TALK TO THE TEACHER FIRST

11/1/97

 
If someone were dissatisfied with a service that you had performed for them, wouldn't you want to know about it before they took their complaint to your boss?

Fair-minded people expect the courtesy of the opportunity to explain their actions or of correcting some error they may have made. Yet, too often this is not the case in our school district. And, because it is not routine to have parents to speak to the teacher first, parents and staff often do not enjoy a relationship of trust and respect they both deserve. In fact, sorry to say, a perception exists in the minds of too many teachers and parents that they are on opposite sides with the result that we often cannot do what is best for children but instead resort to playing the blame game.

In twenty some odd years of union work, I have found that much more often than not, a parental complaint brought to the attention of a child's teacher in a polite and courteous manner yields a solution that accommodates the needs of the teacher, parent and child. I have also found that the most difficult problems to resolve are those that from their inception are taken to the highest levels of governance in the district, often to people who know little or nothing about the teacher or the student in question.

I have often asked parents who have taken complaints directly to the superintendent or even a member of the Board of Education why they didn't speak to the teacher first. The most common answer I have gotten is as disturbing as it is, I believe, disingenuous. "I was afraid that if I went to the teacher s/he would take it out on my child."

Let me state categorically, in the almost 29 years I have worked in our district, I have never, yes, never, seen a colleague attempt to get even with a student because of a disagreement with a child's parent. The men and women that teach the children of this community are fine, professional people. I will never say that they do not occasionally make mistakes, but they do not punish their students for them. Whenever I have challenged someone to produce one instance over the history of the district of such behavior, my challenge has been unmet.

Therefore, I suspect that the reason some members of the community take their complaints right to the top has more to with a desire to get what they want when they want it than it has to do with the willingness of the staff to entertain serious complaints. Left out of the calculations of such individuals is the bad lessons they teach their children and the damage they do to the parent teacher relationship.

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