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Parents Versus Teachers

( Originally Published 1916 )



EVERY thinking person takes it for granted that parents and teachers are both necessary for the proper bringing up of children. We take it for granted that both parents and teachers are to a large extent concerned with nearly identical ends in the training of children. Yet everywhere we find these two classes working at cross-purposes, as though each were doing his best to counteract the efforts of the other. Why does this conflict exist at all; and especially why does it exist today, when on every hand we hear of the value and importance of cooperation?

It should, of course, be a part of our deliberate purpose to cooperate systematically with those who have our children in their charge so much of the day. If we find—as we are likely to find on a short investigation—that most teachers are ignorant regarding the home conditions of their pupils, we can readily under-stand the reason. The teachers have had neither the time nor the occasion to become acquainted with the homes. Nor are they likely, for many years to come, to get the time and the opportunity. But when the parents are ignorant of the conditions in the school, the remedy lies nearer to hand. It is true that in many families both parents are so engrossed with their daily tasks that visiting school is a great hardship, not to say an impossibility. But many homes are probably so situated that one of the parents can manage to visit the school and become acquainted with its problem—so far as his own children are concerned—a few times a year.

Aside from the mutual ignorance, there are several positive conditions that make teachers and parents work at odds. The first of these is that at home the child is an individual, whereas in school he is one of a group. This difference is an important one, and one that often gives rise to misunderstandings. Parents find it particularly difficult to understand why the teacher should complain of the conduct of their children, when their children are so good at home. They do not see that a child surrounded by his classmates will react in a manner decidedly different from that which he exhibits when alone with his parents or other members of the family. Moreover, some of the very " nicest " children can make intolerable nuisances of themselves in a class, since they demand the same attention and coddling from their teachers that they are accustomed to receive at home—and the teacher simply cannot give each child so much individual attention. This is merely a matter of arithmetic, not to consider the other factors.

On the other hand, many a child finds it easier to adjust himself to the group and the routine of the school than to the indefiniteness and irregularities of the home. Then the mother is glad enough to come to the school and ask " Whatever shall I do with Tommy at home? He gets such nice reports, but at home I can't do anything with him." And very likely the school will not be able to tell her.

Another obstacle to complete cooperation is the lack of candor on the part of parents. Perhaps it is the maternal instinct that makes the mother say " I don't see how he ever came to do such a thing. This is the first time that any teacher has ever complained about my Robert." Robert's mother does not realize that teachers compare notes and that the modern school has a way of knowing what that boy did out of the ordinary from the time he entered the primary class, or she would not make herself ridiculous by pretending to believe that an angel had fallen.

Robert never was an angel, no matter what his mother may say ; and he has not fallen—that is, not very far—no matter what his' teacher may say. He is just an ordinary boy and normal probably in pro-portion to his health. He has violated the more or less arbitrary rules of the school and his own best conscience on several previous occasions, and he will no doubt do so several times more before he " goes out into the world." It would therefore be greatly to Robert's advantage if his mother and his teacher understood each other. In most cases the teachers are willing to do their share, but " maternal instinct " is a serious obstacle. When a girl in one of our large schools absented herself without leave (yes, even girls can " play hookey ") the parent was called upon for an explanation. Instead of meeting the situation frankly, she thought she was saving the honor of the family and preventing " trouble " for her daughter by writing that she " knew of Madeline's absence, and that it was all right." But she did not deceive the school authorities, and she neither helped her daughter nor her reputation. When parents will conspire with their children to deceive the teachers, cooperation is impossible.

The attitude of parents toward the work of the school often makes or breaks a child's school career. When Annie has difficulty with her lessons, it is natural for the parents to wish to assist her. But excepting very rare cases, the " help " is likely to consist of a substitution of parent's work for child's work—and that is worse than no help at all. The reason for this is that most parents are not trained in using the methods that will assist a child in acquiring a principle, although they can easily help the child to get a desired solution of a problem or an " answer." Some private schools which are in a position to make their own rules, and to enforce them, prohibit absolutely the giving of aid to their pupils by anyone other than their own teachers. Nevertheless, parents can help by discussing problems with their children, and by adopting an attitude that makes the school work seem worth while, and by providing conditions suitable for work at home.

It is difficult enough in ordinary affairs to see facts clearly and to report them accurately. How is a parent, with a natural prejudice in the favor of her children, and an equally natural resentment against attention being called to any faults, to deal with the teacher without exaggeration one way or the other? It is only by constantly studying our children that we come to know them well enough to be able to cooperate with their teachers intelligently and effectively. We may never learn to know ourselves, having started the study late; we must at least try to know our children.



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