Imagine you are a stay at home mother looking after two young children. Your other half works full time and only gets to spend limited time with the children, on weekends and holidays perhaps. In the evenings, you discuss them, you talk about what they have done and said. Three snap shots:
You: “He wants to help me with everything nowadays. He uses his little chair to get around the kitchen and help himself to biscuits. As soon as I start cooking he is on that chair, at my elbow, saying ‘Help you, Mummy?'”
Other Half: “Brilliant. He’s getting really independent, isn’t he.”
Other half: “He doesn’t seem to talk about his friends, does he?”
You: “No. Just the food he ate. But he does enjoy playing with them when he’s there. That will come, he’s still so little.”
You come in to the bedroom and your son is bouncing on the bed. Your other half is there and they are laughing together.
You: “That’s cute, but my rule is no jumping on the bed. You can supervise now and catch him if he falls, but he’ll do it again when I’m on my own holding a baby on one arm and then it’s too dangerous. Best if he learns not to jump on the bed at all.”
OH: “Sure. I’m sorry, son, but you heard Mummy. No jumping on the bed. That was Daddy’s mistake too, but you know the rule. Let’s go downstairs and play something else.”
In (1), the oldest child’s progress is discussed. The primary caregiver gives some feedback on the child’s latest accomplishments and the other parent beams and enjoys hearing about how his boy is growing up.
In (2), the parent expresses a concern about the child’s development from his own observation. The primary caregiver acknowledges this concern, but can put it into context from what she has seen and experienced, and can reassure the parent that this is developmental and will get better – either through blind Pollyanna-like optimism or from solid research.
In (3), there is a discrepancy between the rules of behaviour as set by the primary caregiver and those set by the other parent. The stay at home mother explains the problem, giving reasonable justifications for her initial rule, which the other parent acknowledges as valid. He apologises to his son for confusing matters and supports the primary caregivers rules by leading the child away from the undesirable activity.
Note that in none of these examples there was any request for written evidence. At no point did the other parent say: “Show me a log book of what you have done today with the children.” He does not want to go over every single detail to make sure they had their 5-a-day or that they washed their hands after being in the sandpit or that there was a good balance of activities. I am sure the two parents will have had conversations and will continue to have conversations about how they want to bring up their kids and if they have disagreements they thrash them out. But the parent who needs to work full time is placing these two precious children in his partner’s care full time because he trusts her to do a good job. He trusts her to stick to the principles of child-rearing that they both believe in and to own up if she has messed up. Then he trusts her to fix it again. He accepts that she will not always be perfect, but also trusts that she will on the whole have more good days than bad and that she will cope and do right by their children.
Feedback happens in conversation. Art work is stuck on the walls or the fridge or is proudly presented to Daddy. Mishaps and accidents are discussed afterwards or in emergencies, the other parent will be called home from work. Beliefs, morals, principles are discussed and agreed on by the parents. The finer details of what happens day to day in order to keep the children happy and turn them into well-adjusted and decent human beings are mostly left to the parent who does the majority of the childcare. The working parent is happy to hear about them beforehand or afterwards, whatever comes up or is necessary or suits them both best.
There is no quarterly test to assess the children’s progress towards happiness, well-roundedness or decent human-beingness. There is also no yearly assessment of your parenting in which you might get referred to training sessions if your result is merely ‘satisfactory’, nor will your supermarket budget be capped if you don’t make the grade.
I am sure you are starting to see through my cunning and thinly-veiled analogy by now. I am sure you will want to point out at this point that there are rather important differences between leaving your children with your wife and leaving them with a stranger – the teacher. Yes, there are:
1. You love your wife. You don’t even know the teacher. Also, you can be certain your wife loves your kids. How can you feel confident that the teacher is going do what’s best for your child when they hardly know your child?
2. How will you know what your child is being taught and whether you agree with it? You don’t know the teacher’s values, their pet hates or favourite topics, but you do know all these things about your wife and the mother of your children. You know what needs addressing and what you can put up with.
3. How will you know if it is a good or a bad teacher?
Although these are pretty big differences, they can be solved by learning from your relationship with each other as a couple, or from relationships with friends who you might trust to look after your children:
Trust is built up through relationship.
If we want parents and teachers to trust each other, to support each other’s decision and stand together for the good of the child, there needs to be a chance and an opportunity to build relationships. Parent and teacher evenings need to be social evenings where all the important people in a child’s life, with whom he or she spends a significant amount of time, come together to get to know each other and learn to trust each other’s instincts.
You choose who to trust. Choose before sending your child to a school and before employing a teacher.
When you choose a school to send your child to, you are committing to a relationship with the school. When you start a relationship with someone, you choose someone you believe you have important things in common with. Same applies to a school and by extension its teachers. If you think the school you have chosen has sound principles and respects its students, then you should be able to feel you can trust the teachers to teach your children without hovering over them and demanding proof at every turn.
More importantly, if you are a school, you should employ teachers you trust. Spend some time with them, let them teach, watch them work – if you like what you see, employ them. Then step back and let them do what they are good at. As a head teacher, an LEA, a government, you are delegating the job of teaching the children to teachers. Use your head. Let them get on with it. If you give them a job then let them do it, instead of making them spend hours of time that they could be spending preparing brilliant lessons on proving they have followed guidelines. If you don’t think you can trust someone enough to do the job – don’t give them the job.
You maintain trust by keeping in contact, by feeding back. The parents and the school should respect teachers enough to let them do their job – teachers should respect parents and schools enough to keep them informed, to talk to them about how the students are doing.
Trust teachers. Let them teach. Not only because it is the only way that they can teach, but also because trust is an important value to teach our children, and a vital building block for relationships. Model excellent relationships, and trust your teacher.