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?