From high attendance at special events to an open and inviting dialogue at one-on-one conferences, my relationships with students’ families this year have been both positive and strong. That is until last Thursday.
As I welcomed one of my students and his grandmother with my usual energetic greeting, bright and early during the before school program, the grandmother abruptly cut me off with sharp and heated criticism of the homework assignments I have sent home. She wanted to know when I would be sending home “letter work,” like she has seen in “all the daycare centers.” She has become weary of the open-ended assignments, which often include searching for letters around the house on food containers and in magazines or having the child tell a story with pictures and then dictate the story to an adult.
Her bottom line was this: She wants dittos. There, I said it, the “d” word, dreaded among early childhood experts. Like them, I advocate a different “d” approach, one that is perhaps the anti-thesis of the malignant ditto: “Developmentally Appropriate Practices.” She then went on to critique my teaching of her grandson during the day, arguing that I wasn’t “teaching him his letters” and that she would instead have “to buy some workbooks for him to use at home.”
As a pre-k teacher striving to meet my class's developmental needs, I provide my students with plenty of opportunities to learn through hands on experiences that are meaningful to them. If the sand table particularly interests her grandson, he will find plenty of letter tools to explore the alphabet in the sand. If he chooses to pretend he is a doctor in the Dramatic Play Area, we will surely learn about letters and, perhaps equally as important, why we use them, as he writes down his patient’s diagnosis and prescription. I also supplement this experiential learning with various letter songs and games.
I, therefore, started to wonder how pages of letter matching and tracing activities would help lay a strong foundation in early literacy for her grandson. To top it off, her grandson actually knows all of his letters and the letter sounds. We are currently working on sounding out and writing words. When I tried to explain my strategies and her grandson’s progress, she just replied, “I don’t want to hear it. I know all about it, learning through play. I don’t want to hear it.” She then proceeded to storm out, leaving me feeling puzzled, powerless, and, quite frankly, nauseous.
It is now January. I have had one formal one-on-one conference with her and several informal conversations at our special events. She has never once mentioned any concern about our work. I am not sure what exactly prompted the negative exchange, but I do know that our relationship has been damaged. I suppose I could treat her comments as an irrational rant, and just keep doing what I am doing. But as a teacher, I serve my students and their families. If there is a conflict, it is my responsibility as the classroom leader to think objectively about how best to handle the situation.
I have decided to provide her and the rest of my students’ family members with a list of ways we teach letters and letter sounds in the classroom. I look forward to hearing her response.