It’s PTA time again. That means lots of studying for kids, test grading for teachers, and standing in line for parents. It also means lots of opportunities, as the adults in a child’s life get together on his or her behalf. There’s much more than sore feet on the line at the three-minute conference. PTA can be a catalyst for tremendous growth, if parents and teachers work together.
Ideally, parents should have some clue about what is going on in the classroom, way before the PTA meeting. Test grades, satisfaction levels, and children’s stories and attitudes speak very loudly. So do teachers’ communications – in the form of notes or the all-important phone calls some teachers make to parents, early in the school year.
Still, the Parent-Teachers conference, and the accompanying report card, put a stamp of authority on the facts.
There is much a parent can do to maximize the opportunities presented at the conference.
The Goal – Your Child’s Success
Parents and teachers may sit on opposite sides of the desk – but they must be on the same page. The goal of the meeting is to bring out the best in your child. That means that everything said at the meeting must be consistent with that goal.
If the teacher gives you a raving report, and thinks your child is the next gadol hador, it’s easy. Your job is to reap the nachas and repeat it to your child, to build his or her self-esteem. It’s also easy to throw in a compliment to the teacher – why not, for a person who thinks so highly of your child?
The challenge is more daunting when the teacher brings up an issue that needs improvement. Many parents instinctively get on the defensive, and even finger-point, blaming the teacher, her methods, or her classmates.
“My daughter is doing very well in English. It’s only in your class that she’s getting below 90%”
“Pinchos is an angel at home. I can’t believe that he is chutzpadik. Maybe you’re just not controlling the class.”
“You say Malky needs to be nicer to the girls? But they’re not nice to her. This is a terrible class.”
Of course, some complaints are legitimate, and should be aired. It is only a question of how to go about it.
Parents who are focused on their children will be solution oriented, rather than accusatory. They will work with the teacher to come up with ways to improve their child’s marks, behavior, or social skills.
Such parents will communicate effectively. They may use “I” messages, or other non-confrontational techniques, to bring across a point. They will also take the teacher’s comment a step farther, and look for a solution. A parent might say,
“I’m concerned about my daughter. She’s not doing well in your class. Is it possible that the level is too high for her?” What do you suggest we do to help her? [A change of seat, a tutor, a modified program or test, etc.]”
“I’m very surprised to hear that Pinchos is chutzpadik. There is never an excuse for poor middos. I will [speak to him, consult with an expert, etc.] and let him know that I expect him to speak with derech eretz.”
“I’m a little shocked to hear that Malky is not friendly, but thank you for bringing that up. It could be that someone is bothering her, but I’m going to keep an eye out for it at home. I may look into getting her help with social skills.”
The question parents really have to ask themselves is, “What are my accusations doing for my child?” Chances are that they are doing more harm than good. Teachers are, after all, human. They do not think well of people who accuse them, shout at them, or blame all of their child’s problems on them. And altruistic as they may be, teachers are far more inclined to help a child when they feel that the parent is working along with them.
Parents should also consider that the way they present their complaints says a lot about them. A parent who treats a teacher with disrespect may give credence to the argument that their child is disrespectful. The teacher will think, “like mother like daughter,” or “no wonder he speaks that way. That’s what he hears at home.”
So maintain your focus on the child – your precious gem, who may, in fact, need some polishing. And remember to compliment the teacher. Find something to compliment. Even if your child is not having a good experience, there is always something – a beautiful Shabbos story, interesting stencils, a fun game – and when you say something positive to the teacher, it can only work in your child’s favor.
On The Mark On Academic Performance
School is often geared to the average student. That means trouble for both the below average and the gifted student. The below-average student may be floundering; as he or she tries to keep up in a setting that grows ever more complicated. Such a child is at risk of losing self-esteem, and feeling hopeless and frustrated.
At the other end of the spectrum, the gifted child may be just as frustrated. Such a child is often more neglected than the child who is not keeping up. Bored and under stimulated, he or she may act out, or even tune out.
PTA can be a boon to both below average and above average students – if their parents take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Parents can work with the teacher to create a modified program for the below-average student, or an enrichment program for the gifted student.
“I had a student who was totally lost in Chumash.” says one teacher. “She didn’t know a thing. At PTA, we worked out a plan that she would study one pasuka day. The change was unbelievable. She knew ‘her’ pasuk perfectly. Her self-esteem went up tremendously, and as the year progressed, she began to study more pesukim. The year that began so miserably ended up being a tremendous success.”
It’s Not Just Marks
School is not just a place of learning; it is also a social setting. The classroom is, in fact, a social microcosm of the world. Children can be bullied, excluded, or ignored – all with devastating consequences. This occurs in both yeshivas and girls’ schools, at every grade level. One high school girl told me that she spends every recess in the bathroom, so that her classmates wouldn’t notice that she doesn’t have a single friend.
The PTA conference presents parents with an opportunity to intervene on behalf of their socially hampered children, by letting the teacher know about the situation. If the teacher is aware, she can help the situation – by staying in the classroom over recess, changing seats, or providing students with opportunities to work together.
She might also observe the child objectively, and let the parent know if she believes that professional intervention is necessary.
An Opportunity To Share Information
The PTA conference presents parents with an opportunity to share important information. As a Very Important Person in a child’s life, a teacher should be told anything that might help him or her relate to the child. A sibling’s wedding, a death in the family, or an impending move, all can influence your child’s routine and behavior. So can the fact that she has a lot of responsibility at home, or that he suffers from low self-esteem.
Although it may be uncomfortable and awkward for both the parent and the teacher to discuss certain sensitive issues, such as sickness or divorce, a parent who overcomes this discomfort does the child a great service.
Medical conditions should be brought to the teacher’s attention way before PTA. But if you somehow neglected this very important issue, now is the time. If the problem is not life threatening, some parents prefer to wait a month or two before informing the teacher, so that the teacher can get to know their child before labeling the student as “the one with the problem.” But in the case of conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or severe allergies, information can save a child’s life.
Give the teacher emergency medications, such as Benadryl and an EpiPen, as well as a briefing on emergency first aid. At the same time, make sure to reassure the teacher that the child is otherwise perfectly fine and normal, and should be treated like everyone else in the class.
Positive information should also be shared. If your child has a talent or special aptitude in a particular subject, tell the rebbe or teacher. Such talents include art, singing, drama, story telling, or leadership qualities. The information can help the teacher give your child opportunities to shine.
PTA – A Means; Not An End
The PTA conference is just one step in a parent’s partnership with the teacher. And the parent-teacher partnership is crucial to a child’s success. A United States Department of Education survey determined that the amount and degree of parental involvement is the most influential factor in determining success in school. That involvement may begin at the PTA conference – but it must continue on throughout the year.
“Involvement” must also include commitment. Did the teacher suggest help in academic or social skills? Did the rebbe say that your son is tired in class? Did the teacher suggest buying flash cards, a Chumash with translation, or a pencil grip? Demonstrate your commitment by taking action immediately.
When you act quickly on the suggestions made, you demonstrate to the teacher and to your child that you are seriously committed to your child’s success.
Ultimately, parents’ attitude and level of commitment to their child’s success, determines the outcome, not only of the PTA conference, but also of the entire school experience.
Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, S.O.S. (Strategies for Optimum Success), servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. She is a well-known and highly regarded educator, having served the community for close to 30 years. As a kriyah and reading specialist, she has successfully set up reading labs in many schools and yeshivas. In addition to her diversified teaching career she offers teacher training and educational consulting services. She has extensive expertise in the field of social skills training and focuses on working with the whole child. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 (KIDS).Rifka Schonfeld