ERIC Identifier: ED401048
Publication Date: 1996-11-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G. - And Others
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Preventing and Resolving Parent-Teacher Differences. ERIC
Parents and teachers share responsibility for creating a working relationship
that fosters children's learning. This digest examines the cultural context for
parent-teacher relationships, suggests some general strategies for creating a
climate in which misunderstandings and disagreements between parents and
teachers can be minimized through communication, and discusses some general
principles for parents and teachers in dealing with misunderstandings or
disagreements as they arise.
THE CULTURAL CONTEXT FOR PARENT-TEACHER RELATIONSHIPS
important for teachers and parents to remember that they know the child in
different contexts, and that each may be unaware of what the child is like in
the other context. It is also useful to keep in mind generally that different
people often have distinct but disparate perspectives on the same issue.
For many parents, a fundamental part of the parenting role is to be their
child's strongest advocate with the teacher and the school (Katz, 1995). Other
parents, however, may be reluctant to express their concerns because of cultural
beliefs related to the authoritative position of the teacher. Others may have
difficulty talking with teachers as a result of memories of their own school
years, or they may be unsure of how to express their concerns to teachers. A few
parents may fear that questions or criticism will put their child at a
disadvantage in school.
Many parents may be surprised to learn that teachers, especially new
teachers, are sometimes equally anxious about encounters with parents. Most
teachers have received very little training in fostering parent-teacher
relationships, but with the growing understanding of the importance of parent
involvement, they may worry about doing everything they can to encourage parents
to feel welcome (Greenwood & Hickman, 1991).
AVOIDING CONFLICTS BETWEEN PARENTS AND TEACHERS THROUGH OPEN, ONGOING COMMUNICATION
The foundation for good parent-teacher
relationships is frequent and open communication. Both teachers and parents
share the responsibility for creating such a foundation. There are several
strategies teachers can use to establish a climate conducive to open
communication. Teachers can:
LET PARENTS KNOW HOW AND WHEN THEY CAN CONTACT THE
AND THE TEACHER. As early in the school year as possible,
teachers can explain that: (1) they can be reached at specific times or in
specific ways; (2) they can be contacted directly as questions or concerns
arise; and (3) they have given a lot of thought to their teaching philosophy,
class rules, and expectations. In addition to personal interaction, teachers
often use newsletters or letters home to provide this information to parents,
perhaps including a phone number and, if available, an electronic mail address
by which they can be contacted (Barnett, 1995). Some teachers encourage two-way
communication by including in newsletters or letters home a short survey about
children's interests or parents' hopes or expectations for the school year.
PRACTICE AN OPEN-DOOR, OPEN-MIND POLICY. Teachers can invite parents to visit
the class at any time that is convenient to the parent. When they visit, parents
can monitor their child's perceptions of a situation and see for themselves what
the teacher is trying to achieve with his or her students.
ELICIT EXPRESSIONS OF PARENTS' CONCERNS AND INTERESTS
PREPARATION FOR PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES. Some schools organize
parent-teacher meetings to discuss their goals early in the school year. On
these occasions, teachers can ask parents to share their main concerns and goals
for their child. Brief questionnaires and interest surveys also provide good
bases for meaningful discussions in parent-teacher conferences (Nielsen &
INVOLVE PARENTS IN CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES. Teachers can let parents know how
they can be helpful and solicit parents' assistance with specific activities.
The more involved parents are in what goes on in the classroom, the more likely
they are to understand the teacher's goals and practices.
Parents also have an important role to play in fostering open communication
between themselves and teachers. They can:
INTRODUCE THEMSELVES. At the beginning of the school year, parents can
contact teachers and let them know when they can be reached most easily, daytime
or evening, to discuss their child's classroom experience, and how they would
prefer to be contacted (telephone, email, letter, etc.).
BE INVOLVED IN CLASSROOM AND SCHOOL ACTIVITIES AT
LEVEL WORK AND FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ALLOW. If parents cannot
volunteer or go on field trips, they can let the teacher know that they are
interested in helping in other ways with a special display or some activity that
can be done on an occasional weekend, for example. They can let the teacher know
that they have skills that they would be willing to share even if they are not
sure how they can be useful in the classroom. Or, they can let the teacher know
that special circumstances (an extremely ill parent, or an especially demanding
job, for example) prevent them from being formally involved, but that they are
always interested in how their child is doing and would welcome communications
about their child on a regular basis, not just when there's a problem.
