A parent approached me at a parenting class and asked the following questions: how do I tell how my child is doing at school, and how do I know what she needs in order to succeed? I asked the parent for more information and she explained that her 8 year old’ s school progress reports indicated that her behavior was not meeting expectations, her grades had declined, and she complained that school was boring. Following the parent’s request, the school psychologist evaluated the child and reported that she was ‘oppositional’. The parent reported that they mistrusted the accuracy of the evaluation and they now sought a private, comprehensive, very expensive evaluation.
I asked the parent to describe to me the child’s teacher’s characterization of the primary issues. The parent replied that she had not spoke with the teacher and he intended to rely on the investigation of an independent neuropsychologist. I asked the parent to describe the process by which supervisors within her workplace typically obtain information about performance of the employees within their divisions. She did not see the analogy until I asked whether a supervisor within her company, analogous to the parent, would speak directly with the employee, or the ‘teacher’, in order to learn about the quality of the product, in this case, the education provided to the child.
Speaking with a teacher in order to obtain information about the challenges that a student is experiencing is a critical first step. Just as speaking with an employee’s immediate supervisor appears to be the logical first step to learning about that individual’s performance, prior to inviting an outside consultant.
There are significant and legitimate reasons for which parents may avoid conferring with teachers. These reasons include prior experience of or concern about the possibility of being blamed for a child’s behavior or having a teacher provide the unsolicited advice to medicate a child with ADHD medication. Some teachers ask invasive questions or make inappropriate comments. Some parents are predisposed to disliking or distrusting their children’s teachers based on complaints from their children or from other parents. Parents who have had negative experiences advocating for special education services may have difficulty viewing their children’s teachers as allies.
A teacher told me recently that he believes that parents of children who have special needs do not realize that teachers are strong allies for parents and children. Teachers constantly observe children and their responses to the special education services. A teacher knows when a student requires a modification of the services or when a student has met their educational goals. The teacher who spoke with me said that teachers seek opportunities to share with parents this valuable information; in return, they want to feel that they are valued members of the educational team.
The parent whom I advised decided to invite her daughter’s teacher to meet for coffee. The conversation was very informative; the parent now understands her child’s educational needs. Perhaps more important, each is starting to trust and respect the other.