Teachers Anonymous

At the dentist’s office recently I overheard two moms discussing their frustration with the children’s homework. They talked about how they have to nag and cajole their first grade girls every night to complete even simple tasks.

“I just wish I knew how to get her to enjoy reading,” Mom #1 said.

I did what I always do—I went into stealth mode. I tried my best NOT to look like a teacher. I grabbed the magazine from the table nearby and tried to keep a low profile. I played with my phone, so I could avoid contact. I was doing everything I could to stay out the conversation. No luck. I might have had a better chance if I weren’t sitting 10 minutes away from my school.

Mom #2 looked my way and said, “What do you think, Mrs. Hiltz?”

Usually I’m quite free with my opinion, but I’m always very cautious when another parent approaches me for advice on how to help their child succeed. The reason?  I don’t know.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I know the questions to ask to begin to diagnose the problem. I have ideas based on research and experience and can go through a laundry list of programs or incentives. I can even give someone the right questions to ask their child’s teacher to begin a dialogue. But every child and situation is different. I have no magic solution to give, and I always feel like I leave the other person disappointed.

My track record with my own child has produced mixed results. An avid math and science student, he fought against learning how to read. No, sir. Not interested. And writing? I hung my head every year as I told his teachers to bribe him with candy so he would complete the mandatory writing assessments. As a teacher, this was embarrassing. As a parent with a hope that he’d share my interest and passion for learning, I was heartbroken.

I quickly debated whether I should answer as a practitioner or a mom. Not sure that either approach would be satisfying, I went with the truth.

“I wish I knew the answer to that question. My own son hated reading until this year- and I’m the school librarian!”

As the three of us had a good laugh, I could see the worry lines fall off their faces. It was as if my admission had made their situation OK, like I had given them permission to not know the right answer. I suppose in a way I had. Maybe, I was not meant to be so anonymous after all.

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  • MelissaRasberry

    I feel your pain!

    Julie, while I’m no longer in the classroom (and haven’t been for quite some time), my friends and family all know that I have been and still work in the education arena. As a result, I’m often bombarded with questions focused on anything semi-education related. I struggle with my response, as you did, because I want to be helpful but I certainly do not have all of the answers. Often, I do the best that I can, complete a quick online query, and try to identify colleagues (many of which come from this AWESOME community!) who can fill in the gaps. It always feels like such a big responsibility. I don’t want to let them down!

    • JulieHiltz

      Education Connection

      I’m sure all professions encounter this type of thing. I can only imagine how many “weird moles” doctors have seen at family reunions. I understand a parent’s desire to ask questions and learn from the expert in the room. I welcome conversations about education policy and classroom life, but I make a point to remind people that I’m giving my opinion from my own experiences. 

      • BillIvey


        … get it too. Psychiatrists. And yes, I bet many other professions as well. People love free advice. What can I say?!

        I wonder, though, whether parents who turn to teachers are always simply seeking to learn from experts. I remember vividly a series of conversations I had the first year of our middle school where this one particular mom kept arguing with me (for up to an hour at times) about what constituted best practice, on occasion citing a friend who taught middle school “who said no responsible school would do what [my school] is doing.” What we were doing, for the record, was what was recommended by the National Middle School Association (granted that we weren’t doing it as well in that first year as we are now) – for one example, I let kids choose essay topics rather than assigning the same writing prompt to all. That experience is one reason I tend to shy away from giving opinions about other people’s kids at other schools, and when I do, I’ll often stress my school’s mission and how that might lead to different approaches than other schools with other missions might take.

        Well… until I get provoked into a rant. Then, I’ve been known on occasion to become slightly more, shall we say subjective?!

        • JulieHiltz

          Reinforcing their decisions


          I realize that some of those “just wondering” conversations are really meant as opportunities for the question asker to solidify their own opinion with an “expert.” We sometimes don’t know when we’ve confirmed their suspicions, but often hear about it when we’ve said something in contrast to their viewpoint.

          There’s some discomfort within those conversations. In the moment you realize you don’t agree with someone on an issue that is important to you, you begin to wonder if you’ve misjudged that person in other areas as well? “How can I trust this person to teach my child when they don’t understand X?” 

          I think the context of the conversation and the relationships you’ve built with that person have to be taken in to consideration. I would never advcate being less than honest, but I would say there are times that tempering the discussion is appropriate.

          • BillIvey

            Context matters…

            … and honesty. And diplomacy. And more! 🙂

  • SandyMerz

    Tell me I’m right

    That’s what I usually hear between the lines when asked by a parent the kind of question you’re talking about.  (The exception would be my friends.  We discuss all kinds of ed issues.  When they ask, they usually really want an insider’s point of view.) 

  • Rob Kriete

    Whenever asked, I like to

    Whenever asked, I like to freely share most anything.  However, it is always important to “know your audience.”  When I discuss issues like this with parents, I like to remind them that their child is blessed to have a parent so concerned about educational issues.  From there, a better, more frank dialogue typically occurs.

    Strange though. When I’m out and about, I don’t get a lot of education questions.  Yet, the minute I walk into a Depot for the home, I am asked which aisle this or that is in. Mind you, I don’t wear an orange apron..often.  “Aisle seven!”