Monday, August 25, 2014

Meet the Teacher BUT NO ASKING HER QUESTIONS! (What?)

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a Meet the Teacher. Our school does this every year. It's a great way for the teacher, kids and parents to meet, connect, and be ready for the start of school.

The teacher gets our (parent) contact information, puts a face to a name, and is able to set up best contact method for the school year.

Kids get to see who is in their class, see the classroom, figure out where it is.

Parents get to shake hands, connect, etc.

It builds comfort all around, connects people who need to be connected, and is a great thing to do. I'm sorry to hear it's not common everywhere. It makes me more grateful for it, though.

I wanted to get to know our teacher, who is brand new to the school, so I crowdsourced my Facebook community for ideas of great questions to ask when I met the teacher, just to get a little sense of who she is.

I was stunned by how many people thought I did not have the right to or should not talk to the teacher, ask her any questions, or get to know her.

Confessing: I was a little taken aback, truth be told. Why were people so discouraging about this?

The purpose of the event is to Meet the Teacher. The teacher is new. The teacher EXPECTED parent questions and came with information and prepared to talk to parents and answer questions. She said so herself.

Custom may vary at other school meet the teachers. In our school, it seems quite common for parents to come in, greet the teacher, chat, and get to know one another. That's beneficial for both teacher and parent, in my opinion. I'm sure we learned a helpful amount in our short chat.

For example, I learned she likes technology and had a great app for communicating with parents, and she learned I thought that was fantastic. We chatted about kid birthdays. I learned she has some good teaching experience behind her and has a good approach to individual learning. She learned I am happy to help support classroom things as needed. She learned we are teaching the kids budgeting at home, which means my daughter will understand the sticker economy the class uses.

I was one of the first parents there so we chatted a few extra minutes than I'd thought to be able to, which was very nice. Other parents trailed in and got their few minutes too. My daughter and the other kids explored the classroom, identified where they'd be sitting, figured out where bags went, got information from the teacher, who now also had faces to their names (though she'll get that nearly every day, but this was a casual circumstance).

It was a very positive experience all around, I thought, though I know it is stressful for teachers to do all the setup and prep for it. I did say how much I appreciated that and gave a store gift card to help with any supplies she needed.

Hopefully, it has come through how very beneficial and positive the meet the teacher with actual talking to the teacher is. It's not a parent-teacher in depth conversation, of course. Just a chat for a couple of minutes to get to know you a bit.

As a parent, I am my child's greatest ally and advocate. I have the right to talk to the teacher and get to know her. She and I will be working together this coming year to educate my child. 

But when I asked my Facebook friends for ideas of questions to ask, aside from a few exceptions, I got the strong sense that people thought I had no place, no right, to ask anything of the teacher. Teachers are so importuned, the message came across, that parents need to leave them be. Parents should not talk to teachers at meet the teacher, came the message.

That sentiment troubles me greatly.

Teachers have a wonderful job but, unfortunately, sometimes it is stressful and in terrible conditions. I can relate. I have had jobs like that too! Answering to dreadful bureaucracy, lacking resources and budget, dealing with coworkers or clients who are never satisfied or never have a good thing to say, worrying about job security and benefits, and on and on.

Unlike for most challenged workers, people are aware that teachers have this situation. That provides an opportunity for mindful courtesy.

Does that courtesy make them untouchable? It seems so for some people. The message was loud and clear: don't bother the teacher, don't trouble the teacher--asking questions and getting to know the teacher does both.

I admit that if I had approached the teacher to get to know her and she seemed unapproachable or annoyed to chat, I'd have formed a very negative impression. I'd have grave concerns about our ability to communicate as parent and teacher working for the best for my child. And yet, I got the impression, from some teachers who commented, that they would not have welcomed a parent who approached to get to know them and ask a few questions.

At our event, I was nowhere near the only parent to ask questions. There were all sorts of questions! When are bathroom breaks? What's the switch schedule and lunch? Do you need any supplies? Where were you before? When are you due? And some more in depth ones, such as the one I asked: How do you motivate kids to do what they need to do in class?

Believe it or not, all of the questions were Good To Know. At our school, mostly parents want to back up the teacher and understanding things can help with that. Some parents simply introduced themselves. That has been me many years too.

So if you are one who thinks a parent asking questions and getting to know the teacher at meet the teacher day is all wrong, defend your reason why. I'd like to understand your perspective on this. Or try to.

Other points of view are welcome to: do you think it's a good thing to do at meet the teacher? Have you met a teacher, asked a few questions, had a short chat?

