Understanding the School

Understanding your child's school — the teacher, the administration and staff, and the school's philosophy — is key to strategizing effective interactions and working with them on a variety of factors that may affect your child at school. The best way to work with the school is to appreciate the unique situation of each individual, and to treat them with respect and kindness.

The Teacher

It's no secret that teachers in most public schools, and many private schools as well, are overwhelmed and overworked just trying to meet the requirements of the curriculum with a growing number of students per class. You can see how dealing with behavioral issues can seem to some teachers a disruptive annoyance that is not the first item on their priority list. As long as the teacher has not been cruel, or has not singled your child out for some kind of punitive treatment, he is probably just trying to do the best he can to teach the content with the time and resources he has.

The Administration and Staff

Administration and staff can be a wonderful resource for parents who treat them as individual human beings instead of an impenetrable, depersonalized system. This can be tricky because that's often how the “behind the scenes” personnel appear to a parent who can't get what he wants and then wonders where all his tax dollars are going. It's important to understand that these people are also overworked and underpaid, and are in education because they care, not because they wanted to get rich. Administration and staff must operate under regulations set up by a school district or state law.

The School Philosophy

Every school (and school district) philosophy is different. Some schools are traditional with an emphasis on order, authority, and the three R's, while other schools operate with a newer philosophy that favors differentiated learning and pays close attention to interpersonal relationships. A balance of the two ideologies — one in which people's differences are celebrated and emotional connections are made, but in which learning is still the top priority — is ideal.

Alert

Still other school districts' philosophies are built around achieving high scores on standardized testing; high scores may be a way of advertising the school and nearby real estate. Testing is required, but if prep time seems excessive, compare it to other districts to see if it's normal.

Also, school districts take many of their mandates from a school board, a panel elected by local citizens. Remember that these elected officials are your representatives, and part of their job is to field parent concerns and work directly with the superintendent to form new regulations. In some cities, board members are paid a small stipend; others receive no pay. In some cities, board members run unopposed because few people are interested in the job; in others, elections are hotly contested. No matter what the situation, you have a voice with school board members, but, as with teachers, administration, and staff, there are more and less effective ways to get what you want.

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