Teachers can be a Guardian Ad Litem’s best friend. When I represent a child whose parents are going through a custody battle, charged with the duty of investigating for the purposes of making recommendations to the Judge about custody and visitation, I look forward to talking to the child’s teacher.
After reviewing all the court documents, getting as much information as possible from each parent, and spending time with the child, I find it helpful to get the perspective of somebody who cares about the well-being of the child but who is not vested in the outcome of the court battle. Who better than a teacher – the individual who spends time with the child daily, interacts with the parents, and has a birds-eye view of how the child interacts with others.
Most of the teachers I have contacted over the years have been very generous with their time when it comes to looking out for one of their students. Often giving up lunch hours or planning time, meeting me before school or inviting me to call them at home in the evening, they contribute unpaid hours to giving feedback that is invaluable to helping an outsider get the bigger picture with regards to what’s going on in a child’s life.
Most of the teachers stated they found it helpful to know if something significant is going on in a student’s life such as a custody battle or dealing with the loss of an absentee, sick or deceased parent. It helps them understand new behaviors and allows them to better assist the child during challenging times. What they don’t find helpful is unnecessary drama.
1. I’m happy to provide feedback about any concerning changes and/or progress your child is making during challenging times. However, my focus is on your child’s welfare, not your court action – and I don’t want to be dragged into the latter.
2. Don’t badmouth your ex to me. I’m not going to take sides. And frankly, that behavior makes me wonder more about you than the person you’re complaining about.
3. Please don’t start (or end) a sentence with “Don’t tell my ex.” I’m not your confidant.
4. Don’t tell me what to tell your ex, either. I’m not your go-between.
5. Don’t ask me to “fudge” if your ex asks something.
6. Don’t put words in my mouth, misquote me, exaggerate information I provided, or use me in any other way to support your position on any given child-related issue. I don’t want to be in the middle of your feud.
7. I don’t want to testify in court. Your child is important – but so are the other 20 left sitting in the classroom with a substitute teacher who is unfamiliar with the lesson plan of the day while I sit around at the courthouse waiting for “my turn” to be questioned and challenged about my observations regarding your child.
8. I see the sadness in your child when you talk about their other parent in a negative way.
9. Don’t have your child give me messages about the other parent. It hurts them to do so.
10. Don’t embarrass your child by being ever-present so that you can assert in court you’re the better parent. I appreciate your help in the classroom, rotating with the other parents. Don’t overdo it.
11. Don’t over-provide in hopes that your child will see you as the fun/special parent. If you are asked for a bag of candy, don’t bring six. If you are asked for a dozen cupcakes, don’t show up with aprons for the whole class. This “fairy godmother” syndrome makes your child stick out and makes the other children feel their contributions are less significant.
12. Don’t increase my work load by asking for daily reports in hopes of finding something to use in your custody battle against the other parent.
13. I don’t keep score on how many times each of you has been in to ask a question or participate in an activity. I recognize that many parents work during the day and the fact that one does some things more than the other is typical – and you won’t get me to say otherwise.
14. Let your new spouses know that parenting is not a competition. If they know the bio parent is chaperoning a field trip, do they really need to be there, too? Is their purpose to show off to the parent how close they are to the child? If there is tension, jealousy, or any other sort of conflict, it ruins the outing for your child. And it is distracting for the other adults who are trying to focus on the children.
15. Don’t make me do everything twice. Unless there are safety issues involved, I’m going to copy you both on emails. And please use our school website to stay abreast of activities.
16. I do notice if your child is suddenly disheveled, smells, is habitually late, is falling asleep in class, has an attitude change, has behavioral changes, seems depressed. When I pass on such info, it is to alert you to a problem, not to provide intel, pick sides, or make accusations.
17. Your child doesn’t want to haul his overnight stuff around in his backpack. There is limited space in my classroom and things like that have to be stowed behind my desk. And think about it – how would you feel if you opened your briefcase in a meeting and your pajamas popped out?
Somewhat off topic. Every year there is inevitably a student or two with little to zero parent involvement. Could there be some type of document signing between parties wherein the parent signs temporary power to the teacher to sign permission forms on behalf of the parent for the year?
As frustrating as trying to get parental cooperation can sometimes be for teachers, I think you would run into unwanted liability issues with any agreement for teachers to be the decision-makers regarding activities that require permission. What are the odds that a parent who won’t make time to help his/her child succeed academically would be able to find some time to criticize the good Samaritan who does help if things don’t go well?!? If you’re teaching this year, Torrey, I wish you a bevy of (appropriately!) involved parents to work with!
This is a very interesting read and I really appreciate the advice! I wonder though, how do you approach teachers about asking them to keeping the dad informed when the mom (his ex wife) is also a teacher at this school? The mom refuses to tell the dad anything. She was actually one of their teachers last year and would send them to our house without any study material and sometimes had a test the next day. We don’t want to complain or tell the teachers all about our drama, but at the same time we need them to know that their mom doesn’t communicate information to us. Any suggestions?
