Last year, my son’s teacher called home a lot. My son was struggling with his impulse control in the classroom and was frequently getting into trouble. She always called me during the school day. Sometimes she called more than once a week. Our conversations were nearly always the same. She’d tell me what he had done, tell me why that made it hard for her to teach and for other students to learn, and tell me I needed to have a consequence for him at home.
The first few times she called, I did just that. My husband and I talked with my son to learn more about what was going on and had some sort of warning or consequence. We said and did all the things teachers would want parents to do. I appreciated her letting me know what was happening and assumed things would change after we spoke with him.
The first few times.
And then it made us crazy. Yet another call while I was at work. Why couldn’t she call after work when I could actually talk more easily? Although I never excused his behavior, I also learned from him the reasons that it was happening. I wanted to shift the conversation to reflect together with her on WHY it was happening instead of WHAT was happening. From there we could talk about solutions. I was never very successful.
I stopped answering. I stopped calling her back. I was tired of hearing the same complaints. Tired of the assumption that I wasn’t doing enough at home to change his behavior. Tired of feeling that the entire onus of change was on what we could do at home: some magical wand we could wave which would get him to sit more quietly at school tomorrow. If I had that magic wand I had several things I would wave it for. Heck, maybe I could wave it to get him to enjoy vegetables.
I started the year eager to partner with my son’s teacher to support his social-emotional growth and watched myself become less and less engaged. Not answering when I saw her calling on my caller ID. Taking a few days to return her calls. Sometimes not returning them. Often not telling my son she had called.
Once she called and I waited a while to call her back. When I did, I learned she was calling with something positive to say. The relief that flowed through my body was thick. I felt the tension evaporate. What a difference it made to have a positive phone call home.
It sure changed my perspective as a teacher when I reach out to families. I now filter EVERY interaction I have with families through wearing my mom goggles.
Before I email, call or text, I first consider which communication medium is best, given what I need to share and given what I know about a family’s situation. Teachers at my school have commented recently on how I text and call so frequently, instead of emailing. Email is nearly ALWAYS easier for the teacher. But often it’s not a medium a family uses frequently and/or not best for the information you want to share.
Then, every time, I think about how I would hear the message if this were my son’s teacher calling me about him. I think about what that teacher could say that would make me want to engage in a meaningful conversation. I think about what time of day I am calling: I will text in the afternoon, but never call before 5pm. I regularly call only with positive things to say. And most importantly, when calling about a student who is struggling with academics, behavior or both, I reflect deeply on why I think these things are occurring and begin my conversation focusing on the why instead of the what. And I listen, deeply to whomever I am speaking with. I never expect a family member to fix it. I know there is no magic wand. I call to collaborate on how we can best support that student to shine this year. And after every challenging conversation, I ask if it would be ok for me to text a few times in the coming week. To let the family know their child’s progress in whatever it was that was a struggle. Because there is always progress. But if we don’t talk about the small victories, then the next call may be a few weeks later when something major happens again. And I want that call to be answered, and not ignored, as I often did last year with my son.
Teaching is about building relationships with our students. Building relationship through our communication with families is just as critical.