I've been an elementary teacher for 18 years. These are the things I wished parents knew.

Teacher writing on blackboard with students
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  • I've been an elementary-school teacher for 18 years, and I see parents repeating the same mistakes.

  • Things like not respecting teachers' time or worrying about quiet kids come up regularly.

  • I also wish parents would stop giving teachers random gift cards.

In my 18 years as an elementary-school teacher, I see parents make the same three mistakes over and over. These unintentional mistakes come down to not treating teachers as human beings and not seeing what they perceive as kids' negative traits, like being introverted, as actual strengths.

Here's what I want parents to know about teaching and their children in hopes that both teachers and kids are treated with more respect and care.

There are better gifts than generic gift cards

I have experienced generosity from parents, from free donations of books to the classroom to Target gift cards. Holidays like Teacher Appreciation Week or end-of-year thank-yous are great opportunities to show gratitude to your child's teacher. Teachers appreciate any kind gesture, but one of the most memorable gifts I have ever received was a gift card to a spa.

It wasn't because of the amount, but it was one of the few gifts to this day that was only for me. It's in a teacher's nature to give of themselves to their students. So when this spa gift card was given to me with a note that read, "We want you to enjoy this for yourself," I didn't expect to break down in tears, but I did. At that moment, I felt seen as a human being.

Parents of school-aged children are probably starting to think about how they can gift their teachers differently this year. I encourage you to see the teachers in your life as human beings with interests and hobbies outside of their jobs and look for a meaningful, personal gift that is just for them and unrelated to being a teacher.

Make an actual appointment to talk to your child's teacher

In a service-oriented profession, the separation of work and off-hours aren't very clear. I have to admit that for a very long time, I had a difficult time creating boundaries as a teacher. In my early years, I answered parent emails on weekends, and when a parent would "catch me" on the way to my car at the end of a school day to talk about their child's progress at school, I let them.

It was on me to create and communicate clear boundaries, and parents need to be educated on how to treat teachers' work as a profession.

Urgent emails on weekends are not welcomed. Being a teacher is one of many roles we play in our individual lives. Trying to squeeze in an impromptu parent-teacher conference by stopping in to say hello minutes before the class is about to walk in, or waiting for the teacher to walk to their car is just inappropriate.

The thought of walking into our doctor's office whenever we wanted without an appointment does not cross our minds. With teachers, though, parents often feel they have a right to cross all boundaries of professionalism.

Let's stop calling kids 'quiet' like it's a bad thing

One of the most common topics on worried parents' minds is that their child is "too quiet." More often than not, what I have found in these conversations is what we might find in all parents' hearts: deep fear that their child won't be loved for who they are.

I want to communicate to parents that it's not a negative quality for your child to be quiet. In fact, we need to stop saying phrases like "you're so quiet." Introverts are often creative, good problem-solvers, and make devoted friends and strong leaders. Extroverts are often praised, but some of their traits can be to their detriment, like not listening to others and sometimes being self-centered.

I believe that schools are designed for extroverts. In fact, most institutions probably are. This means if you are an introvert, you are already at a disadvantage, because you're forced to be who you are not. I think about how "participation" is assessed in schools. Participation is also the note-taker, one-on-one conversationalist, and active listener. This was me as a child and true for so many of our kids.

Kids who are introverts have strengths that are rarely exposed and developed in a school environment, and this is not the child's fault. When their gifts are not acknowledged, praised, and encouraged, it can be hard for them to believe they belong.

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