August 1, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #890, Chinuch

Our children will soon be going back to school. Teachers, students and parents each have expectations. Are each aware of the expectations that the others have? What should happen when expectations are not realized? * We spoke to parents, teachers and children to hear answers to these and other school-related questions.

By C Ben David

The new school year is not that far off. Soon, our children will return to school, at which time the children, their teachers and their parents will have certain expectations. The teacher walking into the classroom will expect a certain standard of behavior on the part of the students as well as involvement on the part of the parents. The parents have expectations of the school, and the children have their own expectations.

What are your expectations?

Rina, a first grade teacher says, “I definitely expect the children to behave properly and learn, to do their homework and review what they learned, and to internalize the values and mitzvos that I teach. However, since these are still little children, a lot depends on their parents. I see how those children whose parents show that they care, who review the material with their children and make sure they have the supplies that they need and encourage them to learn, are children who learn well and achieve what they need to achieve. The opposite is true too.

“Especially in the lower grades, parents need to keep tabs on what is being learned and to make sure that their child comes to school prepared with supplies and has done his or her homework. I also expect parents to call me occasionally to hear an update, and not just when a problem arises.”

Devora also teaches in the younger grades and she adds: “I expect parents to make sure their child goes to sleep at a reasonable hour, eats well, does her homework and keeps to a schedule. I tell the girls in my class that these things are very important for their learning. I also have to use every opportunity to remind the parents, because at this young age, a lot depends on them. Additionally, I ask the parents to work together with me because I am looking out for the welfare of their children.”

R’ Moshe is a first grade teacher and he says, “Many parents, especially for those who have a child in school for the first time, don’t know quite what is expected of them. So at the beginning of the year, I send a letter to the parents and let them know my expectations. The main thing is to review the material that was learned and to help with homework. The more the parents put in, the more successful their children will be.”

Chaya is an upper elementary school teacher. “When we’re talking about older students, there are great expectations from them. I expect them to be self-disciplined. At this age, the girls are more responsible for themselves and they need to learn properly in the classroom and to review the material at home. Of course, this is aside from my expectation that at this age they will internalize the values that I teach.

“I also have expectations of the parents. Although girls this age have their own opinions, parents have a lot of influence. Parents need to keep on top of what they are learning and how they are doing. Sometimes, they need to buy additional books or even to have their child evaluated. In such a case, parents’ involvement is a must. I sometimes have to explain to parents that they need to lower their expectations of help from their children. Yes, in a large family, the older girls are expected to help, but they also have their own needs and pressure in school. Expectations that are too high at home will adversely effect how the children do in school because they don’t have time to study. Emotionally, children under pressure at home will feel frustrated.”

On a different note, Chaya says, “Parents need to let their children know that they agree with the educational values and demands of the school. Parents who send their children to religious/Chabad schools have to fall in line with the values that are being taught there, even if they don’t quite agree with them. Obviously, this does not mean that parents cannot have their own opinion. If they differ, they should respectfully bring up their concern and iron out problems that arise, but they must convey their cooperation with and trust in the school to their children.”

Sarah, an elementary school principal, says, “Parents who transmit their opposition or, in less extreme cases, their lack of empathy with the school, convey this message to their children too, and it influences them. Under these circumstances, it is very hard to expect children to accept the school’s demands. When parents undermine the school’s authority – whether directly or indirectly – the result is an undermining of the parents’ authority, since the parents are the ones who are teaching their children not to respect authority. So the first and basic requirement is cooperation and trust on the part of parents with the understanding that this is necessary for their child’s welfare, education and success in school.

“It’s important to stress that trust doesn’t necessarily mean kabbalas ol and utter submission. Mistakes are definitely made on the part of the staff, and parents can express their opinion and critique on what they do. However, when the general attitude is one of trust and cooperation, the criticism will be constructive.

