Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Talkin’ To Teachers

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 24, 2012

Sometimes I have the pleasure of going to a high school to talk to teachers about ADHD. This fictionalized story illustrates a moment which made me pause. During the lunch session that I had with teachers, one teacher told me about a student who was hyperactive, although not severely, causing this teacher to pause in her discussion. When I inquired if she had told the parents about this student, she said I did not want to  “worry them”. She made me realize that when a teacher reports a behavior to parents, they are faced with the uncertainty of how these parents will react. Some might get extremely anxious, and some might get angry. There is always the fear of the “kill the messenger” response. I never really thought before as to why teachers may not be communicating to parents about the concerns they have in their students. In the past, I had attributed poor communication to the fact that the teacher had too many students, or that the teacher was unaware of what was going on in the classroom. Now, I realize that teachers, like therapists, are faced with the sensitivity of parents who cringe at the idea that their child may not be “normal”. No one wants to make a parent cringe. We all would rather have a narcissistic festival where the teacher and the student are thriving in this academic environment that we call school. A “problem” in that environment opens the discussion to a blame game, where the injured, in this case the parents, might throw the blame away from their child and on to the school. Sometimes, of course, the parents may appropriately assess that the school is failing their child. Other times, though, the parents are blaming the school, blaming the teacher, as a way of avoiding dealing with the problems in their child. It is obvious that everyone benefits from open communication and parents should be told when their child is a behavior problem in the classroom. It is now also obvious to me, another reason this open communication may be inhibited. As I said, it is a pleasure talking to teachers.

4 Responses to “Talkin’ To Teachers”

  1. Jon said

    You again show a delicate balance. How does one communicate without offense? Being too blunt, the message does not get through. Being too silent, the message still does not get through. A good solution to this dilemma is one of the marks of a good teacher – a good communicator.

    • Yes, you sum it up nicely, Jon. “A good communicator” is one who transmits important information in a way which aims to minimize the defensiveness in the listener. That is, the aim is to penetrate the tendency towards defensiveness so that the receiver can take in the information without throwing it back instantly. This is a skill which is rarely taught, yet vital to success in almost all fields.

  2. Shelly said

    I agree that parents definitely need to be told but this should not be in place of good teaching skills. Sometimes It is easier to tell parents that their kiss have ADD than it is to admit that they don’t know have the skills to control a classroom or the curious child.

    • Yes, Shelly, the question of how valid are the teacher’s observations, is always on the table. The idea is that one teacher might be revealing his/her poor teaching skills, by complaining about a student’s behavior, but if this same student receives the same feedback from multiple teachers, then it is more likely to be an issue in the student and not the teacher. Sorting this out is the “fun” detective work of child psychiatry. Thanks, as always.

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