INITIATE REGULAR CONTACT. Parents need not wait for the teacher to call them;
they can contact the teacher at times the teacher has indicated are convenient.
WHEN PARENTS AND TEACHERS DISAGREE: STRATEGIES FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS
On those inevitable occasions when
parents and teachers disagree about curriculum, assignments, peer relationships,
homework, or teaching approaches, a pattern of open communication can be
invaluable for resolving differences (Willis, 1995). But dealing with direct
disagreements also requires respect and discretion by both parents and teachers.
In times of disagreement, teachers should:
KNOW THE SCHOOL POLICY FOR ADDRESSING
DISAGREEMENTS. It is a good idea for teachers to check school
district policies for handling conflicts or disagreements with parents and to
follow the procedures outlined in the policies.
USE DISCRETION ABOUT WHEN AND WHERE CHILDREN AND
FAMILIES ARE DISCUSSED. It is important to resist the frequent
temptations to discuss individual children and their families in
inappropriate public and social situations or to discuss particular children
with the parents of other children. Confidentiality contributes to maintaining
trust between parents and teachers.
Parents' discussions of disagreements with teachers need to be based on
knowing the facts. Parents can:
TALK DIRECTLY WITH THE TEACHER ABOUT THE PROBLEM. The best approach is to
address complaints at first directly to the teacher, either in person or by
telephone, and then to other school personnel in the order specified by school
policy. Sometimes the teacher is unaware of the child's difficulty or perception
of a situation. Sometimes a child misunderstands a teacher's intentions, or the
teacher is unaware of the child's confusion about a rule or an assignment. It is
important to check the facts directly with the teacher before drawing
conclusions or allocating blame. Direct contact is necessary to define the
problem accurately and to develop an agreement about how best to proceed.
AVOID CRITICIZING TEACHERS IN FRONT OF CHILDREN. Criticizing teachers and
schools in front of children may confuse them. Even very young children can pick
up disdain or frustration that parents express about their children's school
experiences. In the case of the youngest children, it is not unusual for them to
attribute heroic qualities to their teachers. Some even think that the teacher
lives at school and thinks of no one but them! Eventually such naivete is
outgrown, but overheard criticism is likely to be confusing in the early years
and may put a child in a bind over divided loyalties. Besides causing confusion
and conflict, criticizing the teacher in front of the child does nothing to
address the problem. In the case of older children, such criticism may foster
arrogance, defiance, and rudeness toward teachers. Children's respect for
authority figures is generally a shared goal in most cultures (Katz, 1996).
CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE TIME AND PLACE TO DISCUSS
DISAGREEMENT. Parents should keep in mind that the end of the day, when both teachers and parents are tired, is probably not the best time
for a discussion involving strong feelings. If an extended discussion is needed,
make an appointment with the teacher.
As children grow older, they are generally aware when their parents are upset
about the teacher or a school-related problem. As parents discuss these
incidents with their children, they are modeling ways to express frustration
with the problems of life in group settings. As children observe and then
practice these skills, the coping skills become "tools" in a child's
"psychological pocket" to be used in future life experiences.
Teachers and parents share responsibility for
the education and socialization of children. Preventing and resolving the
differences that may arise between parents, teachers, and children with
constructive communication, respect, grace, and good humor can help make school
a pleasant place.
Barnett, Marion Fox. (1995). STRENGTHENING
PARTNERSHIPS BY REACHING OUT TO FAMILIES. Paper presented at the National
Council of Teachers of English Annual Spring Conference, Minneapolis, MN, March
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Doner, Kalia. (1996). My Teacher Hates Me. WORKING MOTHER 19(9): 46-48.
Greenwood, Gordon E., and Catherine W. Hickman. (1991). Research and Practice
in Parent Involvement: Implications for Teacher Education. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
JOURNAL 91(3): 279-88. EJ 429 060.
Katz, Lilian G. (1995). Mothering and Teaching. Significant Distinctions. In
Lilian G. Katz, TALKS WITH TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: A COLLECTION. Norwood,
NJ: Ablex. ED 380 232.
Katz, Lilian G. (1996). Building Resilience: Helping Your Child Cope with
Frustrations at School. INSTRUCTOR 106(3): 95-98.
Nielsen, Lynne E., and Judith M. Finkelstein. (1993). A New Approach to
Parent Conferences. TEACHING PRE K-8 24(1): 90-92. EJ 469 327.
Willis, Scott. (1995). When Parents Object to Classroom Practice. EDUCATION
UPDATE 37(1): 1, 6, 8.