Pop Quiz : Wait Til My Folks Hear About You
I’m quite aware that many of my Pop Quiz posts have been about the various differences between my own country’s education system and that of the USA. One day I’ll probably find the courage to branch out and write about something else, but today I’d like to discuss a difference in teachers’ day-to-day lives that really struck me when I visited my friend’s school in the USA: the issue of parental contact.
In my school, and indeed in most of Scottish state education, parents and classroom teachers are not generally in direct contact throughout the year. Parents aren’t allowed to email me or telephone me directly if they have a question or a problem, and I’m not allowed to contact them directly either. All teacher-parent contact goes through the Head of Department. If a parent wants to complain about me, they call or email my boss and they relay the message to me. Likewise, any letters of concern or praise that I wish to send go through the same person.
I’m fully used to this system and so I was surprised when I visited my friend’s school in the USA and saw that parents could email teachers directly and that they were given the telephone extensions for teachers’ individual classrooms. My gut reaction to this was one of horror, accustomed as I was to my own system. The idea of parents being able to directly contact me whenever they felt like it seemed intrusive and unpleasant. However, the more I thought about this system and my own, and the longer I worked in teaching, the more my views changed.
I think my initial surprise and trepidation came partly from unfamiliarity and partly from lack of experience. Now that I’ve been teaching for several years, I’ve come across many situations (positive and negative) where it would have been really useful to have been able to get in touch with a parent directly. Sure, our system keeps us “insulated” from the types of parents who we might not with to deal with, but it also keeps an artificial and not entirely helpful barrier between us and all parents.
We do have one point of direct parental contact; each year, each one of our classes has a Parents’ Evening where we take appointments and meet with parents to discuss pupil progress. Because this is the one and only direct point of contact between teacher and parent, these evenings can sometimes be a little fraught. It’s never happened to me thankfully, but I’ve been aware of several colleagues who have had unpleasant and even aggressive experiences at these evenings, possibly due to the fact that it was the only time both parties were in direct contact. On the other side, appointments often run massively over their allocated times because teachers and parents get caught up chatting about all the little things that they’ve been unable to discuss all year.
I’d be really interested to hear your views about either of these systems of parental contact, and to hear about other systems from other places.
What do you think of my “no contact” system? What about the system that my American friends were used to, with unrestrained contact? If you’re a parent, do you have any positive or negative experiences of teacher contact? What about those of you who are teachers?
The Pop Quiz is a question for you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at 3pm ET.
Featured Image: Dave Dougdale