So something happened at school this week that I have never experienced before and to be quite honest it rattled me a little bit.
For a bit of background knowledge I am at present a pre-service teacher, I graduate from university in June next year (2019) and at the moment I work some mornings and most afternoons at a school as an after-school-care employee (basically a babysitter for older kids).
Last week I was minding the prep / year 1 (5/6 year olds) students while they ate their afternoon tea. Everything was going smoothly, the kids were telling me about their day, then suddenly I noticed this one little girl was taking her watermelon, throwing it onto the wooden deck and stomping on it with her foot. Using my strong teacher voice (I didn’t raise my voice or yell – just changed the tone slightly so that instead of sounding light and playful as I generally do when interacting with the kids I now sounded serious and authoritarian) I asked her what she was doing. The student, lets call her Sally, didn’t respond and looked rather shocked that I had questioned her watermelon squashing motives. (This little girl is in Prep and it was only the 5th week of school for her ever – so in hindsight I don’t believe she would ever have been spoken to in a corrective manner by a teacher which would explain her astonishment). Again using my strong voice I asked her “is that how we treat things?” – she responded with a timid shake of the head, her eyes had begun to water at this point. I then said (in my strong voice) “You can go to the bathroom, get some paper towel and clean that up please. That’s not how we treat things ” – and off she went.
By the time the watermelon had been cleaned up Sally had progressed from watery eyes to full tears and I was considering my next move. The incident had happened, Sally had cleaned up the mess she had made (and she was obviously remorseful) so now my job was to re-establish a positive working relationship with her. I went over and sat with her (the other children had all dispersed by this point to participate in various activities) and we had a quiet chat about ‘why Miss Millie had gotten cross’ and how ‘if we don’t want our watermelon we give it to the chickens (two extremely obese pet chickens that live at school) and not squash it into the slats of the wooden deck’. After we had finished she gave me a little cuddle and then the afternoon proceeded as normal. In fact I think that Sally may be more attached to me following this incident because she has been drawing me a picture to take home almost every day since.
So that was the “incident” now comes the true reason for this post…
Almost a week after the incident occurred I showed up for work and my supervisor called me into her office. She explained to me that Sally’s mum had complained about me to another staff member, and this staff member had repeated the conversation to her. The complaint-recieving staff member, lets call her Sharon, was summoned and the story was told. It started like normal Sharon had greeted the Mum, lets call her Donna, and they had a friendly chat about miscellaneous things and then Donna said “I need to talk to you about Millie”. When Donna had picked Sally up from after-school care last week she had been really quiet and Donna had questioned her about what was wrong Sally came out and said something along the lines of ‘Miss Millie yelled at me for making a mess with my watermelon and its not fair because other kids made a mess too’. Donna, the mum, now went on to criticise me to what I think may have been an excessively nasty level (based on Sharon’s reluctance to tell me too much of the what was said exactly) and then took her leave.
Now to make things clear it isn’t the fact that a parent has complained that has rattled me; it is the fact that ;
- The story the parent heard was not exactly what happened;
- Instead of questioning ME or my supervisor, the parent has chosen to go to another staff member and make her complaint;
- The parent got nasty (extent of which is undetermined – but it was unnecessary regardless)
As a pre-service teacher I take things such as behaviour management very seriously and I do my utmost to make sure that all of my corrective actions are consistent and respectful. I checked myself against the Decisive Leadership Model (a set of principals to guide a teachers response to misbehaviour), as reported and developed by Aitken in 1999 and my comments on the most noteworthy principals are as follows;
Principal One: Respect – I made sure that I spoke clearly and didn’t raise my voice or use an derogative terms. I said please.
Principal Three: Collegial Support – When I questioned my senior colleagues (both after the incident and again after the parental complaint) they thought that the steps I took were appropriate and one even suggested that I come down harder on students in the future.
Principal Seven: Choices and Consequences – Sally made a mess so the consequence was that she had to clean up the mess. I emphasised this point more in the chat we had following the incident.
Principal Eight: Certainty not Severity – the consequences imposed (I think) perfectly matched the behaviour
Principal Nine: Re-establish a positive working relationship – I made sure that I sat down with Sally afterwards and explained why she had gotten in trouble. I made sure that she had an opportunity to ask me questions. Judging from her behaviour following the positive relationship was successfully re-established.
It has begun to become clear to me that the one thing university is not going to be able to teach us (pre-service teachers) is what to do with the parents. There is millions of pieces of literature surrounding classroom management and numerous models to guide us on making the right decision in the classroom – but as of yet we havn’t been exposed to any learning or literature that teaches us how to effectively communicate and collaborate with the people who influence our students the most.
My goal for the next few weeks is to educate myself and find some literature to help me understand where this mother (Donna) was coming from when she turned on me. But for now I would love the opinions of any teachers, educators, child care workers AND parents – Do you think I handled the situation appropriately? Is there something more I could have done? Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!
Until next week 🙂