Don't make it about being selfish. It's not selfish to spend a couple of minutes connecting with your child's teacher at Meet the Teacher.

Don't make it about being discourteous to other parents. The event is a full hour and every parent who wanted to had the chance to speak with the teacher. Nobody "hogged" the teacher. Everyone took a couple of minutes to chat as they wanted.

Don't make it about "it's for the kids, not for you." That's junk science. Parents are invited to meet the teacher to meet the teacher too. Kids get the chance to say hi, but mainly they want to run with friends and see the classroom. If you stay the full hour, there is ample time to chat with the teacher for a few minutes and explore the classroom with your child.

Be clear: I use the word chat on purpose. That's to make it clear it is a short, light, conversation. It's to differentiate it from an in depth conversation like you might have at a one on one conference.

Be clear: when I say a few minutes, I do mean a few minutes. I mean 3ish more or less.

So why do you think people were so inclined (in the majority) to discourage me from talking to the teacher and asking her a couple of questions at meet the teacher?

7 comments:

Mom101 said...

Wow. I'm really surprised by this. Maybe I shouldn't be? There is a certain segment of the population who were raised to believe you don't question authority - doctors, teachers, cops - though I had thought that was an older generational thing. Could it be regional?

(We're not too shy in Brooklyn.)

Anecdotally, one of my best teacher experiences was when Sage's new pre-k teacher came over for a house visit (the school did that for all new students). The teacher later admitted that while all the other parents were putting out trays of food and trying to impress her. I was the only one who sat on the floor with her and my daughter and asked her, "so. What's the curriculum for this year?" I was just asking a basic question and thought nothing of it. At the end of the year, she told me that that visit made her realize she had to step up her game and she felt like a better teacher for it.

I don't mean for this to sound gross and back-pat-y; in fact I didn't think I was doing anything special. I think that good teachers would rather have involved, inquisitive parents than ones who don't seem involved at all. It sounds like your teacher is terrific, and you're off to a great start with her.

Magpie said...

In elementary school, I felt like parents were welcomed into the school, that we could easily talk with the teachers as need be.

But last year - in 5th grade, which is year 1 of middle school - not so much. Open school night was bedlam, and parent-teacher conferences are impossible to schedule. I wanted to sit down with one of the three core teachers, and never did get it to happen because they would only meet as a team and only at noon. I finally gave up.

Kristin Duncan said...

It's a very curious dynamic. As we've had so very many problems with the schools, I tend to make snap decisions. If I wasn't able to ask the teacher questions, or get to talk to her, I might choose another teacher for my son.

Thank you for this post.

Julie Pippert said...

Liz, I don't know. The responses on FB were from all over the US. I think we've shifted from the very constructive "improve education and provide fair working conditions for teachers because they educate our kids" to the less cooperative "nobody in the whole wide world is as important or impugned as teachers and you can't say one word or you are profane."

See, I agree completely with this, "I think that good teachers would rather have involved, inquisitive parents than ones who don't seem involved at all. It sounds like your teacher is terrific, and you're off to a great start with her."

That's who and how I try to be. I genuinely am surprised so many perceive that as troubling the teacher.

Julie Pippert said...

Maggie, this was about elementary. In middle school the teachers are more distant and that's understandable. It's a totally different setup. I was pleasantly surprised how very approachable they were the few times I did need to connect with them. In fact, I found most of them were in that "partner" mindframe.

We did it all over email.

It's unfortunate you did not get that meeting. I do know very well how none of it is set up to accommodate working parents, really, especially commuting ones.

Julie Pippert said...

Kristin, you're welcome. It has become a curious dynamic. I'm not going to be able to subscribe to it. I will need to talk to the teacher sometimes. It just is.

StarTraci said...

I know what you mean. Last year, my son's teacher was very approachable and I used the "Meet the Teacher" to express our concerns about his self-esteem and testing anxiety. She was incredibly receptive and it set a VERY positive tone for the rest of the year. My daughter's teacher saw her insecurities and she hugged and reassured her on the spot.
This year's Meet the Teacher did not have the same atmosphere and while they were very polite, it was much more reserved. I came out feeling much less satisfied.
Either way, as a daughter of a teacher, a specials teacher myself, I believe that questions are appropriate and often welcomed. I never find them disrespectful. I just judge the space and time as to whether it is the right time. Obviously, if she is swarming with other parents, it is not the right time but I am perplexed that you received such negative feedback.
Traci