When I was a teacher at six different institutions over the course of several decades there was one thing that remained consistent: my dread over parent conferences. Roughly 95% of those conferences were very pleasant and actually provided information about students that I hadn’t seen in the classroom, and improving that relationship with the student.
Then there were the rare cases of parents, fondly dubbed the three percenters, where the sweat began pouring down, my neck tensed as cortisol pumped thick through my tissue. Those moments, not always predictable were when my teaching approach, methods, and/or results felt like they were under fire. Given, I am more sensitive than most, a defense mechanism was to label the parent as unreasonable and try to contain my emotions the best I could (to varying levels of success). I would then need to fight the internal struggle not to let those feelings of antipathy towards the parents interfere with my relationships with the student, which I’d like to think I always succeeded in doing, but I suspect all teachers are not all so forgiving. In any case, it certainly never helped my relationship with the student, nor the results they got from being in my class.
While the status of teachers in a child’s education is increasingly under attack, a process certainly not mitigated by the shift to Zoom education, at the end of the day, a student’s fate in that subject is in their hands for the year. As parents, it’s critical for us to understand that fundamental truth. Thus, in my humble opinion, the only circumstances that warrant intervention where truly unethical behavior is involved; even then, I would tread lightly. Obviously if it’s behavior that violates school or even state policy, you’re not sitting on your hands: a debatably fireable offense like verbal assault, example. But if we’re talking about harsh grading, favoritism, unreasonable expectations, and that ilk, there’s really little to be gained.
If you intervene in any of those latter circumstances, there are a few potential impacts, likely all negative. For one, it teaches your child that when they encounter something unfair, broken and, in other words, adverse, in their lives, someone will step in and correct it for them. Is that the message we want? Secondly, it has at least the potential to damage the relationship between the student and the teacher. And last, as your student will track this exchange closely, it will position the teacher as the villain, allowing the student to place blame on the teacher instead of developing accountability for their own actions.
The desired outcome that you have as a parent for these circumstances: that the teacher will shift their behavior and be more equitable, fair and reasonable is extremely unlikely for few reasons. For one, if you address their wrongs either directly to them, or worse, through their superiors, they will be defensive or even resentful. Second, the behavior your citing of theirs is likely ingrained in their personality, and thus unlikely to change even if they wanted it to. At best, you’ll get a fake answer and maybe even a feigned effort at improvement, but it won’t be genuine and it won’t last.
The best thing to do in these cases is to listen to and support your child’s frustration without comment or opinion and validate that struggle with as little interjection as possible. I know from experience this is no easy task and often seems counter-intuitive and counter-instinctual, but objectively speaking, it’s the most productive approach for your child.
You will certainly have reason for legitimate frustration with your child’s education at one point or the other: the chances of a student making it through their entire academic career without at least a few duds is extremely remote. Not all teachers are good (or good fits, anyways), not even at elite institutions. But as parents sometimes sitting on our hands is paradoxically the best course of action.