The Secret Teacher: Should we allow teachers have their own child in class?

We strive to treat our pupils equally. Bringing a parent-child dynamic into the classroom compromises that

We urgently need for a policy on how schools should handle the allocation of students when a member of staff has to assess their own child’s work, says the Secret Teacher. Photograph: iStock

We urgently need for a policy on how schools should handle the allocation of students when a member of staff has to assess their own child’s work, says the Secret Teacher. Photograph: iStock

 

Her son is in the wrong and she knows it. She has even just admitted it. Both the principal and her son stare at her, wondering what she will say next. I’m not sure which of the three of them to look at, as it’s so hard to tell where this is going.

I’m used to parents making excuses for their children over very trivial matters: hastily scribbled notes apologising for late arrivals, forgotten books and homework not done.

It always starts that way, and then when something bigger happens, the habit has already been formed, and the parents’ (automatic?) defence is suddenly applied to more serious wrongdoings.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in the principal’s office with both parent and child – but, until now, the parent hasn’t also been a colleague.

Parent mode is understandably impossible to switch off. However immersed in teacher mode we ever get, it is a good deal easier to step out of it and just be oneself for a while.

The parent-teacher mode therefore makes for a fascinating study of when two “modes” clash if they are not well managed.

Parent is deliberately first as I have no doubt that when wearing both, the parenting hat always trumps the teaching one. Many teachers opt to send their children to any school other than the one they themselves teach in, and others go out of their way to have their own child at school with them, often in their own class. When the only adult in the room is both parent and teacher to one individual, isn’t the whole dynamic in the room unnecessarily different? For everyone in the room.

Conflict of interest

You will at least sometimes not be a teacher. It inevitably happens, for example over the course of the long summer break. You will never not be a parent, though, so why create a conflict of interest within yourself in the workplace?

Is it wise to function in the dual roles simultaneously unless totally unavoidable? Shouldn’t senior management discourage staff members from having their own child in class where possible? Or is there a set of benefits I am oblivious to?

There’s a myriad of questions I’d like to ask the parent-teacher: did you consult your child on the topic of whether they should be in your group or another one? If you didn’t, why not?

Did it even occur to you to ask? Was your spouse involved in the decision? Did you listen to how those parties felt about it or did you ‘just know’ what would be best? Did you address the issue with your colleagues? After all, you have chosen to teach your own child yourself rather than entrusting any of them with the task.

Do you know what they think? How does your child being in your class impact on them as an individual and on their classmates? Is your objectivity compromised? How would you know – perhaps the class should be asked what they think?

How does it work with tests? Are you subject to pressure to drop hints within your own four walls? Do you let your children’s classmates call round? How do they address you? Do you lower your guard? Does that bother the students who aren’t friendly with your child? Would you even know if it did?

If you are a parent-teacher reading this, you may be itching to offer your thoughts on all of those questions. I’d like to hear them and I’m even interested in them.

Child’s view

But I’m immeasurably more interested in your child’s view. How does it feel to be different? To be the only one in class at any given time who is also sharing the space with mum or dad? Would you rather be elsewhere? Do you often think ‘I’ve heard this one before’? Is it genuinely fascinating to see a parent in work mode?

Have you had your parent for this subject all the way through school? Do you say everything you want to say in class or hold some things back? Do you say those things in the car or at home, or do they remain forever unsaid? Do you get told off in class, or is that sometimes kept for afterwards? Do you feel you are treated like the others, or is it simply too hard to tell?

Do you talk about any of this with your parent-teacher? Or with your non-teacher parent? Does any of this actually matter?

I think it does – what interesting reading a piece by The Secret Student of a Parent-Teacher would be.

The new Junior Cycle brought with it the enormous challenge of teachers having to assess their own students. Show me how there isn’t, therefore, an urgent need for a policy, or at least guidelines, on how schools should handle the allocation of students when a member of staff is wearing two contrasting stakeholders’ hats. The primary stakeholder remains the student, and it is more imperative than ever that it is the student’s needs that must come first.

Somehow, I can’t help feeling that all students being equal in so far as is possible is the holy grail of allocating students to classes, and that bringing a parent-child dynamic into the classroom compromises that.

This has nothing to do with questioning a teacher’s professional capacity – that’s not the critical role here. Teacher mode can be switched on and off, but parent mode certainly can’t.