In my blog last week, I emphasized the important joint role that parents and educators play in educating each student and I outlined a few key responsibilities that a parent has in partnering with his or her children’s educators. In this blog, I will discuss key responsibilities that an educator has in partnering with his or her student’s parents.
An educator should truly view himself or herself as a partner working with and not against the student’s parents. Some educators don’t think like that, sometimes for good reason. I saw a cute, but telling, comic strip that compared parent teacher conferences from fifty years ago to today. Fifty years ago, at these conferences, parents would scold their child and say, “Explain these bad grades!” Today, at these conferences, parents scold their child’s teacher and say, “Explain these bad grades!” Many educators dread parent-teacher conferences and are often unwilling to contact a parent if his or her child is struggling in school. The reason is that they fear that the conversation will become uncomfortable and the parent will criticize the educator.
We live in a era of less respect for authority, and therefore, parents are more likely to criticize educators than they otherwise would have fifty years ago. That being said, from my experience as an educator, I have found most parents to be reasonable. Educators should not allow a few difficult parents define how they view most parents. Most parents are grateful if an educator shares student concerns with them if the sharing is done in a manner that projects concern and care for the well-being of the student.
Additionally, an educator should convey to his or her students that he or she truly respects the parents, even if the parents may not fully observe all the halachot that the educator is trying to teach the students. Many parents who are not as halachically observant as their children may have worked much harder to achieve their level of halachic observance than their children have in order to achieve their level of observance. Educators must make their students appreciate this fact.
Some parents feel threatened by children who practice new halachic observances beyond that which the parents practice. Here the educator can also be helpful by telling his or her students to communicate both love and respect towards their parents. A child must observe the mitzvot of kibud (honor) and mora (reverence) towards his or her parents. This means that a child must take care of the parents’ physical needs and not act in a disrespectful manner towards the parents. The Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 6:1) writes that the Torah equates the honor and reverence of one’s parents with the honor and reverence of God Himself. After all, the Torah uses the terms “kabed,” denoting honor, and “tira,” denoting fear, both in how we should relate to God and to our parents. I think the reason for this is that honoring and revering our parents trains us to respect authority and ultimately to respect the supreme authority, namely God. Additionally, the Chayei Adam (1:16) explains the observing the mitzvot of kibud and mora towards our parents expresses gratitude for all the good that they have done for us.
However, neither kibud nor mora obligates a child to be a clone of his or her parents. The child can find his or her own religious path, but the child still must respect the parent. I have found that once parents realize that a child’s motivations for religious growth are sincere and not used as a pretext to reject the parents’ lifestyle and values, then most parents will support the child’s growth in this manner. A child should never have to choose between parents and educators. Therefore, an educator must foster the parent-educator partnership to the best of his or her ability.