Crucial Conversations QA

Addressing Your Child’s Teacher

Dear Crucial Skills,

My ten-year-old daughter has shared with me that her teacher is using words like “damn,” “stupid,” and “shut up” in the classroom. These aren’t words we use in our home and they are making her uncomfortable. She said the teacher made one boy who was misbehaving stand up in front of the class and tell the class he was a “stupid idiot.” I told my daughter I wanted to talk to her teacher about this, but she started to cry. I don’t want to betray her confidence, yet I do believe there is a need to talk to the teacher. I am looking for advice on how to address the teacher.

Concerned Parent

Dear Parent,

No child beyond the age of eight wants mom or dad to talk to the teacher—for reasons we can all understand. And yet your daughter has described a situation that needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly. So you have two issues: How do you let your daughter know what you’re going to do, and then what do you say to the teacher?

First, your daughter. Thank her for sharing her concerns with you. Explain that under most conditions, when she talks with you and wants you to keep a confidence, you will do so. Also explain that there are some things that she might tell you that you simply can’t allow to continue without saying something. Calling a child a “stupid idiot,” cursing, and using harsh language falls into this category.

Tell your daughter that she was right to be alarmed and you will say something to her teacher. Point out that you’re merely going to share your concerns. You won’t be angry with the teacher or make threats, you simply want the teacher to know what standards you hold, and you’re going to ask him or her to be sensitive to your views. Don’t negotiate with your daughter over whether you’re going to speak; however, ask what she thinks about what you’re going to do. Listen carefully and work through any issues she may have.

Now for the teacher. I have a daughter who taught the second grade for several years and have learned from her just how challenging the job is. In addition to trying to teach concepts to young children while managing the classroom, teachers have to continually respond to requests from the administration and deal with the one big scary wild card—the parents. That’s you. Believe me when I say that when you talk you’ll have his or her undivided attention. A harsh word from you and other parents could have a negative impact on the teacher’s career.

Tactic #1: When you talk to the teacher, start by establishing Mutual Purpose. Explain that you want to make sure that the classroom remains a healthy learning environment for all concerned. This is certainly a goal that the teacher shares. Also point out that you realize that this calls for instructional methods that encourage the sharing of ideas while ensuring that the students stick to rules of common courtesy and classroom deportment.

With children, of course, this balancing act can be a challenge. Recent information that your daughter has shared with you has you concerned about some methods the teacher has employed that you fear may have crossed the line. The methods may have been too forceful, even insulting, and you want to find out what really happened. Explain the words that were reported to you and ask how they were used and in what context. If necessary, share you views on what you think should and shouldn’t be said. You have a stake in the matter and your view is as valuable as anyone’s. Listen to the teacher’s view and come to an agreement about how similar problems will be handled in the future.

Tactic #2: The more I think about it, this situation is so extreme that I’m not sure you should chat with the teacher at all. Anyone who shapes the minds and hearts of the youth of the world and who feels free to curse as well as to make fun of a child in front of the entire class may not be cut out of the right cloth to teach—period. If you believe that the teacher isn’t likely to change or improve based on a single conversation, you probably should talk directly to the administration who may eventually take more drastic steps.

On behalf of those of us here at VitalSmarts, allow me to extend my thanks to you, a concerned parent who is willing to step up to an awkward situation and deal with it. Concerned and willing parents such as you provide an essential role in the monitoring of our education system. Thank you for sharing this challenge with us and I hope your efforts yield the results you desire.

Kerry Patterson

Crucial Conversations QA

Crucial Applications: Revenge on the Vanishing Vacation

Summer vacation time is on its way out and the doldrums of winter are settling in. Have you taken your much-needed vacation yet? If not, you’re not alone. It seems corporate America is experiencing a vanishing vacation pandemic. In an effort to get ahead and secure finance and job security in a volatile economy, managers and employees are demonstrating an unconventional devotion to their jobs and sacrificing vacation with the family for time in the office.

Due to social pressures and economic conditions, people are afraid to speak up for their vacation privileges. According to a VitalSmarts survey, only half of survey respondents actually speak up and ask for support and permission to take a vacation. And, alarmingly, past research shows employees who harbor these kinds of concerns and feel unable to speak up about them eventually quit.

But it’s not too late to speak up now and get the time off you deserve. If you’re suffering from the vanishing vacation, use these communication tips to reclaim your vacation without relinquishing job security or allowing work to overtake your life.

  1. Hold the right conversation. Don’t just talk about the time off you want, talk about what it truly means to take time off. If you are required to take the office with you in the form of e-mails and conference calls, you never truly leave the office.
  2. Ask for what you really want. We tend to significantly understate the importance of our vacation, so who can blame a boss and other coworkers for giving a lukewarm response? If you fail to express your wants candidly, you are part of the problem.
  3. Be inflexibly supportive. When asking for time off, be clear about what is negotiable and what is not. If the timing of your vacation is flexible, say so. But if the amount of uninterrupted time you want off is not, make that clear as well. This approach will not make employees appear belligerent if they clearly state they are willing to do all they can for the boss and the company short of compromising vacation goals.
  4. Maintain boundaries. After getting agreement to your vacation plans, be prepared for niggling encroachments. At the first sign of infringement, go back to tip number one and hold the “right conversation.” Hold others accountable to the commitments they made, while being “inflexibly supportive” of their needs and concerns.