Parents, consider this before you complain: Plea from a former teacher

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

It's a new school year and you, like me, may be having some doubts about your child's new teacher. Before you take action I encourage you to pause and consider.

I left teaching three years ago, demoralised and on the brink of a breakdown. After a decade in the high school English classroom, my spirit had been crushed.

Tail between legs, I moved on to a part-time role in Student Welfare at a university and struck upon the Holy Grail: work-life balance.

After my first week, I called a teacher friend to say: "You're not going to believe this. Today I finished everything on my list! Everything! And had time for a leisurely lunch, a cup of coffee AND tea. And toilet breaks!" She didn't believe it.

Teachers don't ever finish everything on their list and they often don't get a break.

Sure, they may not be on class all day, in front of thirty kids. But if they're not in front of a class, they're prepping lessons; marking; administering behaviour management; taking on a pseudo counsellor role; doing a little IT; plodding through the endless paperwork involved in any excursion; contacting caregivers; differentiating work; updating a classroom display; getting roped into extra curricula activities; taking PD courses to become more 'innovative'; or sitting in meetings. There are a lot of meetings.

But although I knew from experience that teachers have an unbelievable workload, I seemed to forget this when my son started school.  I found myself becoming one of those parents. Overly critical. Thinking I was an expert in primary education. Thinking my child should be everyone's number one priority.

It started with me volunteering to change the home readers. This turned into a way to monitor how my child was faring compared to his peers. Which in turn led to a group of mothers pitting our children against each other. I started pressuring the teacher to move Ned up the levels more quickly and taking extra readers home in the hope of giving Ned an edge. Home reading became a punishing regimen that I administered each evening, squawking at Ned to "try harder" and "concentrate".

As you've probably guessed, Ned started to hate reading.

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I'm glad to say that this episode didn't last too long. Luckily Ned had a pretty firm teacher, well able to manage a group of bat-s**t crazy parents. And I found a life.

There have been some other incidents since then, but something has shifted, or was stopped before it could really get momentum. Because I've realised a few things.

My son loves his school. The teachers all seem happy and to operate as a team. The environment is light-filled, welcoming and upbeat. There is so much more to appreciate than to criticise. So I hold my tongue.

And after reading Gabbie Stroud's Dear Parents instead of just holding my tongue, I've decided to start giving some positive feedback.

Today was the swimming carnival. Standing in the glorious sun, chatting to another mum, free from responsibility for the rainbow snake of children moving up to the bleachers, I was reminded of two incidents from Dear Parents.

Firstly, I was reminded of Stroud's description of saving a Year 6 boy from drowning. As Stroud sat dripping wet, with the boy holding back tears on her lap, through her head was drumming the refrain: "my job, my job, my job". As in: it was her job to keep the children safe. This ultimately pips the job of making sure my son is happy 24/7.

Secondly, I was reminded of the young teacher Bec, a new grad in a temp role, lumped with the least-favoured swimming carnival position: crowd control. Midway through the day, Bec was offered a chair and gratefully sat down to eat her lunch. She was still very much monitoring the children, just not in an upright position.

A father whose son had missed his race, marched up and abused her saying "You need to get off your arse and do something. You're bloodly useless." Bec did tearfully "get of her arse" and organised for the son (a below average swimmer) to compete in the next race. Later, Bec was told off by the principal for sitting down.

So today, when my son looked very much like he was about to miss his race, instead of attacking any of the teachers, I went and gave him and his little mates a prod in the right direction. And mid-way through the morning, I offered to take over a teacher's time-keeping duties so that she could go and get a drink and a bite to eat.

After the carnival, I went onto the school's Facebook page and posted a thank you message to the teachers.

I've realised it's really not Us v Them. It's just Us. Together we can bring about the best results for our children.