As an educator, my biggest push for parents is to learn how to advocate for your children. It was the school year after Covid-19 first hit and Zoey’s school was giving the option of in person or remote learning. I didn’t quite feel comfortable with her going into the building so I was paying for her to do school remote from a daycare, while I was at work (teaching in person.) One day one of the ladies at the daycare made a comment about how the teachers were talking to the kids. She couldn’t tell me exactly what was said, because she didn't remember, but she just told me she didn’t like it. I told her when she hears something that makes her feel a way, to write it down and I would address it with her teachers.
Well, the next day Zoey had a dentist appointment and since we taught from home on Wednesdays at the time, I decided at the last minute to allow Zoey to do her remote learning from home. Of course that day, was the day I was being observed, over zoom at that. So needless to say, I was all over the place that morning. Before her classes started, Zoey comes in and tells me she doesn’t have one of the books she needs for her class, because it was at the daycare. So I told her don’t stress, just tell the teacher when they log on that she didn’t have the book.
As they log into their classes I hear Zoey say she didn’t have her book but I didn’t hear the teacher’s response. The time eventually comes when the class is using the book that Zoey doesn’t have and so she comes back into the room with her head down and I ask her “what’s wrong?” She says “I don’t have my book.” I responded “I know, didn’t you tell your teacher? What did she say?” She says “Ms. _____ (the teacher’s ASSISTANT) told me I need to always be prepared.” So of course I go into mommy mode, because what does prepared look like for a 5 year old and wouldn’t that have been the adult’s job to make sure the child was prepared? Any who, I go into the room with Zoey and I sit on the floor next to her chair (the teacher can’t see me on the Zoom screen) and tell Zoey to unmute and tell her teacher she doesn’t have her book. Mannn that kid was so scared to unmute. I must have told her like three times to unmute and she eventually said “I can’t unmute without asking because she’s going to yell at me.”
I’m sitting there so annoyed, because first of all don’t be yelling at these kids. But I’m also thinking you’re not even this scared of me and I’m your mother! So eventually she does it, in a whispered tone because she was clearly petrified of this lady, and the woman (TA) unmutes and begins to yell at Zoey. “Which is it? Either you have the book or you …” (Turns the computer to face myself because what we not gon do is yell at my kid…) “Good morning” (insert teacher looking and feeling stupid face because she didn’t know anyone was there with Zoey) … (me continuing) “Do not talk to my child like that. First of all she’s 5 and in first grade, which you already know. So the responsibility of her being prepared for school is mine and if you have an issue with her not being prepared you have several ways to contact me. (Teacher stares in silence.) Do not ever chastise my child or any child for that matter in front of the whole class as you just did…” Well the rant went on for a little bit because I was livid!
I shared this story because that day taught my daughter a few things. First, it taught my daughter that it wasn’t ok for anyone to yell at her, especially if her parents don’t yell at her. But most importantly it taught her that her mom has her back and that I will always advocate for her. For me that’s one of the most important responsibilities of being a parent or guardian, advocating for your child. Of course not all scenarios will be as dramatic as the teacher yelling or talking crazy to students. However, I’ve learned from being in the school setting that oftentimes parents don’t know when or how to advocate for their child.
Here are a few pointers I wanted to share when it comes to advocating for your children when it comes to their school.
BE A PRESENCE- Make sure the school knows who you are. I hate to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway, when the school (or teacher) knows that you are an active parent and will be involved in whatever your child has going on, inside and outside of school, they act differently. In my experience schools and teachers are more intentional when it comes to these students because in all honesty they don’t want any problems with you. It’s easier to keep you happy than to have you show up. After I bugged out on Zoey's teacher, and then spoke with the principal, listen, Zoey had no more problems. I made it clear, I will come up to the school and we can all have a meeting together where we are going to hold all parties involved accountable.
UTILIZE THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR - The school counselor can be your best resource at the school. They are the person that you, your child and the teachers should all readily have access to. There are times when your child may not feel comfortable talking to the teacher about an issue they are having in class and the counselor can be a person who can either guide them in conversation with the teacher or talk to the teacher for them. As a parent you should always make sure that you have contact information for the counselor and check in with them regularly to see how your child is doing in their classes.
If there is something going on at home, always let the counselor know so that they can be sure to support your child during that time. That support can look like them checking in with the child regularly, talking to the child’s teachers to let them know if they see irregularities that may be the cause, or just keep an eye out for them. Some things you may want to let the counselor know, if it happens, are a death in the family, separation between parents, sickness… etc. As a school we can’t support your child through something that we don’t know is happening.