“If a child tells his parents about something that took place in school that was unfair, the parents need to listen to him but not say things like, ‘You’re right,’ or ‘The teacher really did not do the right thing.’ Nor should they say things that indirectly convey that message. They are best off saying that they will speak to the teacher later in the evening.

“This has a number of benefits. First, the conversation will take place later on and not when emotions are running high. (In many instances, the child calms down after a while and will even say it’s okay not to call the teacher). Second, it’s proper to call at a time when the teacher is likely to be available. Third, and very important, when parents speak to the teacher, the child should not be present. In many cases, things are said which are not appropriate for the child to hear.

“It is possible that in the course of the conversation it will turn out that the complaint was not justified (‘He told you that I gave thirteen pages of homework, but the truth is that we did most of the work in class today. The problem is that he was lazy and did not do the work.’). It is also possible that the complaint was justified (‘Now I understand that your child behaved as she/he did because her friend was bothering her/him. It’s good that you told me these details. Tomorrow I will talk with both of them about what happened.’).

“I also know from experience that even if the child complains with tears and fury, so that it’s hard not to sympathize with him, you really need to remain objective and do the right thing.

“Another important point is to speak to the teacher and not go over his or her head to the principal. In my opinion, going over a teacher’s head shows you don’t trust him or her.

“Parents often send notes to the teacher instead of calling. Children usually read the note and they also pick up on the attitude that appears between the lines. Take this into consideration when you word the note. If necessary, send it in a sealed envelope.

“When the general attitude is one of cooperation, parents will find the right timing and ways of conveying their displeasure about the school. Criticism that is given in the right way is more likely to be accepted in the right way. Obviously, the trust needs to be mutual. I demand this of my teachers.”

How aware are the teachers of the parents’ expectations and how seriously do they take them?

Moshe says: “When I write my expectations to the parents, I provide my telephone number and the hours when I can be reached. I encourage them to call with any question or comment. Parents actually do call often in order to tell me their special requests and expectations, simple things like changing a seat or comments about social situations or a child’s sensitivity. There are general requests that parents make at the beginning of the year, and then there are those who call when things come up during the year. I try to accommodate them as best as I can.”

R’ Yosef is a teacher of the upper grades in elementary school. He explains, “Unlike first grade, where the parents speak to the teachers more often, in the upper grades you may not hear from the parents, but they definitely have expectations. This is why, at the beginning of the year, I have a meeting with the parents and I ask them to write down their expectations. In most cases, the parents write requests having to do with the material we will cover. There are also requests that have to do with other areas of education as well as social issues. There are fewer requests having to do with the specific needs of a child.”

Devora clarifies at the beginning of the year what each parent’s expectations are. “I give out a paper and ask the parents to write down their expectations and any requests or special needs of which they are aware. The most common request is that I not give a lot of homework, set an academic level that is too high, or exert too much pressure. Sometimes, I have to explain to the parents that the educational requirements are appropriate to the abilities of children this age and it’s all done for their benefit. Sometimes, there are special requests that I take a child’s specific needs into account. It is very important to know about this in advance so I can handle it right.”

Rina thinks it’s important to be aware of parents’ expectations, but “The level in the school that I teach is quite low. When I hand out questionnaires to the parents, I see that many of them have a hard time filling them out, because they don’t read and write in Hebrew or they have difficulty with reading and writing altogether. So I try to hear their expectations in other ways.

“I think that parents have many expectations. They often ask me for help in areas that go beyond the classroom like problems with discipline at home and problems the children have with organization. I try to listen and to help as best I can, but I sometimes explain to parents that they have to handle it themselves. When quite a few parents spoke to me about their children fighting at home, I devoted some time to the topic in class, but when it comes to more personal and specific problems, I tell the parents that’s not my department. I might offer ideas or refer them to someone else.”


We spoke with some parents (some of whom are also teachers) to ask them what their expectations of the schools are. We heard a variety of responses and there were differences between the expectations of the fathers and those of the mothers.