I can’t speak to your case specifically, Kim, but in general I can tell you that parents shouldn’t rely on an ex to provide school info (even though in a perfect world that info would flow freely between households!). I know it can be tough in a situation like you described or small towns where everybody knows each other. Still, each parent can communicate directly with the teacher regarding how the child is doing, ask that emails regarding the child go to both parents, and check the school website for updates on the calendars and other events that come up. And, of course, pass on info received even when the other parent does not reciprocate because that best serves the child. Kudos to you and your spouse for trying to keep the drama out of it!
Well said. I wonder if you have written anything for single parents after divorce that think teachers are the one that need to fill the gap? It has been a rough week.
I never thought about that perspective, Laura – hmmmm, that does sound problematic. Glad that you have a long weekend coming up to recuperate with friends!
Thank you for sharing this valuable info.
I wish every divorcing parent could see it.
So I tweeted it to >1,000 followers.
Great to find a kindred spirit.
Re the novel you’re writing, check out Smashwords.com for great free info for authors. I am not affiliated, but benefitted greatly in writing and publishing my own work, so just wanted to pay it forward.
Keep up the great work!
Thanks so much for sharing, Terry! After listening to a couple of your YouTube presentations, I agree that we are kindred spirits with a common mission! Do you have a blog? Are you on Pinterest? I hope to see you here often and hope that we can share more info. And thanks for the writing info tip – I’m looking forward to checking out that site!
Thank you for your kind comments, Shel.
Thank you too for making us look good, doing sweet things I haven’t seen.
Not just your wonderful posts, or challenge “Put me out of business.”
Looking up your poster’s work to say nice things shows rare empathy.
To answer your queries, I don’t blog, aware of my limitations.
Like you, I have the normal law firm website in my name.
I devote my energy to showing distressed couples visually why they need to avoid fighting in court. Especially over the children.
My clients, I learned, better understand, follow, and recall advice in visuals.
Re repairing relationships, the Gottman Institute gives great free advice based on unique real-world experience. And trains therapists around the world.
I’ll be viewing more of your posts to share them wider.
Thanks, Terry – I’m looking forward to more interaction! Please sign up for the email notifications (top right on post) so you don’t miss the topics that are of interest! Also, you might want to consider a Pinterest site – it’s free and all about visuals. Here is an example (my Divorce Resource board): https://www.pinterest.com/shelharrington/resources-for-divorce/
Thank you, Shel!
Your Pinterest Divorce Resource Site is great!
Sorry for delay replying.
I donate 100-200 hours Feb.-March to revise & update Family Law Techniques chapter for 20,000-member LA County Bar Family Law Reference Book, so been busy.
Your work is impressive.
Wonderful to see.
Excellent. After 35 years in education I could have used these lines numerous times, especially “I see sadness in your child’s eyes when you talk about the other parent in a negative way.” Thanks, and I agree with Marilyn, there are some good things that we, as teachers, can say to all parents.
Hmm, this was an interesting read! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping by and checking out the site, Becca!
Sad to hear some of these, but I guess it is a messy world out there. Thanks, good tips for everyone.
It does get a bit messy, doesn’t it Kath? Well, if even one person takes the message to heart and changes their approach, at least one teacher’s job was made a little less difficult!
You are totally right!
And you should know! Please let me know what additions you have, Laura!
This is great advice, Shel. It’s a shame that these topics of conversation, that only help the child, could be detrimental to a teacher. Something is definitely wrong.
I agree. I know there’s lots of great parents out there working hard ensure their children are taking care of (school) business – but the effort it takes to deal with the more self-focused lot can wear teachers out!
Amazing post, Shel. VERY well-stated.
Thanks – I bet you could add a few of your own quotes! I liked Marilyn’s positive spin – if you have any of those, would love to hear them, too!
All of these rang so true at some time or another during my 30 years of teaching, Shel.
One more I would like to add, that I used more times that you might think during that same time period: “Thank you both for attending this conference together. I appreciate the support you’ve shown for your son’s (daughter’s) efforts in this class, and here are some of the things we’ve all been able to accomplish together this year…”
I only gave that speech when it was deserved, and often the student was present as well, agreeing and being glad for the parents’ efforts. It made quite a difference.
Ooooo – I like that Marilyn! Maybe instead of following up with “5 More Things Teachers Would . . . ” it should be “5 Things Teachers Appreciate From Divorced Parents” or the like.
This was very interesting and true! I am doing GAL work now and as a former teacher…I know the insight teachers have and how much they care about their students! Great points and I know teachers would appreciate it!
And I bet you could add a few quotes to the list, Debbie!!
This is great Shel! I couldn’t agree more with #10-14. It’s like you read my mind!! Would I be horrible if I sent this to my sons teacher and said, “Please let me know if you can add more?!?!” LOL! Thanks for sending this….hope ex’s are comprehending this!
I don’t think that’s horrible at all, Ashely – please send it to every teacher you know!!
Excellent advice, Shel. You bring a wealth of wisdom to this sad situation.
Thanks, Dee Dee – after all your years in the classroom, I bet you have a tale or two you could add!