parents know how important this is: Children quickly learn how to play one parent off the other when they sense disagreement. The same goes for the teacher-parent relationship. If your child sees that you will side with him instead of the teacher, her authority in the classroom is completely undermined.
I (Caroline) once caught a straight-A high-school student cheating on a major test. Tearful, she begged forgiveness, but the school policy was clear: The zero would knock her average down a letter or two, so I met with her mom to explain. To my surprise, with her daughter present, she refused to believe me. "Not my daughter," she kept saying, in the face of irrefutable evidence. "My daughter doesn’t cheat." At once, I witnessed the student’s repentance transform into stony defiance. Her mother’s behavior prevented her from being able to admit her mistake and move on. The grudge lasted well into second semester, and I was hesitant to discipline her from then on because I knew I wouldn’t be backed up at home. (Don’t worry: The zero stood.)
Contrast that with my dad. Once, when I misplaced my uniform shoes, I asked my father to write a note. He agreed, wrote it and handed it to me. On the way to school, I unfolded the note, which read: "Caroline was irresponsible and lost her uniform shoes. Please give her the appropriate punishment." I quickly learned not to ask him for notes — and how to keep track of my shoes!
Of course, teachers are human and will not handle every student perfectly every time. The point is that we parents must work out our disagreements privately and not involve our children.
Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and calmly ask her to explain the situation. A principal of ours told the parents at the beginning of every year, "Don’t believe everything your children say about us, and we won’t believe everything they say about you." Good advice.
Children can be master spin artists. A parent upset at the amount of math homework Junior brings home and the lack of sleep he’s getting may be surprised to learn that the teacher gives the students 15 minutes at the end of class to start on the assignment but Junior goofs around instead. Rather than bad-mouthing the teacher, an email or quick phone call should clear up the issue.
The teachers we know have a genuine love for young people and a desire to help them learn.
In our book, anyone who teaches long term is on the way to sainthood.
Let’s pray for them — they need it! — and see them as our allies.
The McDonalds are coordinators of
family life and adult education
at St. Ignatius parish in