As the new school year begins, teachers and parents are pondering how to work together to help children get the most from schooling.
Last year, Victoria’s Department of Education and Training announced that escalating disputes between parents and school teachers and principals would lead to independent mediation.
Mediation seems extreme, and expensive, so it’s timely to ask: how can teachers and parents prevent conflicts from intensifying?
When I was a teacher, I taught a boy whose reputation for being badly behaved was legend. His name was met with eye-rolls and pity when you said he was in your class. But this boy, let’s call him William, was doing incredibly well in my vocational computing class.
In honour of this achievement, I decided to try to do what the research says, and work with William’s dad to help William stay on the straight path. I decided to phone his father.
Dad answered the phone with “this better be good”. He followed up my compliment with a diatribe about “William’s [expletive] friends” posing as a teacher and “wasting [his] time”. After explaining that I was one of his son’s teachers, he went quiet and almost whispered, “This is the first time in all my years at [the school] anyone bothered to compliment my kids.”
For William’s dad, the only time the school got in touch was when William was misbehaving.
This is a situation in which we, as a school, could have done more for William and for his father. We should have better managed difficult conversations about behaviour. We might even have better met William’s needs if we’d worked harder to involve his dad in William’s schooling.