What Your Toddler’s Teacher Will Never Say to Your Face

After an ashamed parent flouts school sickness rules, she sets out to discover what daycare teachers really think about parents

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As these autumnal days wrap us in their cold, germy arms, what parent doesn’t dread that hacking sound coming from the crib? It’s your kid with a chesty cough and a fever and yes, it’s the day that you’re also hopelessly busy at work. What to do? Once, when my daughter woke up on the clammy side of cranky, I confess that I took the coward’s way out. Under the pressure of an absentee spouse and a deadline, I gave her a hopeful dose of Tylenol, dropped her off at toddler school and then raced off to work.

Inevitably, her teacher phoned me a few hours later to announce that my daughter was ill. Of course on the drive home, with my sick tot wilting into her car seat, I felt the wracking guilt that’s the special preserve of mothers. Yet something else bothered me too. Not only had I behaved with a selfishness that I love to condemn in others, but something about the teacher’s look twisted a stake through my cowardly heart. Had the teacher known that I’d been semi-bluffing?

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“Of course she did,” said my friend who teaches preschool,  “Even when parents give their child meds before drop-off, I can tell from the kid’s eyes that they’re ill.” Oops! (As a teacher and because of the sensitive nature of this topic, my friend did not want her name published.)

Curious now about what these long-suffering teachers think about parents like me, I decided to do a bit of digging. Under journalistic cover, I asked personal questions of some early childhood educators (none of whom were connected to my daughter’s school in Austin, Texas).

What drives you mad about parents? I asked. What do you gossip about on your break? How do we get under your skin, and what do you wish you could say but can’t because it’s, you know, rude.

These teachers, professionally trained to deal with cheeky people, tolerated my impertinent frisking. As long I could grant anonymity, they dished a few breakroom truths.

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We know when you’re lying: Teachers confirmed that they always know when parents conceal an illness. They don’t buy the “his diarrhea is caused by teething” excuse, and the “oh, it’s just allergies” line is even feebler when other kids get the sniffles too. One teacher said to me: “There are cases when my entire room has been wiped out by a bug and I know exactly which kid started it. But by the time the Tylenol wore off and I could exclude him, it was too late for the rest of the class.” Did my toes curl with shame when she said this? Yes, they most certainly did.

We speak to you in teacherese: When talking about our precious darlings (all of whom are brilliant and well-behaved, of course) teachers have to tread very, very carefully. Though they might want to say what they really think, they take care to express themselves in terms that are professional, constructive and kind. So, when a preschool teacher says: “Little Walter is still developing his ability to relate to other children”, he or she really means: “Little Walter is mean.”  But you freaked out when you heard that, didn’t you? Hence the need for teacherese.

Lady, open your eyes: The problem with gentle euphemisms is that it’s easy to miss the point. Teachers are at such pains to avoid negative labels that parents who really don’t want to address bad behavior simply close their eyes. When we blinkered parents ignore subtle hints, or claim fiercely that our child doesn’t “do that”, then Teacher rolls his or her eyes behind our backs. Said one long-suffering professional: “It’s at times like this you really want to yell: ‘Your kid’s a stinker!’”  But they don’t, because early childhood educators seem to be at least ten percent nicer than the general population.  

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Please! Enjoy your child: It’s normal for children to develop at different rates, yet teachers recognize the anxious eye-flick of a parent comparing their child to another. Similarly, it breaks their hearts to see us filling kids’ time with tutors and piano lessons before they’ve even started kindergarten. “Children are over-programmed and exhausted,” many teachers told me. “Don’t take it all so seriously, “ said another. Sadly, given the hyperventilating culture of modern motherhood, I may need a tutor to help me follow teacher’s advice.
Crocs? Ugh: And on a trivial level, those slip-on shoes called crocs, beloved by lazy parents like me, are dirty, clumpy and unsafe. Oh dear.

So what did I learn from my investigations? Well, other than awe at the number of times teacher must be holding her tongue, frankly I was disappointed. I’d hoped to coax much more gossip and slander from my interviewees but these teachers, all so darned reasonable, kept expressing compassion for parents instead of complaints. This leads me to conclude that these early childhood educators were still dishing out a little teacherese, or they’re all freakishly nice. Actually, I suspect the latter, for how else can they claim to love both my brilliant, well-behaved child and that stinker kid too?

