If there are cracks in the bridge, does the structural engineer say, “Do you mind driving your car through the river instead?”
When you go to the doctor, does the doctor say, “Go home and fix it yourself?”
This is the time in the academic year when there are parent-teacher nights, and many thousands of parents will hear words which may be called ‘hit-and-run’ comments. Hit-and-run comments are those made by some teachers when disclosing or revealing a student’s behaviour to parents or carers. A distinguishing feature of these comments is that the teacher provides no follow-up or suggestion as to what they themself, as a paid professional, are intending to do to assist in ameliorating the concern they have identified. The hit-and-run comments typically take the following form:
“Your son is very distractible and talks a lot.”
“Your daughter is not focused.”
“Your child has not completed his homework.”
“XYZ needs to practice more written responses.”
These comments are then followed by silence. If the child is present, the usual response is for the parent to turn to their child and get them in trouble. The child is told they must focus or do homework, or study, as the parent somehow has taken this feedback as criticism of their parenting. Accordingly, they feel the need to prove they are, in fact, parenting properly.
But, where in this does the professional educator take responsibility to effect the changes they seek?
How educators present information, and respond to challenges, lies at the heart of whether to characterise them as professionals or quasi-professionals. When professional practitioners in any field see an issue or a problem, they seek to remedy it. To do otherwise would be counter to their professional training. Why then should educators not be held accountable to the same standards?
Should teachers be allowed to identify issues to parents but not have a remediation plan?
Consider this feedback, delivered at a parent-teacher night. “Your child has trouble listening”. This comment generally has the effect of a parent going home and criticising their child for talking. The teacher, in this instance, has outsourced the management to the parent. Ask, as a parent or carer, how different it would be if the teacher said the following, “I have noticed that your child has trouble following the instructions I give. Have you noticed this behaviour at home?” The teacher could see what the reply is. Assuming the reply is “yes”, the teacher could say the following: “In order to help your child learn to listen to instructions better, I have asked him/her to repeat them to me prior to us starting a task. I have also started writing sequential steps down so that multistep problems are clearer and require less working memory. I shall be monitoring the effect of these strategies to see how effective they are. I can give you some examples to use at home too.”
However, if the reply is “no”, a professional could say the following: “This is not something I expected with your child and I have a plan for what I will do. First, I will name the behaviour and state what I expect. Your child will be asked to clearly state back to me what is required in the task. Included in this is what will happen if instructions are not followed. If this does not work then I will do my best to find out why my instructions are not being followed. It may be a classroom positional issue, a friendship issue, a difficulty in focus, a lack of clarity from me, or a range of other possibilities. I may introduce a visual system to supplement what is said. If neither of these strategies works, I will meet with you again with your child and we will get to the bottom of this. I expect to do this and get back to you within three weeks.”
The question parents must ask is why this is not standard practice. The image of the imaginary engineer asking people to drive through the river, rather than addressing the problem, is professionally instructive.
Parents should respond to hit-and-run comments as follows: “Thanks for the feedback. How are you addressing this issue in your class? If it continues, what will you do next? How would you like us to support you in this?”
This should then be confirmed with a diarised request for a follow-up meeting to see how the teacher is getting on in addressing the concern they have raised as a professional.
If this approach to issues involving students were adopted, then it is highly likely that parents can work with teachers for the child’s benefit. They will come to experience all teachers as professionals who take ownership to manage their workplace issues and who are prepared to work with families in the best interest of their child.