Avrohom, a father of five, says Ahavas Yisroel is his top priority. “There are many problems in this area among the children (among the adults too) and early intervention can help. Teachers should emphasize the importance of Ahavas Yisroel. In my children’s school, there are learning contests but I never heard that they gave out prizes to a child for acting with Ahavas Yisroel. Time and effort need to be devoted to this subject. Fights need to be dealt with, with the utmost seriousness. Most importantly, the positive needs to be emphasized. This can be done by organizing classroom gemachs, giving tz’daka every day, and managing other chesed activities.”

Yehuda also emphasizes Ahavas Yisroel and he says that it should be combined with the learning. He adds that emunas tzaddikim should be stressed with Chassidishe stories; creating a Chassidishe atmosphere and arranging special activities now and then is also important.

Yosef, who is a father as well as a teacher, says he wants the school to have a Chassidishe atmosphere. Another expectation of his, and that of many fathers, is a high level of learning and enrichment in various areas.

Mothers, on the other hand, who were interviewed for this article, hardly ever referred to the learning. They spoke primarily in terms of sensitivity in dealing with social and educational issues.

“My main expectation as a mother is that they treat the child in a personal way and understand his needs,” said Rochel, a mother of six, most of who are in school. “When it comes to the learning, I don’t have special requests. I feel that the teachers do their jobs as they should. As long as there are no problems like excessive pressure or a low level of learning, I don’t see any reason to mix in. But it is very important to me to know that my children are getting personal attention, that the teachers understand them as individuals and not as just another student in the classroom.

“Here’s an example. My oldest daughter is very talented, but for a long time I felt that she wasn’t using her talents in the classroom. It was only after I spoke about this to the teacher that she started giving her enrichment work that was excellent for her. Another one of my daughters was having a hard time with math and the teacher gave her easier work to do which helped her. Sometimes, the special needs have to do with friends and feelings and it’s important that the teacher deal with this.

“I know that it’s not easy for a teacher to handle the curriculum as well as to provide every one of the thirty children with personal attention, and yet it’s important that they be aware that each child is a world unto himself. As a mother, the personal relationship with the children takes priority over the material that they learn.

“I expect teachers to call me if necessary, when a problem crops up or to point out good things. That is part of giving individual attention.”

Chaya, a mother and teacher, adds, “As mothers, we don’t always have enough information about a significant part of our children’s lives, that of their time in the classroom. It’s important to me to know to know about the social, emotional, and academic situation of my children. I would really like to get this information from the teachers. I think that aside from unusual situations which they report about, most of the information is standard and doesn’t reflect a teacher’s attention to the child.

“As a teacher, I know how hard it can be for teachers to look after students during recess. Teachers are busy and it’s hard to find the time for personal interactions, but I would really like for the hanhala of the school to find ways of dividing jobs among the teachers so that there are people whose job it is to handle social, emotional, and personal matters.”

Sarah says her main expectation is “That the children go off to school happily. When children are happy and relaxed, they are able to learn properly.” She thinks that in order for children to be happy to go to school, the teachers need to show they understand. A teacher needs to be attuned to the needs and feelings of the students. Some children need more attention, some need less academic rigor. When a teacher tries to understand and be attentive, the child feels comfortable in school and will want to comply with its demands.

Naomi, mother of a large family, says that teachers usually are willing to work with a child and to fulfill parental expectations. “But sometimes I feel that my son or daughter is not getting the personal attention he or she needs. When this happens, I call the teachers and bring it to their attention. In most cases, they take me seriously. A teacher stands in front of 20-30 students, and sometimes, unless the parent gets involved, the teacher won’t give enough attention to a child. It’s not because they’re no good, chalila, but because they have so much to do. When the teacher knows that there are parents who care, they will usually give the child more attention.