26 comments
marsham618
marsham618

There is so much more I would like to tell parents than I am allowed to tell them.  My boss, the preschool director, does not want me to tell parents anything negative!  So when your precious darling is hitting, pushing, grabbing, putting other kids in a choke hold, I cannot tell you or the other parent unless he/she actually hurts a child and I have to write up an incident report!  In teacherease, I will ask, "Has Johnny been playing with much older children?"  Fortunately, most parents know what that means.  They know their child does this on the playground and at friends' homes, they just don't want to admit it.  I am very limited in how I can correct your child.  Now, I cannot even put them in "time out"... I have to put them in "the thinking chair".  I grew up a long time ago when such behavior got you a swat on your bottom and sat in the corner for being "bad".... I think I grew up with a great conscience.  We are all so afraid of "damaging their little psyches" that we are not teaching them the difference between right and wrong, how to respect others and how to behave.  I can tell which children have parents who barely correct them, and only try "redirecting" them.  I am sorry if it is not politically correct, but children need to learn that hitting other children is "bad" and playing well together and sharing is "good".  We wonder why young adults in our society have no respect for others, others' property and for authority in general....well, it is starting in the preschools because no one wants to tell your child that what they are doing is "bad" and that there are real consequences for "bad acts".  Fortunately, my only child is grown, and I raised to him to know right from wrong and to respect adults.  Now I know why my son's teachers always told me what a wonderful child he is.  I intentionally raised a loving, caring and respectful child.  No, it was not fun saying "no" and making consequences stick, but I am extremely proud of the child I raised.

DrMom
DrMom

I am Canadian, but I'm sure the American recommendations are similar.

DrMom
DrMom

This article is interesting but as a physician and a mom, both the author and the daycare have the scientific facts all wrong. Most colds are most contagious before symptoms start showing. Trying to isolate contagious children is not effective or recommended.

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) has clear recommendations on when children should and should not be excluded from Daycare:

- Children with respiratory conditions may continue to attend child care provided they are well enough to participate in activities.

- Children with streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) or bacterial conjunctivitis (pink eye caused by a bacteria) should have 24 h of antibiotic therapy before returning to child care.

- Children with diarrhea should be excluded if their stool cannot be contained in a diaper, cannot be controlled by a toilet-trained child or if there are signs of fever, blood or mucus in the stool.

- Other illness where children should be excluded include: measles, mumps, chickenpox, head lice, rash with fever and/or change in behaviour, scabies, vomiting, whooping cough, impetigo.

Studies by the CPS have found that many staff members and child care centres requested that antibiotics be started for symptoms consistent with a viral infection before the child returned to care. This may be one factor contributing to the increase in antibiotic resistance seen in children who attend child care and may lead to drug side effects, such as diarrhea.

In another study of child care workers, some childcare providers believed that it was difficult to maintain healthy staff when “parents constantly bring their sick and highly contagious child to day care”.

This attitude may influence parental behaviour in seeking medical advice and potentially unnecessary antibiotic use. It is also untrue as the best way to prevent the spread of common illnesses in any public location is handwashing. Isolation and exclusion of sick individuals is not feasible or necessary for most common illnesses not listed above.

graycat
graycat

I love my daycare teachers and so does my daughter. My daughter is a typical toddler- good days and bad days. I want to know the details of when she is acting up so I can guide her to be a better person. Her teachers know this b/c I've been very personable and communicative with them from the very beginning.  I've seen other parents who do not even acknowledge the teachers and therefore they probably don't get or want much feedback. It just hurts their child in the long run. 

