by Eric Snow
As an involved father, you are one of your child’s first teachers, and you’re on the job as soon as the baby is born. You coo and cuddle him and shake objects in front of him to help him learn to focus and respond. You help in teaching him to take a bottle and then to eat with a spoon. You’re there as he learns to say his first words and to string those words together into sentences to communicate his wants and needs, and you make sure “please” and “thank you” get plenty of emphasis.
As he grows, you teach him to bathe and dress himself, brush his teeth and tie his shoes, pick up after himself and share with others. You take him interesting places, read to him and teach him about colors and shapes and numbers. You teach him to follow your directions, but also how to solve problems on his own, praising his progress at each step along the way.
Then eventually, for many kids, the day comes when you escort him to kindergarten and turn him over to a complete stranger to continue the work that you and his mother so expertly began five years earlier. What an accomplishment! Your role in your child’s education is complete. Now all you have to do is remember to show up for graduation.
Not so fast, buddy …
That first day of “formal” education could easily lead to 17 more years of the same—or even more. So, the work has really just begun. But it will be okay; you have some good help.
That stranger you handed your child to is one of many very special people who will come into his life. There are many caring and gifted people at the school, but your child’s teachers are especially vital partners in the important task of guiding your child’s academic future.
Over the past 26 years I have helped my own two kids navigate elementary, middle and high school, graduate from college and earn acceptance into professional schools. Last May, our son graduated with his doctorate in physical therapy, and last week our daughter completed her first year of dental school. During their educational journeys, I have witnessed numerous teachers come alongside them and take a personal interest in their success. I have seen many educators influence my children in ways that their mother and I could not.
And in the last seven years as Executive Director of WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students), I’ve had the opportunity to speak at hundreds of educational conferences and meet thousands of teachers, school counselors, principals and superintendents. Bottom line, I know a lot of educators, some very well, and I want to share something with you that I have learned about them:
Teachers are bright, patient and generous people. They are highly trained, well-organized, hard-working professionals who function exceptionally well under adverse conditions. They live for the honor to teach children how to learn and they gain immense satisfaction from helping a child learn how to succeed.
Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, join PTA and volunteer their personal time for their students. They don’t require compliments, accolades or acknowledgement and they have a grace about them when faced with inaccurate and unfair criticism about them specifically or their profession in general. Teachers love children, and even demonstrate—in several tragic and high profile instances—that they will place themselves directly in harm’s way to protect one of “their kids.”
I know there are rare exceptions to the teachers I’m describing. But please don’t let one story here and there ruin it for the other 99+ percent who are dedicated, competent, and caring.
I may be writing this a week too late, because last week was national Teacher Appreciation Week. But that’s okay if you missed it, because it’s this week too, and next week and the week after that. In fact, I want to suggest that you don’t wait for a special time to express your gratitude to one of the most important people in your child’s life. Because there’s another thing I will tell you about teachers: they usually only hear from the parents when they are upset about something. Rarely does a parent stop by just to say “Thank you,” ask if they need anything, and offer to help.
So, I hope you’ll show gratitude to your children’s teachers in the next few days and weeks before school ends, and I hope you’ll make it a regular habit in the future. And as you carry out those thoughtful gestures, please make sure to let your child see you do it.
There’s an important reason for this: most of what our children learn from us happens in two ways—by listening to what we say and by watching what we do. And the really scary part about that is that, if what we say isn’t consistent with what we do, our kids will likely only pay attention to what they see us do.
So I couldn’t expect my kids to say “please” and “thank you” if they didn’t hear me say it. And I could tell them to be honest, but that message would be seriously compromised if they saw me keep the extra change that was counted back incorrectly at the checkout counter. Likewise, I could have merely told my kids that their education is important, but my actions needed to support that verbal affirmation.
One of the best ways I found to demonstrate this to my kids that their education is important was to give them the opportunity to see me interact with their teachers. For me, the best way to do that was to go to their school, attend the parent-teacher conferences, join PTA, join booster clubs, and volunteer my time in various ways.
I strongly believe that, when our kids see us at school interacting in positive ways with their teachers and principal and others, it sends a clear message to them that we value education, we respect the educators and that we are eager to work with them to help create the best educational environment possible.
And one great first step can happen today or during these last few days in the school year by showing appreciation to your children’s teachers. They are special people, and they are partners in your children’s education. So go to school and offer them your help. Go just to thank them. Ask them what you can to for them.
Dads, please get involved in this. Just do it—and let your child see you do it.
Just Appreciate Your Kids’ Teachers. Just Be DAD.
Eric Snow is the Executive Director of WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), a father-engagement and educational initiative of the National Center for Fathering. He is also a member of the strategic planning committee for National PTA. Eric and his wife Valerie have two children.