PART 1: I UNDERSTAND YOUR FRUSTRATIONS
One of the most common concerns that parents relay to me, is that they are unhappy with the way their child is treated at school. Not just by the other kids either, but frequently want to know the best way to go about making complaints about teachers.
“The teacher should be doing more for my child”, “It’s like we’re just another number and they don’t really care about us” as well as “I’ve tried voicing my concerns to the school but they don’t listen.” These are among the most common words I hear from frustrated parents, usually accompanied with an overall feeling of powerlessness and that it’s just “not fair.”
If these concerns are ones shared by yourself, then firstly – yes, you are very much justified in feeling this way. The way you and your child are treated by their school will have a huge impact on your son or daughter’s childhood and therefore the way the rest of their life is shaped. This means that being on the receiving end of unfavourable treatment by your child’s school is very much something worth being concerned about. In fact, I’d be more concerned by parents who just don’t care.
Fortunately for your child however, the fact that you have read this far means that, you do care, and are right to do so. The good news is that there is a solution to these problems you may wish to consider before making complaint against teacher or school. The great news is that if you read the following carefully, you’ll know what it is and how to use it to your child’s advantage.
PART 2: HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT FROM THE SCHOOL
In an ideal world, all students are treated equally; there are no ‘favourites’ and no one slips through the cracks simply because their teachers don’t like them as much. In an ideal world, teachers are not human beings, and therefore teacher complaints would not exist. Well, they are human beings, but only have the good aspects that humans have such as being caring, nurturing and compassionate – none of the bad aspects that teachers have such as apathy or personal bias. Unfortunately however, personal bias is part of being human, and yes; teachers are humans too.
Yes, it’s not fair, but neither is the world. You know that. Now keeping that in mind, consider this: the reality is that your child can either be in their teachers good books, or not. Which would you prefer?
The Opposite of Instinct
When an animal is hurt or feeling threatened, it’s instinct is to bight, scratch or run away – even from the person trying to help it. Likewise when we’re feeling ‘hard done by’ the same instinct tells us to get defensive, complain, argue and assert our authority over the person causing us to feel that way.
The problem with these instincts is that sometimes, natures defence mechanisms will only sabotage us.
If you want to know where I’m going here, consider this: think of the last time someone complained about you. If you were doing the best you could do, then it probably just made you resent that person. If you were in fact doing a slack job, then it probably just made you feel defensive – after all, no one wants their flaws to be brought to their attention.
Ask someone in the hospitality industry what happens when you complain about your food. The waiter might bring you out a freshly cooked meal with an apologetic smile, neglecting to tell you about the fresh glob of spit the cook added as a personal touch.
Lodging a teacher complaint will, at best, result in those people giving you the impression (to your face) that they are doing more to care about you. At the other end of the scale, it could make the situation much worse.
But if I don’t complain, what else can I do?
The reality (however harsh) is that you can either chose to complain and have your child’s teacher hold a bias against your child, or you can instead choose to do the opposite. Again, if your instinct to this last sentence is to scream out “but it’s not fair that my child should be unfavourably affected by the bias of unfair teachers or incompetent teachers” then, my suggestion is, write a letter to Santa to complain. At least he won’t spit in your soup. Now back to the real world…
“Right, so you’re saying the trick then is to suck up to the principle and teachers then?” I sense you asking. No, that doesn’t work either. Flattery certainly works better than complaints and aggression. Using flattery, suck ups and brown nosing to draw favourable attention towards your child’s needs are like using a sling shot however, when a cannon is readily available. You just need to know how to load it.
PART 3: READJUST YOUR FOCUS
In the opening of this article, did it feel like I understood your situation? Did it appeal to you, because a little buzzer lit up in your brain flashing “ah… yes! This person understands where I’m coming from – they must be on my side!” If so, then I was successful in establishing a rapport with you. I needed to do that, because some of the things I was going to tell you in the following paragraphs about the harshness of reality were perhaps things that you may have otherwise felt a bit defensive about. In order to ‘warm you up’ enough so that you were likely to take that harshness with a more open mind, I first needed to relax the critical factor of your mind, by establishing a rapport with you. I did that by making you feel that I understood your concerns, your frustrations, your hope and your desires.
Establishing a rapport with someone is the first step you must take in order to get that person to do anything what you want. In this case, what want firstly, is for your child’s teacher(s) and or principal to understand you, and care about you. In order to achieve that outcome, you must first show that you understand and care about them. It’s as simple as that.
The ‘catch 22’ of conflict resolution.
Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes as they say, or more importantly to see (and especially feel) the world in the way that another person sees (and feels) it, can be difficult at the best of times. Studies suggest that at least 90% of the time, our thoughts are focused exclusively on things that directly affect us. At very best, our ability to engage in empathic thoughts are generally limited to those we actually care about such as our family members.
The times that our ability to exercise empathy is most limited is when we are feeling threatened (which may manifest as fear, anger or frustration). The people we are least able to exercise empathy towards of course, are those who are causing (often unintentionally) us to feel this way. It is therefore no surprise why conflict is so prevalent in the world.
If you have not already established an unfavourable relationship with your child’s teacher(s), then this process is going to be easier. If however tension has already been mounting, this is going to be a bit more challenging.