“For example, my eight year old is very quiet. She told me a few times about classmates who insulted her. I felt that the teacher knew about this but didn’t do anything, maybe because my daughter is so quiet and doesn’t complain. I spoke to the teacher without my child knowing about it, and the next day she told me that her teacher had dealt with the situation. In general, I expect teachers to treat each child in a personal manner, but sometimes parents need to make the teachers aware of their children’s needs.”

What are children’s expectations in the classroom?

Most of the children said they hoped they would have a good teacher. When asked what a good teacher is, there were differences in their answers, though generally the children’s expectations were close to that of their mothers, i.e. about being understanding and warm.

10 year old Chani: “A good teacher is one who doesn’t punish and doesn’t get angry over every little thing. When a child disturbed in class, the teacher I had this year spoke to her and wasn’t quick to punish.”

Rivky, who is in Chani’s class, defined a good teacher as “someone who treats the students nicely and understands them.” For example, when girls fight, she speaks to them and helps them make peace.

11 year old Rocheli hopes that she will have a teacher who is thoughtful, socially aware and not quick to anger. “This year we had a short-tempered teacher, and I hope that my next teacher won’t be that way.”

9 year old Yossi hopes that his recent teacher will continue to teach him next year. “He is a good teacher; he explains things patiently and he doesn’t get irritated like my brother’s teacher.”

11 year old Shmulik says: “A good teacher is a teacher who listens to the children and understands them, and is patient with each one.”

Aside from a “good teacher,” children have many requests and expectations:

Rocheli wants school to start later because it’s hard for her to get up early. She’s willing to make up the time at the end of the day.

Devori wants more gym and computers. Rivky wants art at least three times a week. She says she would also like more friends.

To Chani it is very important that she sit next to her friend. She also wants longer recess, a bigger school yard and for the lessons to be more interesting. Shmulik also wants interesting lessons, while Yossi has a modest request, that they put playground equipment in the yard.

To the children, these requests are very important, even if we don’t think they’re so important. We need to understand where they are coming from.

It’s complicated. Parents, teachers and children each have their own expectations. And sometimes, they are mutually exclusive. Sometimes, the requests of one seem outlandish to the other. What should be done about this?

Chaya says, “In order not to set up situations in which expectations are not in sync, it’s important to create awareness about the others’ expectations. The way this is done will vary depending on the age and circumstances, but if at the beginning of the year each one informs the other about their expectations, they are more likely to be met.”

Rina says, “It’s important that each side explain their expectations to the other side. When there is open communication, you have a chance to respond when you think the expectations are not reasonable or when it is hard to fulfill them. Matters should be ironed out early so as to preempt unpleasant situations.”

Sarah adds, “It’s important for there to be communication between parents and the school. When there are trust and cooperation, you can speak openly and directly when expectations are not met and look for solutions.”

In Sarah’s experience, “Problems having to do with not meeting expectations arise when there is a lack of mutual trust.” Sometimes, parents are busy with work and they think that only the school is responsible for the chinuch of their children. There are parents with unreasonable expectations, and parents who have justifiable complaints but they present them in not a nice way at all. This happens due to lack of trust. When parents trust the school – and again, this does not mean that they blindly accept everything – meaning there is cooperation and knowledge that the system to which you are entrusting your dear children truly seeks his benefit, then there will be effective and honest communication. In the event that problems crop up, I speak to parents and try to achieve communication, trust and cooperation.”

Chaya says, “It’s important to tell children that their teacher is interested in hearing their expectations and fulfilling them. Obviously, many of their requests cannot be carried out, but it is a good thing to hear them out. It can be through a classroom ‘Suggestion Box,’ where children can put in requests, such as who they would like to be seated next to (with the teacher emphasizing that not all requests can be fulfilled). There can also be sessions for dealing with social issues, devoted now and then to raising topics that the children bring up. As a high school teacher, I find it particularly important to hear the girls out. I find that they cooperate more that way. With my children, I see that even at young ages it’s necessary for them to express their wishes and to feel that the teacher is trying to accede to them, when possible. This makes the children feel good about school, which leads to greater success in their learning.”


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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