Many of our children have returned to yeshiva day school this week and it’s important to emphasize the important joint role that parents and educators play in the education of each student. Both parents and educators have a profound influence in raising our next generation of passionate, engaged Torah observant Jewish leaders and that influence is amplified when they work in tandem. What does it mean for a parent to work with our children’s educators and what does it mean for an educator to work with our children’s parents? What are the responsibilities of a parent and what are the responsibilities of an educator? This week’s blog will discuss a few key responsibilities that a parent has in partnering with his or her children’s educators.
The first rule for parents is stop the lashon hara. I have been told that many parent grade WhatsApp Chats are vehicles for useful information but, unfortunately, they also are vehicles for lashon hara. It is true that as parents, under some circumstances we may and we must share negative information about teachers or school administration for the benefit of our children. However, according to halacha, if we can correct the situation by approaching the teacher or administrator and trying to correct the situation with them quietly and effectively, then we should do so and not share the negative information with other parents (Chafetz Chayim, Laws of Lashon Hara, 10:1). Sometimes we rush to criticize a teacher, an administrator or a school before even confronting the teacher or school administrator. If we cannot rectify the situation quietly, then we may need to solve the problem in a more public manner; however, parents should try as hard as possible to minimize public criticism when dealing with a school issue. Additionally, if a parent approaches a teacher to solve the problem without publicizing the incident and the parent and teacher collaborate to solve the problem, then a parent-educator partnership is built on trust and mutual respect and all of this benefits the student.
Sometimes a parent is so bothered by what happened to his or her child in school that the parent needs to speak to someone about it. Saying something negative about someone for a constructive purpose is permitted according to halacha, provided that certain conditions are met. Rav Hershel Schachter permits one who is suffering significant psychologist anguish to speak freely to a therapist to seek relief from anxiety and he thinks that a spouse can often serve as the most effective confidante. Sometimes, a good friend can provide the best listening ear and the best advice assuming that the friend won’t spread the lashon hara. That being said, a parent should not speak negatively about a teacher, administrator or school on a WhatsApp Chat or social media platform if the purpose is to seek relief from anxiety. Again, sometimes there may be a purpose for these conversations, but we must limit the lashon hara when at all possible because it is halachically required and because public criticism of an educator may erode the trust between parent and educator. It goes without saying that criticizing a school in front of a child is also harmful to the relationship between a parent and educator.
On the positive side, a parent should endeavor to learn the values that the educator is teaching his or her child and the parent should work towards adopting those values. By doing so, parent and educator create a singular vision and a consistent message of Torah values for the child. I have noticed fathers who only started to daven at minyan more regularly when they came to minyan with their pre-teen or teen son. I have also noticed parents who only started learning gemara when they had to review the gemara with their children at home. Parents realize that their children are observing them and the parents can only convince their children to follow the values of the school if the parents do so themselves. What’s even better is when children see parents embodying the values that their children learn at school even when the children are not engaged in these values at all. For example, when a child sees a parent attend a shiur or open up a sefer to learn even when the child is doing something else, the child sees that the parent values what the educator is teaching at school. But most importantly, a parent should embody the growth mindset, because that is key to a child’s growth in school. If a child has a growth mindset, then he or she will soar academically, emotionally and spiritually. If a child sees a parent project a desire to work on his or her midot and yirat shamayim, to learn more and daven better, and to just try to be a better, more ethical person, then this singular message will create strong positive pressure for the child to want to grow, as well, notwithstanding the child’s exposure to other influences. There can be no greater partnership between a parent and educator when the values that a child learns at school are echoed by his or her parents at home.
Next week I will discuss key responsibilities that an educator has in partnering with his or her student’s parents.