Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our Favorite Teacher has Not Been Invited Back!

This post is mostly for parents of kids at charter and private schools, although some aspects of this also apply to traditional public school.  When a teacher leaves to move out of the area, start a family, or take a better position elsewhere, we are often sad but we understand.  When a well-loved teacher does not have their contract renewed by the school, it’s a different situation.  We often don’t understand.  Here are some thoughts on how to handle the situation, which is difficult and stress-filled for everyone involved:

1.  Don’t talk about your unhappiness, speculate, trash the principal or other staff, or gossip about the situation in front of your child.  Please.  Little people talk to each other, and they often don’t get the facts quite right.  You are feeding the gossip mill in the worst way possible, and probably upsetting your child more than they already are.

2.    Don’t assume that just because a contract was not renewed, the school is saying that the person is a bad teacher or a bad person, or has “made up” something bad about the individual.  We have all worked with people in different settings who we liked personally and who did a good job who were just not a good fit.  Maybe there’s a personality conflict.  Maybe the person has a great deal of talent around a certain philosophy or method that would fit better elsewhere. 

3.    Accept that you don’t “know” the whole story.  I don’t care how much you volunteer, how many kids you have at the school, how well connected you are with a faculty member, etc., you probably don’t know the whole story.  Period.

4.    Realize that the school is not going to give you an explanation.  They can’t.  By demanding a justification, you are in effect demanding that the school violate the teacher’s privacy.  The school owes the teacher an explanation, but not parents.  If this individual that you love so much has done some things that they are not proud of (and remember you don’t know if they do or not), do you really want to demand that their issue be aired in front of the entire school community?  If you do, then the situation is more about you than it is about kindness and fairness to the teacher.

5.    If you are at a school of choice, your decision to enroll your child means you trust the administration to make personnel decisions.  If you don’t, you should find another school.  Hiring and firing cannot be done according to teacher popularity, or decided by children, or changed by parent demand.  Aside from a chaos that situation would create, it would give teachers incentive to place parent regard above the needs of their students.  A good teacher knows that sometimes they are not going to be the most popular person with all of their parents, but they may be more effective than someone who is worried about not seeming “nice”.

6.    Use the proper channels to complain.  This means face-to-face meetings or putting your thoughts in writing to the proper people.  Usually that means an administrator or administrators, a Board of Directors next, and then a governing authority such as the state education agency or the diocesan office, etc.  It does not include gossiping in the parking lot, or putting ugly posts up on Facebook.  Your ultimate method of protest is to send your child to another school.   However, I will emphasize once again that before you put complaints in writing to a governing body or remove your child from a school because of a personnel change, you want to make sure that you have your facts correct.

Remember that the people who need the most focus in this situation are your child and the teacher.  This is not about you and your control over what happens at school. 

Your child needs to hear that you are sad that the teacher is leaving, but that you might not be able to answer all of their questions about why.  Remind them that you still think their teacher was a good for them and that you think they are a good person, and the school may not be saying otherwise.  Tell your child that you think the teacher will be able to find a school where they love to teach.  Encourage your child to write a letter.

If you really love this particular educator, do what you can do to help them exit gracefully.  Offer condolence and tell them how much you will miss them.  Remind them of how they helped your child grow.  Offer to write a recommendation or a letter that they can put in an interview portfolio.  Write an endorsement for them on LinkedIn.  Give them a gift to remember you by.

And don’t forget your Principal.  You may heartily disagree with their decision, but unless you have some solid evidence to the contrary, assume this has been difficult for them too.  A friend of mine told me once that letting people go was like eating raw sea urchin - painful and yucky.

You can use this difficult situation to either help a well-loved educator, or become a divisive force in your school community.  Your child is watching you.  Now is a time to be the adult you want them to be someday.