The Parent-Teacher relationship and academic performance
All parents want their children to fare well in school, but sometimes intelligent children don’t. What are the reasons? Well, the answers lie with the trained educators – the school teachers themselves.
Are parents to blame?
Many teachers feel that the one cause of kids not doing well in school is that parents are simply not interested enough in their children. ‘You can recognise such parents by looking at their children,’ says Sophie Shivashankar, principal, Akshara Montessori House of Children. ‘The children are unhappy and do not concentrate on their work. In fact, sometimes, the mothers don’t even bother to dress them up neatly,’ she exclaims. Other teachers echo similar views. Says Lily, a third standard teacher in a popular school, ‘ If children have problems in learning it is often because their parents hardly visit the school. They don’t even show their face on Annual Day!’
Complaints from teachers (about parents) abound. One of their main grouses is that parents are quick to blame the teacher if their kids do not fare well. The parents demand that ‘extra’ coaching be provided by the school, or that the teachers ‘pay special attention,’ to their children.
Hema Narayan, Principal, Sudarshan Vidya Mandir says, ‘High achievers often come from backgrounds where the parents are involved with the child’s schoolwork, and come to the school regularly.’
She believes that parents need to come to the school regularly and get involved. To encourage contact between teachers and parents, her school has an open session for forty-five minutes every Saturday when parents can just walk in and meet teachers.
Not only Ms Narayan, but in fact, all the educators talked to acknowledged that a good relationship between parents’ and teachers went a long way in helping improve the academic performance of the child. Teachers are able to communicate how the parent can help their child.
Mrs. S. Naganand, Principal, Sishu Griha, believes that teachers, students and parents are like a family. ‘As today’s parents are educated, they have a lot to contribute to the school,’ she feels. Principals of some of the bigger schools also hold the view that parents have a critical role to play. ‘They are as important as teachers,’ says the principal of a reputed school on Cambridge Road. ‘I’m always available to meet them.’
Are parents sheer poison?
However, all this is easier said than done. An atmosphere has to be created in the school so that parents feel welcome. Parents often feel unwanted in schools and feel that they are supposed to enter the school premises only on specified days, and not when they have a genuine query or their child has a problem. ‘I’m a bundle of nerves if I have to face the Principal as I find him distant and arrogant,’ confesses Mrs. Rao, mother of 12 year-old Vinod. Another parent complains, ‘ ‘The minute the school chowkidar realised that you are a parent he treats you rudely,’ avers R. Ghosh, another parent. Says another, ‘The school ayahs and chowkidars shoo you away, once they realise you are parent, as if you are sheer poision.’
When one gets a brush-off from the school, parents are more likely to badmouth the school in front of their child, and take his part when he complains about teachers. All this is bad for the child in the long run. If he has to perform, respect and love for his teachers and the school is almost as important as respect and love for his books.
What is needed is a positive outlook on both the part of the schools and the parents. Dr. Nandini Mundkur, a pediatrician, who has also conducted several parent involvement programmes in her clinic, says a number of parents and teachers confide in her. ‘If the child has a problem, the teacher usually blames the parents saying that they neglect the child, or pressurize him to perform beyond his capacity, while the parents accuse the teachers of not taking responsibility for the child’s performance, and also being either indifferent, partial to particular students, or humiliating and punishing the child if he does not get good marks.’
What is the answer to this deadlock? According to Dr. Mundkur, proper communication often solves these problems. Teachers can ask parents to meet them informally, send little notes to parents regarding their child’s difficulties, enlist parents’ help in school projects and even ask them to spend a few hours of teaching in the school. However it is important not to be partial to those children whose parents’ get involved with the school, as some working parents will find it impossible to become involved.
Research in western countries supports the idea that the closer parents and teachers are, the higher the achievement level of the child. No wonder parents helping out in school activities is the norm in many western countries. In the USA for example a certain minimum of teaching hours have to be put in by the parents. In fact once parents become involved with the school, they develop a sense of belonging to the school. They become more aware of the curriculum and teaching methods and can help the child better.
So to some extent, the onus does lie with the schools. They are trained educators and can guide parents on how exactly they can help their child.
(This was published in The Times of India, Bangalore.)
Note: While writing this article I found that parents and teachers were reluctant to talk openly. Parents were reluctant to crib against their child’s school because they feared that it would hurt their child. Teachers were reluctant to talk because of the fear of upsetting the Principal. However unless one acknowledges the existence of a problem, it cannot be solved. And in this case the problem is the lack of a friendly, trusting relationship between parents and teachers.
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