'A teacher’s son, (a pupil in her own class) had a good answer for his friend when asked what his mother did when it came to the Parent Teacher meeting? “Oh," he replied, "she just talks to herself.”
Teachers who have their own children attending the school in which they teach are often faced with the question: Is it good for a child’s educational development to have a parent as a classroom teacher? Those who are parents say that 'parent mode' is simply impossible switch off.
The ‘parent-teacher mode’ therefore raises many questions as to how the two ‘modes’ can create friction if they are not properly managed.
The parent 'hat' comes before the teaching one and when wearing both, we can imagine how it take precedence. We know teachers who purposefully opt to send their children to a different school to the one they teach in, while others prefer to have their own child at school with them and even in their own class. In this scenario, with the teacher also being parent to one individual (or more), the whole dynamic in the classroom changes for everyone in such a learning environment.
Margaret (now retired) taught two of her children at Grade 3 in her early teaching years in Primary school. She saw both the positives and negatives both for herself and her son. Her overall conclusion was that the child-parent dynamic didn’t impinge upon her obligation to treat all her pupils equally. If anything, she thought “I was probably a little too hard on Joe because I would never have wanted his class mates to think he was getting special attention.”
Teachers are always highly aware of the term 'favouritism,’ and how children may perceive their actions towards others in a classroom environment. This was especially a concern around times of assessment where the Teacher ww responsible for marking their own child’s work.
There were other issues too such as the bonding and being present to her child every day both in and out of school. This meant that the relationship didn’t have the necessary space that we all need and so required management and awareness.
“Then there is the issue of other members of staff who mistakenly believe that I want to know about every little minor mishap or playground issue that Joe was involved in. I was always thankful in a way for their concern but inside felt a little embarrassed or restricting. The freedom to develop and make small mistakes along the way is a normal part of life and micro details are things I didn’t really need to know.”
There is clearly a complication here, as when once something is known, teachers must be careful in dealing with their own children in the school context. One must consider the standpoint of the pupil who may sense that he/she is being treated differently to the other class members. Assessing the gravity of any such situation is crucial in determining the extent to which a parent/teacher gets involved. If a situation warranted external home contact ordinarily, then the same benchmark should apply for all students and home is the place where key issues should be discussed and dealt with.
As alluded to at the outset, Parent/Teacher meetings also present their own dilemmas. If the child is in the teacher’s own class, then knowledge is already intuitive. When it means meeting with another school teacher who is in effect a staff colleague, things can get awkward. Margaret noticed that teachers differed in how they communicated with her about Joe. “There were two angles to this. Firstly, from the teacher’s perspective where explanations for poor behaviour or lack of progress were sometimes qualified for fear of talking ‘straight.’ Secondly, there was the slight awkwardness of me as a professional listening to another teacher elaborate on my child whom I knew through and through.”
“Another difficult to manage and ongoing scenario is that of having to deal with the parents of children who are Joe’s friends.” Saturday football, birthday parties and choir practices all mean that I meet other parents who quite often think I will share school information casually.”
The normal inquisitiveness levels in parents are maybe not intended to be intrusive and arise out of natural conversation, but the confidentiality of what goes on in school is always paramount. All school issues are raised and dealt with officially by the school. Relationships can be compromised when a teacher refuses to become involved in casual chat about who will be teaching next year’s grade 5 class or why Miss Jones has been absent due to stress.
The consequence here is that friendships with other parents are always tempered by loyalty to work colleagues and the whole school community.
“You can imagine spending time with other staff members outside school. I was conscious that Joe would have been used to seeing Miss Jones in our home and I had to be careful about a growing familiarity. He may have thought he had an advantage in the relationship which was different to that of his peers.”
When managed well, there are more positives than negatives in having one’s children attend the school where you teach.
You can see them grow and interact with their friends on a daily basis, learn about how their interests develop and enjoy the fun that comes with the small comments that give rise to laughter and discussion. This is something that parents never get a chance to experience and while the teacher/parent is privy to whether their little Johnny has made the football or quiz team, they soon learn how to disguise their inner knowledge so as to preserve the surprise element that children so dearly love.
In essence, everything is about balance and allowing your children’s freedom to express themselves while making sure that they are well integrated into school life.
It should be said that sometimes there is the fear that the ‘teacher’s pet’ tag will be automatically assigned. Margaret saw the importance of grouping children for their lessons in a varied as opposed to a same pattern each day. “Children of teachers in their school can suffer from hidden jibes on a more regular basis than others. At worst this can take the form of subtle bullying or attempts to isolate but with heightened awareness, the parent teacher and other staff can prevent such unhealthy forms of discriminating from taking hold. It was good practice to make sure that Joe was learning in class activities by being part of different groups rather than just his class. Finding acceptance as ‘just another child’ in the class thankfully became the norm.”
When speaking to Joe, (Margaret’s son) about the same topic, he outlined the advantages and disadvantages as he saw them from the pupil perspective:
My mom drove to school, so we didn't have to take the bus
Everybody knew me, the principal, teaching staff and canteen staff.
Some of the teachers were kind to me but that meant too that other boys teased me on noticing this.
My classmates pestered me for information like when were the holidays and who the football coach would be.
I occasionally got some cakes and buns left over from staff parties and the likes.
I felt that I was always being watched from how my uniform looked, the friends I hung about with and whether I was working well in class.
I got more ‘talks’ I suspect than other pupils did on ‘keeping the head down and doing my work.’
I was never able to bunk classes, arrive late or slip off early.
My mother had access to and so always knew my exam results before they were formally issued.
All in all, it is a good experience that benefited me greatly.