As an ex teacher (of many many years), I write these words from both the perspective of a parent and a teacher...
This week has been wonderful, well until today. On Tuesday I watched on as my youngest, Bean, took part in her first Nativity. She was an angel, both figuratively and literally. With each new song, she sang the words, did all the actions and remained on stage despite a lot of her little comrades needing to be comforted by their parents. I left on a complete high - she had finished her first term of preschool, developmentally had come on leaps and held her own on stage. Her targets from October had been met and she had made it into the 30-50 month development bands (she was 3 in September).
Then today, I came to collect her from the Friday session to be greeted by a rather stressed looking Preschool Manager. She, LOUDLY, asked if I could stay behind and give her tips on how to "manage" my daughter. Rather unfortunately I had my eldest with me too, so the impending conversation had to be done while trying to keep both girls calm and sensible. She proceeded to tell me that they were "at the end of their tether" with her as she was emptying boxes repeatedly, had scribbled in books, had broken a few items belonging to the preschool - today she took the keys off their laptop keyboard, which was presented to me in front of onlookers of both staff and parents for maximum levels of embarrassment.. "We're short-staffed", "we can't accept this if it's costing us money". So, I questioned what the sanctions were for a child who is repeatedly disobeying their rules. This question seemed foreign - the reply left me rather dumbfounded "no, we've never put her in time out, we just tell her not to do it again". We leapt from never instilling sanctions to "we think she should have a 1:1".
As any good educator knows, management of behaviour is a series of steps. Setting out expectations, finding a hook that can get buy in from a child to want to follow the rules and creating a pathway that works for both the child and school. Bean's keyworker has been away for approximately a month now - she has targets from her portage teacher and the preschool follow them. She has really missed her keyworker, frequently asking me where she is. Yet, none of this was taken into account. Instead I left feeling humiliated, that they didn't want her there and that a lack of staff planning had resulted in a rather difficult day.
Now, before anyone says I'm simply shifting blame or responsibility...I'm not. I believe if she misbehaves there should be a consequence - there always is at home. I even made this point in our initial meeting, reiterating a number of times that they would need to be firm. Instead I feel they've made no attempt to put in place basic, yes basic, measures to ensure she knows what is allowed and what is not. I respect that we often have to hear (or say, when we're on the other side!) unpleasant things but it is the manner in which we deliver that information that leaves a parent feeling safe, secure and reassured that the child needs help, rather then they are a burden. It is also essential to keep a parent informed. Until today, I was under the impression that Bean was doing fabulously. She was attentive, making excellent progress and was kind. So today came as a shock.
Being an educator gives you enormous power, with profound responsibility. Every word you utter provokes a reaction and a parent doesn't simply hear and forget; rather, they swallow it, digest it and frequently feel the need to regurgitate it over and over again. You are responsible for how difficult and sensitive information is delivered - you find a way to communicate that in an honest yet supportive manner. By conducting this in an open environment you are leaving a parent to feel exposed - you are laying bare all the inner concerns or worries that keep them awake at night. Privacy and compassion are essential - ask a member of staff to tend to the children so that you can speak with the parent, to allow them to cry (if they feel compelled to do so) without fear of upsetting their offspring; or simply schedule a meeting at an appropriate time where an open debate can take place and you move forward united in the best interests of the child.
Anyone who has worked in the classroom knows that the end of term often brings out the worst in children who are tired, facing chaotic changes to their routines and are excited for the imminent arrival of the big guy in the red suit. Today, has left me feeling despondent and disappointed. After a term which has radiated such success, I move towards next week feeling like I want to pick Bean up and never go back.
So finally...Educators, teachers, keyworkers, please choose your words carefully. They have an impact and when a parent already has what feels like the weight of the world on their shoulders, you can make or break them.