A lot of the conversations between teachers immediately after parent/teacher conferences involve variations of “so that’s where they get it from.”
You may have heard the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It’s very, very true when it comes to children’s and parents’ attitudes. The most obvious manifestations of similar parent/child behaviors is their attitude towards work and authority figures.
Some students seem to be confrontational with teachers about everything, from their seating assignment to their grade to the necessity for certain rules. A few years ago, I gave a detention to a student for playing on piles of snow on the playground. It was against the rules, because it was dangerous and it also collapsed snow back to the sidewalk it was cleared from in the first place. I knew it was a stupid rule. I knew putting a giant pile of snow next to kids during their free time, but telling them not to climb on it was a bad idea. But it was my job to enforce the rule, so I did.
The parents requested a conference, so I arranged one with them. They gave me a hard time for doing my job. I explained to them that I didn’t make the rule, but they still gave me a hard time over it, then requested a conference with the principal. The principal happened to be in the building at the time, so we all went to her office. They gave her a hard time over the rule, and she explained why it was the rule. She also brought up insurance liability issues I hadn’t thought about.
The parents didn’t care. They insisted that their child shouldn’t be punished for breaking a rule if they think it’s a stupid rule.
Suddenly, their child’s anti-authoritarian attitude problems made so much more sense.
It’s not always negative behaviors that run through generations, though. Hard-working parents often have hard-working children. Respectful parents have respectful children.
And shy parents have shy children. I remember one conference where I did 95% of the talking, because both parents said so little. They spoke English. They seemed engaged. They just answered everything with soft, short sentences. It was weird, but also exactly the way their daughter was in class.
- Yes, teachers definitely get clues from parents that help explain student behavior, although there are times when the child remains a mystery.
I have had a conference with a parent over her child’s excessive cursing, and the parent began the meeting with a litany of profane words without a trace of anger. It was just how they spoke in their family.
I had a student who was somewhat flirty and would make comments that were just shy of being “referral worthy.” It was more disconcerting than anything else. I was never quite sure how address it without looking like I might be reading extra into it. When his father came in for a parent/teacher conference, he opened with, “Well, now I know why he’s distracted in school!” My immediate thought was, “that explains things.”
I had another parent who complained about how her son had no sense of responsibility while simultaneously trying to micromanage every aspect of his academic and social life. We suggested allowing him to fail at something, so that he could understand natural consequences, but she insisted that it was our job to make sure he wrote down all of his assignments, accept his work no matter how late it was, give him a pass on homework because he didn’t need it at all (since he was so brilliant), and let him decide what assignments were worth doing. And I wonder why he had no sense of responsibility…
Of course I have also had students who were so different from their parents that you’d think they weren’t related. I had a student who was obsessed with having a perfect score on everything. She was willing to do the work, and she never tried to get a grade she didn’t earn, but she was going to listen, engage, participate, and study to get that 100%. Her parents were such laid back people! We met, and they told me they tried to get her to relax and enjoy the learning without worrying about the grades. Her answer was that 100% meant that she had learned everything she was supposed to. They wanted her to not worry about grades, and she thought they were crazy. They were all really great people, but they were so very different in temperament and personality.
- It can explain where hostility comes from, but also where hard work, manners and decency come from. I’ll share an anecdote that helped explain the meanest, scariest student I’ve encountered as a teacher.
I taught a boy who had aggression issues, ODD, learning difficulties and lacked empathy. He had actually been behaving quite well, so when parent/teacher interviews rolled around I was keen to pass on this positive news. It has been my experience that being able to tell parents of bad kids good news about them goes down well. I’ve had mothers burst into tears.
So, A’s mum turns up to the interview and as we’re talking I tell her how much A’s behaviour has improved. She says nothing. As we were winding down, I said to her that I didn’t know if she heard me but A was managing his anger and aggression so much better. Here is her response verbatim.
“Yes. And now he’s having terrible nightmares because he can’t externalise his anger during the day.”
A was 16 and his mum was also a teacher. This was 13 years ago now and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her words. And I wish there was a way to convey her tone and body language because they really capped it all off.
A few teacher statements