When my father was really sick, and my little sister who was 16 was the only one there to help him, she began struggling in school. I asked her, “Did you tell your teacher what was happening at home?” Of course she said she didn’t. The next day I called the school and spoke with the dean (they didn’t have counselors) and let her know what was happening and the toll it was taking on her and the dean reached out to her teachers and told them to give her some grace and also to let her know if they are seeing any changes. The dean was so happy that I called because most times they don’t find out something is going on at home until they have to call home.
HAVE THE CHILD PRESENT- When you are contacting the teacher, counselor, dean or whomever regarding an incident, if possible, have your child there with you or on a three way call to avoid the back and forth. Oftentimes, conversations turn into he said she said because there was never a time where both parties were present to have the discussion. This cuts out any confusion as to what happened because if someone is giving faulty information, because both students and teachers may do that, the other person is there to call it out and give their perspective.
If your child is not or won’t be available, be sure to gather as much information as possible from them regarding the incident. Ask them questions to pull whatever information you desire for them to share.
KNOW YOUR CHILD - I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents address teachers because of a story that their child brought home but intentionally left out a few parts. So here the parent is bugging out on the teacher meanwhile key parts of the story were missing. While children do show different sides of themselves when they are at school, their core characteristics ideally remain consistent regardless of where they are. Know your child and what they are capable of and evaluate the parts of the story prior to reaching out. If it doesn’t sound like the full story, it probably isn’t.
WHENEVER YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ASK THEM - When you have questions, regarding anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask them. Call up to the school, reach out to the teacher, call the counselor or dean, somebody, anybody and ask your questions. If that person doesn’t have the answer, ask them to direct you to the right person or find out the answer and follow up with you. If they are going to find out and follow up, ask for a time frame and if you need to follow up with them.
INQUIRE RATHER THAN ATTACK - As a parent our children will always be our babies. Because of this, naturally, when they come home with an issue we get into defense mode. Who did what to my baby?? (I’ve been there, and end up there like once a week.) When reaching out, try to lead with logic and not emotion. (It’s hard!!) Rather than attacking and telling what happened, because you weren’t there, share what was told to you and ask what happened. As we all know there are three sides to the story, the kids side, the teacher’s side and the full truth. We will never get the full truth, because once agaIn you weren’t there, but when you lead by accusing and attacking the teacher will go into defense mode, which is natural, and the end result won’t be as productive. When you lead with questions to gain clarity, you give them an opportunity to share their perspective and side of the story, which often ends in a way more productive manner.
APPROACH WITH AN END GOAL - Walk into each situation knowing what you want to come out of it. Whether it’s clarity about a situation that occurred, better communication, or whatever it may be, when you know what you want the end result to be it makes it easier to keep the conversation on track. When you know what you want, all of the smaller details of how we got to where we are isn’t as important. Let’s be solution oriented and focus on how we want to move forward and what we want the end result to be.
HOLD ALL PARTIES ACCOUNTABLE (INCLUDING YOURSELF) - I recently received a Dojo message (the platform my daughters school uses to communicate with parents) that Zoey didn’t do her vocabulary homework. I thought to myself, well I know I watched her sit in the living room and do her homework. Zoey is at the age where I don’t have to sit over her while she’s doing anything, I can tell her get it done and she will do it. It might take her a while but it gets done. Then I remembered that the paper that the teacher sent home always says “Unit 1” under the vocabulary section and never specifically what pages they are supposed to do.
So I responded to the message asking what specifically was the vocabulary homework because on the homework sheet parents receive there is never a specific assignment, just the unit. Well the teacher responds, the kids are supposed to write their homework down every day and the assignment is written on the board. Now I have seen this in Zoey’s notebook where she writes her homework but I only see ELA and Math, which I shared with the teacher.
Zoey comes home and I ask her about the vocabulary homework and she said “I didn’t know what pages to do so I just did two pages like you said.” So I told her the teacher said she always writes it on the board, and here goes my child getting defensive. “She’s lying mommy, she only writes for ELA and Math.” The teacher then sends a picture of the board, which does show the Vocabulary assignment. So I show Zoey and she rolls her eyes and says “today is the first day she’s ever done that.”
Anyway, I shared this story to say we all played parts in the madness. If the teacher’s expectation is that parents make sure their children are doing their homework, then we need to know specifically what the homework is so that we can check it. But as a parent, and even Zoey, when we weren’t clear about what the assignment was I should have reached out to the teacher. But because I waited until the teacher reached out, now I’m responding in defense mode when in reality I should have reached out first. When situations arise, we as parents have to also hold ourselves accountable in the situation. Is there something that we could have done, or done differently so that we didn’t end up here?
I hope you enjoyed this read and it was of some use to you. Please share your thoughts in the comments. :)