“I can’t do anything with them at home!” “He’s at school, so you need to deal with him!” “She’s so moody! I just can’t talk to her!”
The number of times I’ve heard these phrases (or something equivalent), I cannot tell, both as a form tutor and as SENDCo. Sometimes teachers are the only face of an immense system that parents can mange to access. Sometimes teachers are the only ones who take that extra 5 minutes to listen to a parent making a desperate plea for help and support. Maybe their child doesn’t sleep well. It could be that siblings constantly argue, a teenager doesn’t eat, a toddler hasn’t learnt to speak yet. A bereavement, job loss, break-up?
There are many things that can make a family’s dynamic difficult for parents to manage. And as teachers, quite often the details of these situations are shared with us first. Then we need to work out what to do with it. Sometimes it’s the SENDCo, sometimes it’s the pastoral team, sometimes it’s the safeguarding team and even the Police.
But for the occasions when it’s none of these, but rather it’s a parent who needs a village to help them with raising their children, what do we do? I don’t have an answer for this one. It is really hard when a parent chats for a few minutes after school at pick-up, and then you bump into them in town. Then they spend a bit longer chatting at drop off. Then when you see them in town, you stop and chat with them. You can end up finding out more than you want to. A parent can start to view you as part of their support system.
I’ve never lived in the catchment area where I work until recently, so I’ve not had to field these situations. But it’s hard. Most teachers care for the kids in their classes and, for the most part build positive relationships with parents. When they have a hard time, you feel for them. Being able to keep your distance when a parent is distraught is hard and you don’t always want to. But maintaining as much professional distance as possible is also necessary for your own well-being.
How much can we, or should we, support families? I don’t have a definitive answer to that. But in fielding challenging situations with families in difficult circumstances, make sure you look after your own well-being.