As a K-12 educator, I have fielded numerous questions and engaged in conversations with parents about their experiences with teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other school personnel including dean, counselors, custodial and cafeteria staff. Most of the experiences and interactions with schools which parents discussed with me were pleasant and not a surprise to me. Many parents of our Nigerian students currently at middle and high school, attended secondary schools in Nigeria and have succeeded in instilling in their children their expectation of excellent conduct and behavior on school grounds.
As first or second-generation Nigerian-Americans, we teach our K -12 students to view school personnel as role models whose actions are mostly prudent and conscientious because they have the best interest of our children at heart. Additionally, we expect our children to not only obey their teachers, but also adore them. These are the values our parents taught us. I would argue that our parents were right because most of us acquired great knowledge during the formative stage of our educational career. One could equally argue that it was such a solid foundation at K-12 that led to our success at the tertiary institutions here in the US. Nigerians remain one of the most educated group of immigrants in the USA.
The focus of my message is to address the actions of a few Nigerian parents who have engaged the school officials in an adversarial manner for a variety of reasons which might not necessarily be their fault. However, they applied a faulty approach while dealing with the situation. I have had a good number of conversations with parents whose initial approach with their children or wards escalated a simple situation that could have been handled with more tact, professionalism, and respect for all parties involved.
A universal proverb states, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
The literal translation means that it is easier to persuade others with polite requests and a positive attitude than with rude demands and negativity.
The Igbos in southeast Nigeria have a similar saying: “Ile oma ka ejune ji aga n’ogwu.”
The English translation is: “A snail uses extreme caution and care to move through a thorny surface.” Anyone familiar with the fragility of the feet of a snail could relate to the reason why it exercises such caution.
Other derivations of the same thought in Igbo and English include the following: “Okwu oma na-eweda onuma” Translated to mean “Being civil in language dilutes anger.”
Those in customer service would readily tell you that polite language is a linguistic master key to enter the heart of people. It is also true that language courtesy is a social hammer that can melt down the steel-barricaded heart of any person.
My advice to parents of K-12 school age is to view school and its personnel as your ally. I encourage you to strive to maintain a good relationship with your child’s school because most teachers and administrators consider themselves as parents away from home. The mindset is that when your children leave home to their schools, the school personnel temporarily “adopt” them as their own children and do their best to educate and protect them with the goal of ensuring that they learn something of value in terms of academics and good conduct each school day.
About the Author:
Dr. Chris Ikeanyi is a career educator and a District level School Support Administrator, who rose through the ranks as a high school and middle school teacher, assistant principal, and principal to his current position.
As a matter of fact, teachers and school administrators including most certificated personnel have a statutory obligation according to the California Education Code to always protect their students. As legal occupants at schools, the school personnel owe their students duty of care as mandated by law.
Parents must strive to work collaboratively and collegially with school personnel to resolve any situation, including disciplinary or instructional concerns, amicably. This is essential because it actual takes three – the parent, the school, and the child – working synergistically to educate a child. When parents and school personnel work in unity toward the education of children, the benefits are enormous, including the following:
– Improved student achievement as both parties will be involved in monitoring and guiding the student.
– Improved relationship as both parties see each other as an extension the other.
– Improved ownership of student learning because parents will see themselves as viable stakeholders who will likely be inclined to support the school in many ways.
– Lifelong relationship because the parents will continue to count on the school for other assistance including letters of reference for their children who would like to return to their alma mater to help.
Sometimes, the relationship between a parent and a school might sour due to limited (or outright lack of) knowledge by a parent on how to engage school personnel in resolving certain issues. The following approach, depending on the exact circumstances, might help:
1. Disciplinary Concern:
a. As a parent, if you have a concern with the discipline of your child by a school personnel, be sure to hear both sides of the story – from your child and the school – before reaching any conclusion.
b. Be civil and gentle in your communication with school personnel. Words have meaning and written communications have a long shelf-life and will be used as a reference, as needed.
c. Request for a meeting with the teacher, dean, and/or principal to discuss any issues of concern. Meeting in person or via Zoom offers a more personal touch and better opportunity to get the more information, than emails or text messages.
d. During a meeting with school personnel, maintain an open mind; present and conduct yourself as someone who is seeking a solution to issues of mutual concern, not as someone who has made up his/her mind or bracing for a fight.
