Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Tell Me That My Child Is Naughty

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How to Tell Me That My Child Is Naughty

Article excerpt

Why the after-school 'quick chat' is a flawed behaviour-management technique

"Can I have a word?"

These five little words have the power to fill a parent of primary-aged children with dread. Because it's always bad news when spoken by a teacher at the end of the school day.

You see, the after-school chat with a parent is a favourite behaviour management tool among teachers at primary level. Unfortunately, it is a deeply flawed one.

It's not just the awkwardness of the whole situation, though that makes for a bad start. If the whole playground of waiting parents can't actually see you being singled out for a chat, it certainly feels like they can as you walk off, away from your car, and into the school building with the teacher.

It's also that the end of the day is a difficult time to have a proper discussion about behaviour issues. Parents have often rushed from work to get to school on time, or are on their way to pick up siblings or attend after-school activities. This means that the opportunity to have a meaningful and constructive discussion about what is happening with your child is missed: you are simply too preoccupied and in urgent need of being elsewhere to really give the conversation your full attention.

This method of "calling out" a parent sets the wrong tone, too. I spoke to one parent who spent much of her son's reception year at school cowering at the back of the playground at pick-up time, dreading the teacher walking towards her, which happened several times a week. Her son was often the last one let out, which she knew was a bad sign. After these pick-up time chats with the teacher, she would regularly walk home in tears. She was left feeling responsible for her son's bad behaviour and wondering what she was doing wrong as a parent.

She's not alone. Many other parents I spoke to felt that being singled out - especially repeatedly - would lead to their child being labelled as "the naughty one" and them marked as poor parents.

Other issues identified were that these chats were pointless, as the parents did not have time to digest the information or prepare a response, and that talking about behaviour with the child present wasn't good for the child and meant that parents weren't able to talk as candidly as they would otherwise.

However, we parents do understand that teachers need to talk to us. And we do appreciate those teachers who take the time to keep us informed about issues that arise at school. But what are the alternatives to the playground walk of shame? What's the best way for teachers to reach out to parents when their children's behaviour has become problematic?

One teacher told me that she stays well inside the classroom at pick-up time - but asks pupils to pass on a message to their parents if she needs to talk about behaviour. The parents of the students in her class appreciate this and find it less embarrassing, but it might make the child feel even worse for having to play the messenger.

Another teacher makes a point of using the chats to single out pupils for praise and report good behaviour, too, so that it's less obviously "bad" behaviour that's being highlighted at the end of the day.

But how can teachers avoid having that end-of-the-day chat at all?

Some teachers say that they prefer to talk to parents on the telephone, which means that the parents can usually talk out of earshot of their child. …

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