In 35 years of teaching third through seventh grades, in locales stretching from Florida to Colorado, Sandy Bauer has learned that children are children — no matter where they call home. And, yes, there will be difficult students, she said — such as the girl who “had real acting-out problems.” But, no, they don’t have to remain contrary. With a little patience and a lot of communication, that student and teacher who cannot seem to get along just might end up forging mutual respect.
In 35 years of teaching third through seventh grades, in locales stretching from Florida to Colorado, Sandy Bauer has learned that children are children — no matter where they call home.
And, yes, there will be difficult students, she said — such as the girl who “had real acting-out problems.”
But, no, they don’t have to remain contrary. With a little patience and a lot of communication, that student and teacher who cannot seem to get along just might end up forging mutual respect.
Bauer, named Educator of the Year 2009 by Springfield Public Schools and Horace Mann Cos., teaches fourth grade at Iles School in Springfield. She says she has found that communicating with students, parents and “anybody else who can help you with a particular child or your class” is a proactive approach that can help teachers have a great school year.
In the case of the girl with behavioral problems, “I tried to be as positive as I could with her and gave her opportunities to feel good about her work because she was a bright girl,” Bauer said.
Something worked. That girl called Bauer a few years later to fill her in on her life.
So, on Monday, as thousands of students in Springfield join students in other school districts who have already begun the 2009-10 school year, here is what experts recommend to ensure your children and their teachers can work together in the learning process.
What’s behind the problems
Catherine “Rini” Christofilakos-Soler, owner of Agape Counseling Center in Springfield, said reasons teachers and students clash may have little to do with homework or class assignments.
“Sometimes, the teacher is maybe new to the school and to the system ... and they’re just trying to get their feet wet and they’re learning how to deal with all these kids,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
“Another thing could be what’s going on in the kid’s life at that point in time — divorce or death in the family or stress in the home.” Medical or mental health issues may be at fault.
Students who have academic difficulty, don’t want to do work on homework or have problems with other children may negatively affect teacher-student relationships.
Personality conflicts, the hardest to resolve, also may be culprits.
“Sometimes there are just some things that are just better off when the kid is gone to the next level,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
“They look back, and sometimes the kids say, ‘We didn’t get along, but I did learn the most from that teacher.’”
Tackling the problem early
Other experts agree with a proactive approach — communicating to find the cause of problems sooner rather than later.
Debra Strauss, Illinois PTA state president, said that the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships offer tools for proactively addressing issues.
Those standards encourage welcoming all families into the school community, effective communication, supporting student success, speaking up for every child, and sharing power and collaborating with community.
“Putting these standards in place is a fabulous opportunity to be proactive and say, ‘Let’s not wait until we have that issue,’” Strauss said.
Among other approaches, Bauer communicates with parents by sending a letter home the first day of school, having an open house, and sending a parent questionnaire and a weekly letter home with students. Last year, everyone had e-mail addresses they could use to keep in touch.
“It was so neat. At noontime, I knew I could reach somebody right away, or I could always call on the phone, too, if there’s a problem of some sort,” said Bauer, the mother of grown fraternal twin daughters.
Christofilakos-Soler advises parents to make sure they’re in contact with teachers at all times — and for teachers to stay in contact with parents.
“Don’t wait for three or four months to pass before you tell the parents, ‘Oh, this has been going on in the classroom. I’ve been struggling with their attitude or with their behavior,’” Christofilakos-Soler said.
“I put the responsibility on the parents a lot of the time. These are your kids. You have raised them up until this point.”
What to do at home
Parents can encourage good student-teacher relationships at home with tips that Christofilakos-Soler and Strauss provided:
_Teach children to respect and listen to their teachers.
_Communicate. Use e-mail if possible.
_Get both sides of the story before defending your child. “Don’t go against the teacher in front of the kid, because then that’s when the kid starts losing respect for their teacher,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
_Have a routine at home. An unruly home environment can breed behavioral issues in the classroom because a student doesn’t know how to deal with routine. Snack time, dinnertime, homework time, get-ready-for-bed time and an early bedtime help kids get the most out of themselves the next day, Christofilakos-Soler said.
_Make homework a priority.
_Spend time with your kids. “Even if it’s 15 minutes to a half-hour before bed just to sit with them, read a book, watch a show together, just hang out,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
_Spread bedtimes out by 15 minutes to a half an hour between each child in families with several children to accomplish one-on-one time.
_Carefully consider the consequences before moving your child from a school because of conflicts. “Sometimes we wait ‘til the next year. We just get them through. We try to accommodate them and make all of them feel at least we’re trying to make the best out of it,” Christofilakos-Soler said.“Sometimes that’s all it takes. If not, sometimes parents have to choose between whether they want to keep their kid at a school or not.”
Christofilakos-Soler cautioned that if parents move their children once and things are great at the new school, then they’ve made a good choice.
“But if you keep moving and you’re on school two, three or four, then we have to really look at ourselves and our child and maybe look into getting some outside help to see what’s really going on,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
What teachers can do in the classroom
Teachers need to consider when they need outside help, too, or rest and relaxation. It may be time for them to “move on” if conflicts arise because they’re burned-out and unhappy with their jobs.
“Sometimes when we get burned out, we just become cranky. A lot of teachers end up taking it out on these kids,” Christofilakos-Soler said.
Teachers who manage their classrooms so all students reach their potential are important, Bauer said.
It’s important for teachers to make sure they know the kids in their classes, finding out what they’re capable of accomplishing, and setting clear goals and high expectations.
Bauer creates a sense of community in her class by having the students greet and shake hands. They sit in a circle first thing in the morning to share what’s going on in their lives.
Iles serves students in grades 1-6 (enrolling sixth-graders for the first time this fall) who have shown the potential for high academic achievement. But Bauer said the school’s teachers and students have to work through the same issues as those at any other school.
“I don’t want people to think that we don’t have any problems here and that I’m glossing over any kind of difficulty. We have difficult students like everybody else,” she said.
“You do the best you can to make sure that everybody has a good year and that they do learn what they’re supposed to learn.”
Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.