It was a hot, stuffy Thursday afternoon. I could hear my boisterous (read ‘challenging’) freshman class making their way down the hall as I desperately tried to gather the enthusiasm needed to teach the opening scenes of Romeo and Juliet.
The previous evening had been a parent-teacher conference, so this particular Thursday came with its own special kind of exhaustion and despondency. Playing on loop in the back of my mind were all the discussions with difficult parents who wanted to know what I was going to do to get their child’s grade up; the chats with frustrated mothers, at their wits end with their fourteen year old sons’ lacklustre attitude; the forceful words of helicopter parents, piling on the pressure and refusing to see that their child really was trying their best.
On top of this, I certainly wasn’t excited about the prospect of moody post-conference looks from students whose parents I sent home with less than positive feedback. But Shakespeare’s troubled teens would wait no longer either, so I grabbed my copy of the play and dragged myself up from my desk to face the onslaught.
Then something unexpected happened.
Two of my quietest students, identical twin boys, came bounding through the door, matching grins plastered across their faces and words of gratitude pouring out of their mouths. In an instant, my attitude changed as their sincere thanks and visible excitement brought a smile to my own face.
Here’s why: the previous day I got an email from their father. I had asked to see him at the conference and he was writing to tell me that his wife was away on business and he had a busy afternoon at work, so could he possibly arrange a late slot – he was concerned about their progress and wanted to take an active interest.
To give you some background: his two boys had come to my class halfway through the year, and they certainly weren’t A-grade students. Quite the opposite in fact. When they arrived, they had been sitting on the fence of failure. However, they had been in my class for over six months and had both been working extremely hard. So hard, in fact, that they had improved their average grades by 11 and 14 per cent respectively. By most parents’ standards, these still weren’t good grades but I was extremely pleased with their improvement.
So I replied to this father’s anxious email, telling him that he needn’t panic about attending the meeting. I wasn’t calling him in out of concern, but rather to give him positive feedback and reassurance; to tell him that his boys were doing well and that I was extremely proud of them. I could do this over email and follow up with a meeting later.
This email really impacted him; his reply was one of obvious fatherly pride and gratitude. What the boys were eager to tell me that Thursday afternoon was that in response to my email, he had cancelled his meetings, rushed home and surprised his sons with a mid-week dinner out at a local steak restaurant as a reward for their hard work. Here was excellent parenting at work.
I realised that I’m quick to pick up the phone or send an email to let a parent know of a child’s lack of work, or to report their disobedience or bad attitude. But I rarely make contact just to tell a parent that their child made an insightful comment in class; that they were kind to a peer; that they are trying their best. But when I did, the result was overwhelmingly positive.
Try it. Make a point to call at least one parent a week to deliver some praise – especially if it’s for a student who you suspect rarely gets any positive encouragement. You never know… you might be surprised at the response and find yourself with a little extra spring in your step on a stuffy Thursday afternoon.