EmilyBarlow
EmilyBarlow

If parents had more support from employers, they could keep them home when they get sick. This is a major, major problem, especially for a parent whose child gets sick a lot from their first year or so to daycare or school. The fact is, women's careers are all jeopardized during the times their kids are sick. Very, very stressful when the food on the table is threatened and you aren't getting any sleep. Yes, people who are not nice tend to have kids who learn their behavior, and get defensive when are told that their children are not behaving well. Its kind of a vicious circle. But I will say that being a parent is a tough job (yes even though its not paid, its a full time job for anyone who doesn't have a live in nanny). So, I think some people's personalities take it personally when their child is criticized by a teacher. My child tests her boundaries all the time. Its exhausting. But I try to remember when her teachers are speaking critically of her, that they are trying to to what's best for my child and therefore I should respond in a supportive fashion. I challenge myself to not get defensive. Its not always easy, but I try to remember I'm on the same page as the teacher. I want the best for my child, and so do they. If I get angry or upset, I try not to show it. I try to see that the teacher is only expressing their views because they care. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother.

Brianng
Brianng

You dropped your sick kid at daycare?!  A special ring of hll for you.  Please.  These are toddlers.  Behave. Misbehave? Active?  This is what is wrong with daycare.  Children are not developmentally ready to sit on a rug for more than 5 minutes.  Children have different nap needs which does not fit with daycare needs. Toddlers are not ready for routinized activities ALL DAY LONG and yet they are expected to do just that.  Daycare is fine for kids is a giant myth of our time. 

ChrissyCarrollWhite
ChrissyCarrollWhite

It drives me absolutely insane when parents have the "Not my kid" mentality.  I'm not a teacher (I wanted to go into teaching at one point, but it didn't work out for me), and I have the utmost respect for teachers.  My daughter just started preschool this year, and I know that, overall, she's a good kid, but she's still a kid.  They get into things, they test boundaries.  It's what they do.  It's part of the learning curve.  But, as parents, it's our job to teach them if they're doing something wrong, that there will be consequences.  As for the being sick thing, my daughter hardly ever gets sick (knock on wood).  I can count on one hand the number of times that we've been to the doctor for a sick visit.  I would like it to stay that way.  Just before the winter break, a parent tried to drop off his daughter (in my daughter's class).  She had PINK EYE!  Luckily, my daughter's teacher was the one opening the door and caught it and told the father that she had to go home.  He got mad, they called the person who runs the program, and she sided with the teacher.  The father of this little girl was so mad as he took her home.  I couldn't believe it!  My husband was paying for the next month's tuition as this was going on, but I caught the whole thing and thanked the teacher for being alert with that.  I teach my daughter to share everything but her germs.  :-)

TapeisGlueandBacking
TapeisGlueandBacking

I've been a teacher for over twenty years.

My opinion is that most teachers should be fired.  Many are sarcastic to their students and they disrespect the parent's prime authority over their own children.  Teaching is an easy, rewarding job, and it's no wonder so many people want to do it, it gives an honored position of power and influence.  While, on the one hand, the job is so easy and rewarding that there are a flood of people who want to do it, on the other hand, very few are actually qualified to do the task properly.  

That teachers argue that they aren't paid enough is proof they don't even understand the notion of supply and demand, and they think too highly of themselves.

I'm not talking about all teachers, perhaps not most of them, but far too many of them.

I like teaching, it's a holy, sacred trust.  Sadly, too many priests drink from the holy water and spit on the altar, too many teachers think they are gods.

marsham618
marsham618

@TapeisGlueandBacking I don't know where you work, but being sarcastic to children is totally unacceptable where I work.  The pay is absolutely deplorable.  Teaching toddlers is the hardest work I have ever done, and I have had my own business with employees, where I had to work 50-60 hours a week!  I get absolutely no break all day and can only go to the bathroom when the children are on the playground and there are several teachers out there to watch them.  I get no break for lunch.... I have to eat with the children because they need constant supervision.  I truly hope that your post was "tongue in cheek"!


maestra
maestra

LOL  As a teacher of toddlers with disabilities, I THANK you for this! But when I see parents every day and have time to talk to them for at least a couple of minutes every day, it's easier to be very honest when them when a difficult day comes. Still, these are little children we are dealing with. They are learning how to be big kids, and if they fail in their learning, I consider it to be at least half my fault! So when I have bad news to give parents, I'm trying to find a strategy we can use together to help the child learn. I don't think preschool teachers are "nicer" than other people. We just break early childhood learning down into many, many teeny steps, so when we see one child hit another child, we can figure out what the child is trying to accomplish and how we can teach a different way to reach their little goal. Half the time when kids appear to be anti-social, they are actually trying to be social and don't know how. So maybe it's more patience or more desire to peer into tiny minds. But either way, parents and teachers are in it together! 

