What the parents taught me
I started my career in a primary school in the middle of a council estate. Aspirations were low, suspicion of the education system was high and the parents were very vocal.
In my first year at the school the parents were incredibly resistant to me. The community was very close knit, and newcomers into the area were not welcome. In that first year I was physically assaulted once and verbally assaulted most weeks, through no fault of my own.
Mr. W. a veteran teacher who always seemed to be sitting in the same spot in the corner of the classroom, told me that it was only a matter of time. He advised that I had to do something to gain respect in the eyes of the parents. He suggested that if I gave them no room for criticism that this would eventually happen. I felt very cynical but decided that the advice was sound.
It was a rather unusual set of circumstances that brought the breakthrough. Fed up with complaint after complaint about the headlice problems that were rife within the class, I decided to address the topic. I talked to the children about the issue, asking that they went home and asked their parents to check their hair and to treat them that night if they needed it.
Next morning, Mrs. B. a feisty parent with a reputation for giving teachers a hard time, came bounding into my classroom. She insisted that what I had said, violated the human rights of her child who could have headlice if she so wished.
Seeing my new career dissolving before my eyes, I thought on my feet, remembered the rule to always treat everyone with respect and said this simple career changing statement:
“Oh thank goodness you came in Mrs. B. I had no idea that parents might have a problem with this. If it had been someone less understanding they might have given me a really hard time. Thank you for your support, I really appreciate it.
This headlice problem really is a pain though, it makes the children so uncomfortable and stops them concentrating on their learning. What do you think we can do about it?”
Instantly the body language of this parent changed. She got into a chat about how she realised that I was only trying to do what was best for the children and how other teachers had always made her feel “thick” ad as though she had nothing to offer. Not only that, but after our little exchange, I watched through my classroom window as she went out and had an animated conversation with a group of mums and dads on the playgrounds, who listened attentively.
I will never know what Mrs. B said to those other parents, but what I do know is that after that day, I never had another negative exchange with a parent at that school. Her influence on the school community was considerable and with her backing I was able to gain credibility with all. This was something I had battled to achieve on my own for a year.
Mrs. B taught me a lot. She taught me more that any book on teaching theory ever could. After that day, I built on my solid foundations and worked actively to involve parents in their child’s development and to make them feel valued, whatever their background and circumstances.
Thank you Mrs. B. I have never forgotten your support all those years ago. Mind you, you never did help me solve that headlice problem…