Share a Story - Change the World
Between Home and School
Letters, Notes, and Emails
By Bill Harley
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Reviewed By Linda Goodman
Good parents want their children to be happy and to do well in school. Good parents also want their children to have teachers who will work hard to accomplish that lofty goal.
When children fall short of expectations, the responses from parents and teachers vary widely. Some parents ignore the situation and hope that teacher and student will work things out between themselves. Other parents go on the offensive and accuse teachers of not doing their jobs. Conversely, some teachers get defensive. Other teachers blame parents for a child’s failure to achieve.
Bill Harley wisely chooses to model positive, effective communication between the fictional parent, Rhonda Bennet, and the various teachers, from kindergarten through high school graduation, who had a hand in educating her son, Tyler.
Rhonda’s first letter to Tyler’s kindergarten teacher, for instance, states the problem, asks about the reason for the problem, asks what can be done by both parent and teacher to correct the problem, and compliments the teacher (Tyler loves the frogs on her desk) to end on a positive note.
The teacher responds by agreeing that there is a problem, stating the reason for the problem, offering a suggestion for the parent to help solve the problem, and complimenting the parent (she asks if Tyler’s father will read some of his books to her class) to end on a positive note.
Some years are better for Tyler than others. When Mrs. Bennet is overly concerned about what she perceives to be Tyler’s lagging reading skills, his first grade teacher assures her that Tyler is perfectly normal. Tyler’s fourth grade teacher, concerned about upcoming testing, laments that she would do things differently if she were actually in control of the curriculum.
When Tyler’s eighth grade teacher writes to Mrs. Bennet that Tyler is talking out of turn in class, Mrs. Bennet takes the action needed to correct the situation. When Tyler is discouraged by a failing grade on a science test in the ninth grade, Mrs. Bennet explains his history and the strengths and weaknesses that she has observed in him as a student. She does not lay blame on the teacher; rather, she details the problem and asks for the teacher’s help and understanding.
Only Tyler’s fifth grade teacher fails to address Mrs. Bennet’s concerns. Mrs. Bennet wisely seeks the advice of one of Tyler’s former teachers as to how to handle this lack of communication.
Tyler’s teachers help him deal with death, social problems, and learning difficulties. They take the time to let both him and his mother know that they have a vested interest in his doing well in school. What a lovely contrast to the premise of the recent film Waiting for Superman, which, while an important and thought provoking piece of work, blamed teachers and schools for the failure of the education system in the United States today.
When Tyler is accepted into college, his mother writes an appreciative letter to the ninth grade science teacher who wrote a recommendation for him. In the letter, she states that, while she realizes that her son is a product of his family, he is also a product of all his teachers and that “they have made him in ways that I never could.”
If only all parents were willing to communicate as coolly and truthfully as the fictional Mrs. Bennet! If only all teachers were willing to be the compassionate yet firm educators who have the fictional Tyler as a student throughout his school years! Perhaps then America would once offer an educational system that is respected internationally. Harley’s book, which can be easily read in one half-hour, models proper communication between parent and teacher. He makes it looks easy. Perhaps that is what the problem has been all along. We make simple things too hard.