But yes, please do keep your child home when there is green gunk in the nose and coughing every 30 seconds! We share everything in preschool, so parents should understand that sending a sick child will mean that everyone in preschool will share that illness! Not fun, and not fair.

lastcrazyhorn
lastcrazyhorn

I feel out the parents before telling them the truth.  Some parents can handle it.  Others really really can't. 

donaldduck
donaldduck

I worked at a very high-end private school in latin america for 9 years.  My favorite line was, Timmy excels when he has personal guidance when in a group and is continually working on improving interpersonal relationships with classmates.  Translation: Timmy´s a little ***t who has no idea how to interact with other children, and hence, only has friends when the teacher forces the other kids to play with him.  I could come up with a million.  Susie sometimes needs assistance clarifying topics in math class.  Translation: Suzy isn´t going to be a mathematician any day soon.  

And for all you teacher-haters out there, SUCK IT!  Teaching is the hardest job in the world, with no pay, few benefits, and ridiculous accusations and backlashing from bad parents.   Just because you have been to the doctor doesn´t make you a friggin brain surgeon, so why do you think that you can teach a class full of children just because you have been to school?  As a teacher you receive notes from parents with poor spelling and grammar, ridiculous excuses, and irresponsible behavior.  These were the same parents who couldn´t believe their child is irresponsible, having trouble with writing and reading, and never taking responsibility for their actions. 

JohnSmith3
JohnSmith3

@donaldduck - Teaching is also the most wonderful job.  No other job can provide such immediate satisfaction and results.  The moment when kids "get it" (the open their eyes and say "oooOOHHHH!!") happens every day.  There's always a goal, always an immediate achievement to celebrate.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

I was present when a mother dropped off her obviously sick child at my son's pre-school.  The child said, "Mommy, I feel sick.", to which she replied, "Show mommy what a tough kid you are."

And there it is.

adriana28
adriana28

Another thing...if your child gets a little star on the forehead for good behavior, the day he doesn't have one, don't ask, you know he did not behave, and if you ask, ask what did he do wrong so that you can have a talk with him at home, never tell your child "don't worry sweetheart, I will give you a bigger sticker at home" in front of the teacher because she will not feel bad, but she will know the bad behavior comes from a bad parent like you!

adriana28
adriana28

If a teacher says: "your child has been very active today" she really means: "he has been driving me crazy and he has been horrible to other children"

bellaluna30
bellaluna30

Sick eyes, I call them.  It's an eyes-at-half-mast look, with circles or redness under or around them.  The eyes let me know before any other symptom presents itself.  And they make me feel so, so sorry for my kiddo, because I know what's coming.

ToeHead
ToeHead

I honestly feel a bit sorry for educators for children of all ages. It seems so many parents have begun to see their kids as "perfect angels" and just shut down when they hear their kid did something bad. One of my friends was a preschool teacher and they wanted her head on a platter when she confronted them several time about their child'd violent outbursts. Parents have to realize that you can love your child unconditionally and still take to heart feedback. There were a lot of mean, nasty kids when I was in school. I wasn't completely innocent myself but I often wondered what some of these kids' folks would think of their behaviors.  

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

My daughter's preschool's rule: Keep the kid home if they have fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Coughing is not on the list (and my daughter had a cough for six months when she started school). Parents need to be responsible, but being "sick" isn't always an excuse not to go to school.

I do wish teachers would be more blunt with parents. If my daughter has a problem, then tell me. I'll make the judgement call about whether I think it's a problem or not, but I do take my daughter's teaches seriously. Of course, I should ask more questions, like, "What is my daughter struggling with? What can we do at home to help her? What are her strengths and weaknesses?" In fact, I think I'll ask these questions tonight when I pick my daughter up from school ;-)