Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Talk to a Teacher

Good Guidelines
By: Chuck Colson

What do you do if you have a concern about what your child is learning in school? Talk to the teacher, of course. But how you do it might make all the difference.

If you are the parent of a public school child, you may be wondering what challenges your children will face at school when it comes to their faith and values. Last year, a research group surveyed a thousand 20–29 year olds who used to attend evangelical churches on a regular basis, but have since left the church. To their surprise, researchers found that, the vast majority of them began having doubts during middle school and high school.

It’s important that you know what values your children are exposed to in school. At some point you may need to talk to your children’s teachers about a concern you have about a classroom activity or reading selection.

Eric Buehrer, author of Keeping the Faith in Public Schools: How to help your children graduate with their faith and values intact, advises parents how to take a successful approach to talking to a teacher about a concern.

He points out that when it comes to addressing a concern in your school, you can either be a lamp or a blow torch. To be a lamp, Buehrer recommends what he calls the “Help Me Understand” approach.

Before you talk to the teacher, think through why—if what you heard from your child or another parent was accurate—you would like the teacher to change the activity or assignment. Then, use the following four-steps to discuss the issue with the teacher.

First, start the conversation by using the phrase “Help me understand. . .” For example, if you are concerned about a particular reading assignment, you might start by saying, “Help me understand why you chose this book for the students to read.”

At this point in the conversation you want clarification. Don’t jump to conclusions about the motives of the teacher. Don’t be angry. Be sincere in trying to understand the point of the assignment.

The next step Buehrer recommends might, at first, sound unnecessary, but it’s important: Affirm, in general, what the teacher is trying to do. For example, you might appreciate the fact teacher wants the students to learn about the environment, but you are concerned about the particular bias of the book she is using. At this point in the conversation, don’t jump to your concerns. Finding “common ground” is an important part of the discussion.

Buehrer then advises that you transition to your concern by using the phrase, “But have you considered . . .” And don’t assume the teacher will oppose you. In fact, it is better to assume the teacher will agree with you once you explain your concern. It is often the case that a teacher is thinking of one reason for the lesson or book selection, but hasn’t considered what students might learn or be exposed to that the teacher didn’t have in mind.

Finally, if the teacher agrees with you, ask her advice about what might be a good alternative for the class. Of course, the teacher may ask you for your ideas, so be sure you’ve done your homework! Have some alternatives you can present her if she’s open.

Now, if the teacher doesn’t agree to change what the class will be learning, ask for an alternative assignment for your own child.

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