You think we're ghastly pushy parents just because we're middle class and want to be kept in the loop

1st October 2010 at 01:00

I'm not quite sure why parents are afraid of teachers, but we are. In two years of writing my education blog, School Gate, I have had masses of comments attacking teachers for various (admittedly often unfair) reasons. But I have also received the overwhelming impression that parents would like teachers to be less aggressive, understand them a little more and not see them as the enemy. Above all, I am often asked, "Why don't teachers realise that we are all on the children's side?"

As teachers, you may laugh and point out that this is exactly how you feel. Well, isn't it a shame that we parents don't know that. One parent, who is also a teacher, said to me that when she started in the profession she was intimidated by the parents. My experience is quite the opposite.

You may argue that teachers, sensitive to any criticism, go on the defensive because parents are so awful. But we could both play the blame game. Do teachers realise how unapproachable they can be? My favourite-ever teacher at my children's school was always friendly and spoke to me as an equal. That's all I ask for.

I do realise that this piece reflects the experience of visitors to my blog, who are Times readers. In other words, I am mainly talking about that much-maligned group "the middle classes" here, and I won't apologise for that.

But while we (yes, I include myself) may be middle class, that doesn't mean we are all awful and pushy (we cringe at being labelled as such). I am not talking about controlling parents, those living vicariously through their children and always asking or demanding things from their children's teachers. What I am talking about is normal parents who would simply like to be kept in the loop about what is going on in their child's school. We're often too scared to ask even the simplest question, assuming, from experience, that we will just receive an aggressive or curt response.

Here's one typical comment from a parent who told me she felt as if she was "always battling against the perception" that she was a pushy parent.

Her daughter is very bright, but this mother said that she wasn't that worried about her daughter's grades. Instead, she explained: "I do, however, care very much whether she is being stimulated and is learning to enjoy learning. Yet, whenever I try and mention this, I'm dismissed - contemptuously. It's embarrassing, and I've pretty much given up. That means I might be letting my daughter down."

Another parent told me: "I think teachers must roll their eyes every time a parent wants to see them. I feel like they think we're a pain in the neck and that they don't really want to be bothered with requests to deal with academic or social issues because there are just too many kids in the class.

"As a parent you want to feel you can go to the teacher and that they will be on your side. This certainly hasn't been the case for me."

Surely all teachers and parents want children to do well and achieve to the best of their abilities.

Well then, why are we made to feel pushy (yes, that word again) if we ask questions about our children's achievements or abilities, or about their problems?

One parent - whose child has severe special needs - emailed me to say, "You are your child's advocate so need to be pushy, but you are also aware that you need to keep relations warm if they are to genuinely try their best for them. There is a double pressure to be both likeable and bulldozer-like!"

It is a hard balancing act, not just for teachers, for parents, too. We are often loath to question a teacher, but just because teachers have "seen it all before" doesn't mean they are right about every child. It can be heartbreaking to raise an issue with a teacher, have it dismissed and then have your child ask you to raise it again.

"I'm genuinely intimidated by the staff at school and try my best not to speak to them at all, unless it's to exchange greetings in the morning," one parent told me. "I have this sense that they have better things to do than talk to a parent about a child. But actually, isn't that part of their job?"

Numerous parents also told me that they hated the idea of being "discussed" in the staffroom. "I prefer to remain anonymous to the teachers," said one, while another added that "I would not want any disagreements or issues to bias the teacher's view of my child". Yet another added that she was so worried about being seen as critical, "sometimes I wonder if I've let my children down by not being pushier".

I find this all quite sad, because (certainly in my experience) most teachers do want the best for the children they teach, and are, as TES readers will doubtlessly agree, nice people. However, more thought needs to be put into the teacherparent relationship.

Of course we have our part to play and we must treat teachers with respect, but if we do that we deserve to be treated with respect, too. After all, schools expect parents to take an interest, volunteer to help with reading, make sure homework is done and the right uniform worn.

Most of us - yes, most - are happy to do these things, but don't otherwise want to step in and get involved unless it is absolutely vital. And then we want to be taken seriously.

As one teacher (and parent) said to me: "I feel that the most successful parentteacher relationships are those where the parent can access the information they want to know, and where the teacher can give the information the parent needs to know. The relationship is unsatisfactory when either party feels they haven't been heard."

Sarah Ebner is editor of School Gate, The Times' education blog, primarily aimed at parents. http:bit.lyaGp0yc.

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