There are some basic rules for establishing rapport with anyone, in any situation. For starters, it is important to remember to listen to the other person twice as much as what you speak to them, and when you to speak, speak twice as much about them (or things they have indicated they are interested in speaking about) than yourself. Going a step further than this, it is a good idea to understand and recognise the other person’s struggles, frustrations as well as their hopes and achievements.
A Teacher’s Struggles
Teaching a class full of kids can be a very stressful job. Even if you don’t think so, the teacher thinks so, and they really, REALLY want other people to acknowledge that.
A Teacher’s Achievements
You know what really sucks when you put in extra effort for someone? When it goes unrecognised. You have probably experienced this in your own life. Now imagine you’re a teacher. As a teacher, imagine that you really do try your best with a kid, get no appreciation from the parents but instead receive complaints instead? Now guess which kid you’re going to remember never to try to hard over ever again.
On the other hand (and I can attest to this from my own experiences at parent – teacher nights) imagine that one of your student’s actually recognised the efforts you’ve made, relays it back to mum or dad, and they show their appreciation to you at a later stage. These are the moments that make you feel like teaching is worthwhile after all. When their feedback is supported by citing specific examples of what you have done, especially when it’s about with things you figured no one would even recognise or appreciate (but secretly you wanted them to), then imagine how this feels. Wow! Guess which kid you’re going to remember to make that extra effort over next time? Moreover, guess which kid you’re likely to respond favourably to when their parents raise a concern with you?
And on the rare occasion you hear a mum or dad tell you that they’ve noticed the effect you’ve had on their child at home is inspirational? Chances are after you’ve wiped back the tears you are likely to stop at nothing to move mountains for that child and their wellbeing for as long as they are your student. In fact, those are the students whose memory stays with you forever.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure these things out however, yet you’d be surprised how many people seem to think that the most effective means of getting their way is by showing no appreciation and making nothing but complaints and demands – the exact opposite of what is more likely to work!
Being able to express genuine appreciation to your child’s teachers, as easy as it sounds, does require one fundamental key: You need to actually know what your child’s teachers are doing in the classroom, and you need to know what they are doing well. To do that, you have to ask your child. Regularly. Most importantly, you need to know how to ask the right questions, and how to interpret the responses you receive.
Ultimately the goal here is to find out, through your child, what efforts their teacher has been going to, so that you can show genuine appreciation for them when it comes time to communicate directly with the Teacher. To go a step above appreciating their efforts is to recognise the positive effects that those efforts have been having on your child. Even if it is your belief that the teachers efforts are “not good enough” there is almost always some (even if just a little) benefits to your child. If you’re struggling to see them, then perhaps the best approach you can take at this point is to know how to look for them.
How Your Child Treats Their Teacher Affects How Their Teacher Treats Them
The other thing that is crucially important here is how your child responds to their teacher. If you want your child to be in their teachers ‘good books’ then it is vitally important that they show genuine respect and appreciation to them. Your child is not going to respect their teacher if they hear you speaking negatively about them.
They may show their teacher respect if they happen to like them naturally, but whether they do or not, you can influence this part of the process by the respect that your child sees that you have for their teacher. This means that in addition to asking your child about what efforts and positive effects that their teacher has ben having on them, it is important to speak highly about the teacher with your child.
Once your child becomes aware of the respect that you have for their teacher, they will be more likely to follow any advice you now want to give them about how they can show respect to their teacher whilst at school. So what advice can you give them?
The ‘what not to do’ things are the most obvious (don’t argue, don’t talk back etc) but the most important ‘to do’ is to show genuine appreciation. Every day when I pick him up from school, I ask my son “did you thank your teacher today for their lesson?” Yes; even when someone is merely doing the job they are being paid to do, if you want them to do the best job they can possibly do, the most effective way of facilitating this process is to show honest, sincere appreciation for something they have done.
If your frustration makes this difficult, begin to let any negative feelings just blur softly into the background, and instead search for, focus on and zoom in on anything and everything positive. If you don’t appreciate 9 out of 10 things they do, then at least focus on the 1 that you do, and appreciate their intentions for the other 9 even if you don’t appreciate the outcome.
THE TWISTED CONCLUSION
This article started by first appealing to the frustrations of parent’s feeling ‘hard done by’ when it comes to their child’s situation at school. It then moved into an almost ‘expose’ on the cold hard realities of human nature and how to manipulate authority to suit ones self didn’t it? Was it surprising then that it concluded that it all comes down to being positively minded, showing respect and honest appreciation?
Chances are, you probably already knew the value of sincere appreciation – I think we all do. The problem is however, when we take issue with someone or feel frustrated by something, the likelihood that we start focusing on how to make the other person feel good about themselves begins to deteriorate, as instead we become almost exclusively focused with a tunnel vision view of “what about me?”
The reason for twisting the focus of this article through these three stages of emotional context was simply because, as I’m sure you are by now aware, sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious when we’re blinded by our own defensive emotions.
Just remember that at a fundamental level, every teacher joins the profession because they are fuelled by a deep down desire to make a difference in the lives of their students. Over time, the lack of appreciation they encounter slowly extinguishes their passion, which is why it is common to come across teachers who don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about going all-out for their students.
Whilst negativity is the cause of a teacher’s apathy, I promise you that if you make them feel the way they were originally fuelled by when they entered the profession, you will rekindle a burning passion that will light the way for your child and their future.
Whilst you may have come here wanting to know how to write a complaint letter about a teacher, hopefully not you’ve just found a better solution. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.