"A note came home from school saying that our 9 year-old needs to work more quietly at his seat. We are not at the school so we can’t see what the situation is or what could be done to change the behaviour. We believe he is talking too much, but short of reinforcing the need for quiet work (long after the problem behaviour has occurred), what can we do?" – Lynda (Ottawa)
Who Owns The Problem?
Lynda – you are right on the money with your comments. You cannot influence behaviour from afar. A parent is no more responsible for a child’s behaviour at school than for a spouse’s behaviour at work.
Context is Everything!
You also make another great point Lynda – context means everything when one is trying to figure out the purpose of behaviour, especially behaviour that is not helpful. To understand how children use behaviour for a reason requires some education and training.
Teacher Tattling – A Last Resort
The fact that the note came home makes me believe that your son’s teacher has tried everything and is now bankrupt of ideas for what to do so they are appealing to you for help! Just as parents face common misbehaviours at home, so too do teachers in the classroom – times 30 kids! Their job is a tough one, and unfortunately – training in classroom management is not covered sufficiently (if at all) in teachers’ college.
Please understand – I hold the teaching profession in the highest regard. Heck – I am a teacher! However, to my way of thinking, this note home to you is really just tattling – isn’t it?
The teacher is trying to get the child "in trouble" with their parents, in the hopes that mom and dad will give their child "a talking to" (or some other punitive measure). The teacher hopes that this will lead to obedience in the classroom. This approach is representative of the old-style autocratic method of dealing with children, by using power of position, fear of disapproval, or some other external force to make children "obey". And it may make them obey. But at what cost to the child’s self-esteem, their relationship with their parents and their teacher? This is a short-sighted strategy, but it is the only strategy this teacher knows.
Your child undoubtedly knows he should be working quietly, but he chooses not to. This issue is not about "teaching" your child about proper behaviour. The only way to effect change is through a change in the teacher’s technique for guiding the class and his or her classroom management techniques to stimulate co-operation rather than demanding obedience. But he/she is unaware of this at the moment.
Responding To The Note
Maintain an encouraging attitude towards your child, their teacher, and your belief in their ability to work together to solve what is really a problem owned by the whole class.
Offer up the INVITATION that, should the teacher wish to hear more about some of the things you are learning about the principles, rules and tools for dealing with behaviour, you could provide some resources . The use of classroom meetings to problem solve such issues would be outlined in any of these books.