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Getting Along With Other School Staff


Q. I hate the rah-rah's and suck-ups among the parents at our school. I think they're manipulative. But I'm also disgusted by the no-shows, and the ones who complain or cause trouble. How can you be an effective parent, neither a pushover nor a pest?


The surest way to get what you want out of school is to make friends with the two key people on the staff. Not the principal and your child's teacher - the school secretary and the janitor. Their insights and helpfulness can be amazing. Most parents ignore the people they don't think have any power. But if you greet the secretary and the janitor by name, and visit with them a little, you can find out an enormous array of helpful information, from unwritten school rules to unsanitary conditions in the boys' restrooms.


The superintendent may whine at a school board meeting that the kids aren't coming to school ready to learn, and the media reports that there must be something wrong with the preschools in the area. But when the school secretary reveals the illiteracy and illegibility she notices on parental forms and notes, you'll have a better grasp of the real problem.


A school board member may not be able to tell you why building maintenance costs so much. But when the janitor tells you the boys are purposely missing the toilets, and kids are chewing gum and carelessly dropping it on the carpet . . . you get real-world knowledge you can translate into action and make things better.


Of course, you should still focus most of your efforts on getting along with your child's teacher. Most are trustworthy advisors, so listen and learn. Older teachers have seen parents who push too hard, and do too much for their kids as well as those who don't do enough. Let them show you how to be. But don't ever be afraid to express your questions and concerns. Remember this adage: "Good teachers love to learn." If your child's teacher is like that, rejoice.


If you do have to go over the teacher's head with a problem, getting along with a principal is easier. They've been trained how to "handle" parents, so their manners and political maneuvers are smoother than those of problem teachers. The principal is there to problem-solve, so you can work with him or her. Just stay respectful. Watch out, though: middle management can be a stepping stone or a quagmire; you can get stepped on or stuck. It's usually a good idea to recruit other parents to come with you, if you have a concern that goes beyond your child. There's safety in numbers!


Homework: A sort of SWAT Team to help parents with school issues and personality clashes with staff is available on


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 13 2008




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