How to Advocate for Your Child in School

By Toby Klein Greenwald

There is nothing we can do for the school lives of our children that is more important than mounting the barricades for them. Most teachers are caring, kind and dedicated to their students. Having said that, they are also underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. So I formulated my own philosophy about education, and it goes like this: “As long as the school doesn’t destroy my child’s self esteem, or his natural curiosity to learn, it will be enough. Everything else is gravy.”

What you can do to advocate for your child:

• Never tolerate physical violence against a child.

• Never tolerate a teacher saying something to a child that will make her feel degraded or stupid.

• Never tolerate a teacher embarrassing a child because of what she perceives to be a parent’s shortcomings.

• If you think your child needs testing, don’t delay. Teachers sometimes like to “wait and see” because they don’t want to “scare” the parents. If your child has a learning problem, the sooner you find out, the sooner he can receive special help to correct it.

• On the flip side: Never accept the excuse that your child is not being called on, or tested for gifted programs because, “He sits in the back and is quiet”. Advocacy is also about recognition of your child’s strengths. An expert in giftedness told me, “Giftedness is Special Education, no less than LD and ADHD.”

• Always believe your child. And even you have doubts, tell him that you believe him, anyway. Many years after nobody will remember (or care) who threw that piece of chalk at the blackboard, your child will remember that you trusted him.

• Never assume automatically that a bad teacher’s report means that there is something wrong with your child. Maybe the problem is the teacher. Find out how your child is doing in art, gym and other “non-academic” subjects. Investigate if there are too many other children in the same class receiving negative reports.

• If you believe your child has been treated unfairly, speak up! Nobody else will!

• If you believe your child has been abused in some way, contact the principal, a lawyer, or the police. Even if the teacher apologizes, or the truth is not as bad as you thought, your child will remember that you went to bat for him.

• Always be respectful when interacting with teachers or with school officials. This is a message to your child that will last him for life. One day, one of my grown daughters said, “Mom, you were always ready to mount the barricades for us. Thank you.” Being our child’s advocate demands courage, perseverance, and audacity, but it will pay off in their relationship with us, and in their perception of their own worth. And even teachers can be taught.

The author is the mother of six and has been a teacher for thirty years.