The Intimidation Factor
Q. I’m a little intimidated by my child’s teacher. Is there anything I can do about it?
A. You’d be surprised (and relieved) to know many parents privately feel the same way, says Rebecca Weingarten, a former teacher who is now a New York City parenting and education coach. ... Your best bet is just to be friendly. Try asking her something about herself to break the ice, and talk to her like a regular person. Pretend she’s someone you’re meeting at a book club. She’ll probably respond to you the same way: nice, respectful, relaxed. Oh, and it’s also okay to ask if there’s a bigger chair at those teacher meetings.
It’s kind of hard for me to imagine that I intimidate any of the adults; although I’ve got size on almost all of them, the goofy ties and Batman motif that I decorate the classroom with usually lets them know pretty fast that “Hey, this guy’s a bit of a nut.”
The only time I’ve ever gone out of my way to intimidate a parent was the first day of my second year of teaching, with the Unholy Class from Hell. It was the first time I’d ever done the first day of school (I’d taken over mid-year the year before), and at the end of the day after I got the kids on the busses I was wiped out. As I’m sitting in my chair collecting my thoughts one of the parents comes bursting in the door—her son had a temperature of 101, she tells me, he was clearly sick, and why the hell didn’t I call her to come and pick him up?
My first impulse was to speak and explain to her it was the first fracking day of school, but I choked that down. Instead, I stared. Eye contact, right at her. She was also rather short, so I pulled myself up to my full height and looked right down at her, the way I would at a student who had crossed the line.
I think it was the perfect response. I could have launched into a defense right away, but she was fired up and would have pounced on anything I said. By asserting myself non-verbally I got us back on at least an equal footing, which also gave her that few heartbeats she needed to calm down.
I explained that since it was the first day of school I didn’t really know her son, so I couldn’t really tell if he was feeling off; I hadn’t seen his on, yet. I told her that many kids say their tummy hurts on the first day, especially first graders in the afternoon. I offered her my room phone number along my home phone number and told her that she was always welcome to call and talk about her concerns, because I was here for her child and I always wanted to help any way I could, and oh, would she be interested in volunteering in the classroom?
The son ended up being one of my favorite students, and his family was one of the best I had that year. It could have been ruined on day one, but a little intimidation got them on my side. It was a good thing.
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