For example, if your child is given a class or school detention/suspension and you are convinced that he deserves it for breaking the rules which you are aware of, you can ask for an alternative punishment by requesting a homework assignment that allows the student to acquire some knowledge while serving the punishment. Most teachers will agree with you that it is more prudent for a student who ditched a class to be punished with a make-up classwork instead of been rewarded with a suspension from class or school which would cause the student to miss more instructional time and fall further behind. It is all about having a civil conversation with another adult, in this case, the school personnel, about how to help a child succeed.
Another example: If a teacher is concerned that your child talks too much during class time, ask the teacher to recommend a replacement behavior or you can suggest one. It is not just enough to give a long list of what students should not be doing in class; in addition to that, a teacher or parents should recommend some actions to replace the unwanted conduct. We know that parents being their children’s first teachers, usually know their children better than anyone else and can offer greater insights on how to work with them.
e. Be proactive in contacting your child’s teacher or teachers to inquire about their academics and conduct in class and school in general. Teachers and school personnel have great respect for parents who are proactive and responsive to teacher’s and school’s needs by returning paperwork, emails, phone calls and text messages on time.
f. Participate actively in your child’s school by requesting to visit classrooms to observe for a few minutes, attending Back to School Night, Open House, and other school events.
2. Instructional Concern:
a. One major area where parents and school personnel usually clash is class assignment. This issue is more prevalent at the elementary level, where parents have the wrong impression that they can request any teacher they like for their children. It is more common when parents have a child who was taught by their favorite teacher and as a result, want their children’s siblings to have the same teacher. While it is commendable for a parent to look out for the best interest of their children, it is not within a parent’s right to choose his or her child’s teacher. School districts have guidelines for class assignment for students and principals are required to follow those guidelines. Those guidelines and criteria are carefully crafted to maximize the learning opportunities of all students by matching them with teachers who possess the requisite skill sets to meet their needs.
While it may be permissible for parents to request a teacher, it is mostly a privilege, not a right, if it is granted. The privilege is usually extended to parents who have good relationship with their teachers and schools. It is not driven by race as some people might believe. Personally, I always believe that great relationships will always eat racism for lunch anytime.
b. Another area of instructional concern is with grades earned in various subjects. Students earn their grades by hard work and tangible proof, or evidence of work done in class and submitted on time. While regular attendance is important and may attract some points, the larger portion of points that count for most of the grades earned, are based on the academic work submitted for the class.
No student earns a good grade by simply sitting down and watching TikTok in his phone or chit-chatting with hommies.
According to California Education Code, a teacher has an absolute right to assign any grade he/she believes that a student has earned in the class or course. The principal or school administrator does not have any right to override a teacher’s grade. However, a parent can challenge his child’s grade by requesting evidence from a teacher on which a student’s grade was based on. This will include the teacher showing his grading rubric, record of submitted assignments and grades earned on each, the due dates for each assignment as well as the student attendance record.
I will conclude by reminding parents about the importance of cultivating positive relationship with their children’s teachers and schools. Majority of the teachers are also parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts and have children in schools and consequently can relate to children as parents and that is why they consider themselves as “parents away from their homes.”
Additionally, our children are great kids and mostly well-behaved. However, they also tell the same little lies they tell you at home, to their teachers. At home, they would tell us that they do not have any homework on a given day until you check their backpack to discover that there is homework. Then, when they get to school without completing their homework, they would tell their teacher that mom was either too busy to help them with homework or took them to a movie. None of them is true – little Johnny simply wants to stay home and chill. We all did the same thing back in our days. One simple lie does not make Johnny a liar; you should be worried when the lies or bad behaviors become habitual.
The bottom line is that polite, respectful, and gentle approach to issues enhance one’s chances of navigating even through the most difficult and dangerous situations.
Let’ strive to maintain a good relationship with our children’s teachers and school personnel because there is much to gain than lose in knowing that you can count on your child’s teacher/school as a reliable partner in doing the hardest job on earth – parenting!