There is a Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, that a single man is not supposed to teach small children, because their mothers will come to pick them up, and he will mingle with them*. This Halacha does seem to be a warning, but there is something else, something much greater that we can learn from it. Indirectly, this Halacha teaches us that the teacher is expected to have consistent communication with the parents (perhaps especially with the mother.)
When there is a connection between the parent and the teacher, they are working together. The first and foremost party that benefits from that connection is the child.
I am writing this letter because I am a teacher, and I am also a parent. I would like to enlighten you to the enormous benefits of having an open line of communication with those to whom you entrust your children’s education.
My wife and I were recently having an ongoing issue with one of our children in school. The child was having a certain behavioral challenge. The teacher notified us, as per her duty, so that we were not completely oblivious to the situation. We tried some quick fixes at home at the time, but every once in awhile, it would come up again until to the point that I looked at my wife and expressed my concern by saying, “We need to step in and do something. We need to set up a system so that all three parties are on the same page – parent, teacher and child.”
I called up the teacher, and immediately began by validating the authority of the teacher. I set the tone for the conversation to be one of respect and collaboration. I told her that I wasn’t telling her how to run her class. Parents are not meant to tell teachers how to run the classroom, the same way teachers are not meant to tell the parents how to run their home. If we can have a conversation working along the guidelines of, “we don’t talk at people, we talk with people”, we can all successfully achieve our goals.
After I had made it clear that I was not telling the teacher what to do, I asked if I could make a suggestion about how to deal with the situation. I told her that I’ve dealt with this situation in my own classroom as a teacher, and have discovered that when all three parties are working together and on board, the situation can be rectified. Together, we decided on a tried-and-true system for my child.
At the end of class each day, the child would come to the teacher and ask, “Was today a good day?” with regard to the specific behavior. If the answer was yes, the teacher would sign the child’s homework book. If not, the teacher would empathetically say “I can’t give one to you today, I’m sorry. Let’s try again tomorrow.”
There are so many benefits to this system.
If the responsibility (onus) is on the child, and the child needs to bring the book to the teacher, it creates accountability for the child. Some say that you can create accountability for a child as young as 3 or 4 years old.
As for the teacher, all she has to do is sign her name. It is not putting a huge added responsibility on the teacher, as it requires no forethought, no planning or prepping. It allows the situation to be corrected without her needing to devote a lot of extra time to it.
After about two weeks of good behavior, my child got a prize. We fostered accountability and collaboration, and the behavior was targeted and improved.
I have seen this many times over with many children and many different behaviors, and it works. Working together with my child’s teacher on a situation that none of us could fix alone, resulted in a solved issue.
If your child is struggling academically, you will find out through poor test grades or when helping the child with homework. The absolute first thing to do is to communicate with the teacher, and not blame the child.
It is possible that the child was lazy, or just acting out. But, it is equally possible that he or she is not trying to be defiant. Perhaps they can’t see the board properly and need glasses, maybe the lesson is going too fast, or maybe they’re being distracted by something in class.
Email, text or call the teacher and say, “My son Yossi does not know what is going on in school. Can you tell me what you see in the classroom?”
When you start interrogating the teacher and begin by asking, “why is this happening”, or, “why is my child not learning”, you are already putting the teacher on the defensive. So, instead of asking why, say “I was wondering if you knew what was happening when he tries to learn Chumash?” Or, “can you paint a picture for me of what goes on with my child during Chumash class?” This way you are not attacking or accusing the teacher, and it is clear that it is not the teacher’s fault. The teacher is just reporting and relaying what they see in the classroom.
Once you have a better picture of what is going on, you as a parent can make a decision. Is it defiance, laziness, or does the child need something, glasses, a seat change? Perhaps a tutor? Discuss these options with the teacher. They will often have insight and suggestions for these challenges that your child is experiencing. Many times, the solution is a simple strategy the teacher can put into place in the classroom.
You can also suggest that the teacher meet with your child one-on-one. While it is important for you to respect a teacher’s full schedule, and recognize that they may not have the time for it, a student-teacher meeting may be the key to uncovering what is really going on.
The real truth is that no matter what you do, putting up a wall that prevents communication between you, your child and your child’s teacher will only prevent progress. The goal we all have is the same – to see your child succeed. The best thing you can do for your child’s success at school is to have consistent and open communication with their teacher, a conversation that is full of respect and dedication to the one thing you have in common – your child.
Rabbi Zelig Silber
*Source: Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hilchos Talmud Torah, Perek 1 Halocho 13.
Rabbi Zelly Silber is a veteran teacher of 8 years at Cheder Chabad of Monsey. Rabbi Silber is himself an alumnus of MEF’s first TIP cohort and a sought after teacher, mentor and advisor. Today, he directs the men’s division of the Teacher Induction Program.