Teacher in the Middle
Ever heard of that game “Monkey in the Middle”… some divorce parents put their kids teacher in the middle and it makes a monkey out of them. With the school year starting, parents need to help the teachers work with their students. Family Law cases yield many concerns and issues for families: emotions are high, pinning parents against each other, too much focus on support payments (too little, too much, too infrequent, etc). The focus needs to be effective co-parenting.
Teachers and all administrative staff at school (Principal, secretary, lunch staff, etc) want the best for every student; however, they are not there to play referee, they should not be expected to resolve or decide any aspect of a legal proceedings.
All readers can agree that once mom and dad have a relationship that is not repairable, the kid’s needs should come first. If parents don’t communicate very well, BE AWARE to NOT put their child’s teacher in the middle of the family dispute.
From a teacher’s perspective:
Helping teachers and making sure they are informed that there are issues at home can drastically change a student’s learning experiences. Details should be discerned and possibly vague in order to preserve the teacher’s relationship with the other parent. No matter the age of the students, what happens at home affects their school work, ability to focus, and being quick to anger. If teachers are informed they can show more compassion. If teachers are informed that exceptions for late homework need to be made, grades are not negatively affected. If teachers are informed when their student is crying that they may be processing some hurt feelings or missing a parent, the teacher can offer a hug or words of encouragement to help them get through the day and focus more on their task at hand. But the big question is how many details should be given to help the teacher be informed.
How to inform your child’s teacher?
It is ideal for both parents to have open communication with the teacher and to do that together. However, if that is not possibly or feelings are still wounded, then written communication is best. Always good to email and CC the other parent, that way it can also be documented and timeline put together in case there are concerns or educational goals that are not met, they can be tied to environmental factors and not a learning disability.
Knowing that the other parent will read the email, it will help to keep the details to a minimum (at risk of upsetting or embarrassing the other side), that may be for the best. If mom or dad ignores the email, that is his/her choice but at least they were given the opportunity to be informed.
What to do…
Sample: “Had a rough weekend, Johnny was with his mom this weekend and there were some issues that made it difficult to complete his school work, we will have it turned in on Tuesday”
Sample: “Lynn’s father and I are working through some marital issues. She may be a little sad this week”
Sample: “Jack seems to be extra quick to anger. Here is what we have tried when he gets mad: we get close to him, talk quiet, and try to be very calm. Then give him a little time by himself. If you are able to try something else and have a good outcome, please let his mom and I know via email”.
Sample: “We are living with Lydia’s grandparents now since we have some financial hardship but the kids are pretty upset that we had to leave our house.”
What NOT to do…
Sample: We are living with my parents now since my wife left us to live with her boyfriend.
Reword: There has been a bit of moving around recently, please help Chase if he is a little weepy.
Sample: Billy’s dad was cheating on me and now he is living somewhere else.
Reword: There is some personal things going on. I am working to hold it all together, but emotions are high.
Sample: Sue will not be at school tomorrow, she has to testify in our divorce case against her mom since she left her at the grocery store and the police had to hold her at the station till I came into town.
Reword: We have court today, Sue will be missing school.
When one words these difficult situations in a vague way, you give the teacher the opportunity to be informed without putting the weight of the situation on his/her shoulders. If the teacher requests more information, then they will respond and ask. If the parent is comfortable at that time to share, then the door is opened. So let the teacher guide that conversation. That avoids them from feeling like they have been “put in the middle”.
No matter if you homeschool, private school, hybrid school, online, or public school, there is collaboration that needs to happen. Parents are always Co-Teachers! Students learn so much at home from mom’s house and dad’s house, intention teaching or not, they are learning how to behave, what is important, how to clean, where their focus should be, and how to treat other people. Keep it in mind that the bad and good habits that parents have, they pass those down to their kids too. (Clean or dirty homes, types of food to eat, hygiene habits, what they watch or read, etc).
Remember: no matter what situation the is happening at home, the children are affected.
When divorces parents cannot communicate, they create a difficult position for the teacher. As the first month of school continues and parent-teacher conferences approach, both parents’ goal should be to create an environment for learning at school and an environment of learning to love no matter the number homes they live.