1. Let Teenagers Make Their Own First Impressions.
Well-meaning parents sell their teenagers short by sticking labels on them. Teachers know the power of the Pygmalion Effect and its ugly cousin the Golem Effect, the blessing/curse of self-fulfilling prophesy in the classroom. Generations of research has shown teachers perform differently with students for whom they have high expectations. They are better teachers--and the classroom climate is more productive--for these students than those for whom they have low expectations. Parents who label can unwittingly set the bar low and negatively influence a teacher's first impressions of their child. (Likewise coaches, tutors and other adults.)
Often teachers receive emails--from parents, tutors, mentors or other specialists--detailing the learning challenges their student faces and the modifications needed for her to prosper in school. Some of these emails, of course, contain physical, emotional and processing requirements which teachers must follow to the letter (and to the law). Many times, though, the information creates a slight and unnecessary Golem Effect between the teacher and the kid in question.
Parents seeking to protect their children from the overwhelming world of high school (or varsity baseball, or any new and scary situation) drop 'helpful hints' to adults about their child's social or physical awkwardness, difficulties paying attention, or test-taking challenges. Time and again, these comments do not resemble the child who shows up to class. I think parents do better when they let teachers discover who their children are; even better, parents who listen to a teacher's perspective can gain valuable insights.
2. Listen to What Other Adults Say about Your Teenager.
Reportedly 'shy' teenagers might hold animated conversations in the classroom. The student with chronic dyslexia might prove herself a savant--and the envy of her peers--when it comes to diagramming sentences. The perennial "behavior problem" may act gentle as a lamb for a teacher who recognizes his innate ability to translate diction into tone. On the other hand, the former bookworm may delight in devising creative ways to cause pandemonium in Biology class. Your darling angel may, indeed, be leaving campus at lunch to smoke weed in the park. The truth hurts, but we fail our children when we don't listen to it and act accordingly.
Believe it or not, teachers want every student to win, to "get it," to score well on the final, to care deeply about learning. When teachers meet a new class, we are excited to discover the possibilities and potential of our new students. Every time we grade a stack of tests, we root for each kid to hit it out of the park. We feel like superheroes when they do well; we sadly blame ourselves when it goes otherwise. Parents with the best intentions can temper a teacher's goodwill toward a student with outdated, inaccurate, or limiting labels. When teachers describe our kids to us, parents do best to listen.
3. Suck It up and Go to Parent-Teacher Conferences.
Standing in lines all afternoon may seem obsolete in this age of 24-hour access to the gradebook, but conferences are a great resource for parents who want to KNOW their teenagers. Go. I urge you. Go; open your ears and your heart. I promise you, teachers can give us valuable information about our children. Try to bite your tongue and tell teachers less about your kids. Try to listen instead, to stories about who your children really are--how they act, what they say, who influences them--and let this new knowledge help you see your adolescents with new eyes.
For more on how to KNOW our teenagers, check out our new role model the Private Investigator!