School is out for the year in most places. Teachers are sleeping in. Parents have arranged for child care. Students are snapping chats, or playing Fortnite, or getting in my way at the zoo (I don’t really know what students do with their free time. I used to watch Matlock in the summer). Many teachers received gifts from the parents of their students during that last week of school. I saw them on Facebook, and I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t greatly appreciate them. In a world where genuine appreciation is as rare as political bipartisanship, even a token thank-you stands out.
Gift cards, coffee mugs, thematic baskets, chocolate, and thank you cards are all great, but there is one way parents can thank their children’s teachers that beats them all. Few teachers receive this gift, even though it costs nothing, takes only a few minutes to put together, has lasting positive effects, and you can do it at any point of the school year, even now, when it’s over.
What is this wonderful, simple gift?
An email to the teacher’s principal.
Teachers Get Evaluated
Many parents may not be aware that teachers are evaluated yearly now. This is a relatively new thing, at least in practice. While there have always been teacher evaluation systems, the old ones were mostly formalities. The principal would let the teacher know he was coming, the teacher would teach, the principal would fill out a quick form that usually lacked teeth, and they’d all go on their merry ways.
Then, for lots of mostly bad reasons, politicians decided teachers were the main cause of society’s failures. They decided to weed out the bad ones. To do that, they needed some kind of system to identify the duds. They wanted to use test scores because test scores produce numbers and people like numbers. They seem objective. But then the forces of good convinced them that including principal observations should be part of the system, too.
So what does all this have to do with writing an email to the principal?
Principals Are Human
The system described above is meant to be objective, but it isn’t. Humans are involved. Humans have values and prejudices and feelings and all kinds of other humany things that make objectively evaluating others impossible. Two principals watching the same lesson will judge that lesson differently. Two principals will measure the value of teachers in their buildings differently.
In practice, the system actually works like this:
– For various reason –some good, some bad — principals like some teachers more than others.
– Principals bring their biases with them when they observe teachers.
– Charitable view: Although principals tell themselves they’re being fair, their preferences for certain teachers show through in their ratings.
– Less charitable view: Principals decide beforehand which teachers are going to get lower scores and then, no matter what they observe, they rate teachers accordingly. In other words, they say to themselves, “Well, if the district is going to lay people off this year, I better make sure they lay off the teachers I’d rather not have around. One way to do that is to rate them poorly on observations.”
Humans Can Be Influenced
It is human nature to complain about things that annoy us and keep quiet when we’re satisfied. That means that if principals hear anything about the teachers in their buildings, it’s likely negative. The feedback principals receive about teachers either confirms or challenges their opinions.
Fortunately, positive feedback works the same way. Most principals are unaware of much of what happens. They can’t be everywhere all the time. They may not know anything about how a teacher communicates with parents, or how a teacher inspired Timmy to read more at home, or the way a teacher makes learning fun. A principal might not notice the rapport a teacher has with her students. But if he receives three emails from parents praising the relationships their children have with their teacher, he’ll start to.
All of us are influenced by the opinions of others. It’s what makes hit songs, bestsellers, and blockbusters. It’s why one restaurant thrives while others close. It’s why I don’t admit to people that I don’t care for Monty Python, Wes Anderson movies, or Meryl Streep. When you hear from lots of people about how great something is, you start to think you’re the weird one. You keep those opinions to yourself. You question them. You look for evidence you’re wrong.
That’s why parents who are happy with their child’s teacher should email the principal. The more a principal hears good things about his teachers, the more likely it is he’ll start to believe them or at least question his own opinions.
Don’t Just Tell the Teacher
Most years, I get a card from a parent thanking me. Often, the card will say something like, “Ivy really enjoyed being in your class. She was nervous to have a male teacher but she had a great third-grade year.”
I love getting these cards.
But I’d also love my principal to hear what parents appreciate about me, too.
Principals who hear good things about teachers will be less likely to evaluate those teachers poorly or consider moving them to a different position in their district. Upsetting parents who have proven they’re willing to write emails to school administrators is one thing most principals are reluctant to do.
So if you think your child’s teacher did a good job this year, write an email to the principal saying so. It’s fast, easy, free, and will help the teacher more than anything you can buy from a store.
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