Why We Need to Manage Expectations of Schools

teacher and students

In speaking of the efforts of Britain’s Royal Air Force, who were then tirelessly fighting the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

School isn’t a war, but it sure feels like it sometimes, and teachers are the modern Royal Air Force.

Never has so much been done by so few with so little.

Never has so much been owed by so many to the beleaguered.

I’m a big believer in the power of great schools. They are vital to the future and survival of our nation and its ideals.

At the same time, I think we need to manage the expectations we have of schools because, friends, we’re getting a little unreasonable here.

How It Used to Be

When I was a kid (see Paleozoic Era), school was very different from today’s campuses in key ways. Things like technology and testing-gone-wild are obvious differences, but the biggest differences I see are in the areas of attitude and expectation.


We used to have this attitude towards school: You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.

If a student didn’t like the teacher, too bad. I literally cannot imagine what my mother would have said had I complained about not liking my teacher. Frankly, I didn’t really like my 6th grade teacher. And that, my friends, is called “life.”

Note: I had a massive crush on my 4th grade teacher at Cardiff Elementary, Mr. Brubaker. Once, I saw him in the summer and nearly died.

Now, if a student doesn’t like the teacher, even when there is nothing wrong with the teacher other than a personality misfit, it’s as if there was some promise made and subsequently broken that the child would never get through school without loving every teacher.

Friends, let’s manage that expectation. Teachers are people, and people get along more or less well with each other. If your child doesn’t like the teacher, it’s not the end of the world.

Most teachers like all of their students (it makes for a very long year if you don’t, to be honest), so if the student doesn’t like the teacher, consider how you can help, rather than complain.

We love those we serve. I imagine that if you find ways your child can serve the teacher in gentle ways of kindness, the child will grow to like the teacher. It’s not black and white. We can grow to like and even love those we once struggled with.


We used to have the expectation that schools would teach the three R’s (reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic). Now, the internet is flooded with things that “should” be taught in schools.

Go ahead. Just Google “what should be taught in school that isn’t” and you’ll see. Look, I’ll save you the trouble. Just click here to see the 179 MILLION results.

All of the things on these lists have one thing in common: they’re things we used to call “parenting.” Things like budgeting, car maintenance, nutrition, dating (!), communication, and on and on.

Frankly, many of these things ARE taught in schools as electives. We can make them mandatory, if you want kids in school twenty hours a day and you want to pay for it.

You want to get people really mad? Tell taxpayers we’re going to stop teaching kids to read because we’re going to teach them about homeowner’s insurance instead.

There’s this expectation that school will be all things to all people with little thanks and few resources. That’s just not reasonable.

Let’s manage expectations.

How Email Has Made This So Much Worse

It used to be that if you wanted to talk with your child’s teacher, you would call the school during school hours and leave a message. The teacher would then call you back when school was over.

Those days are over. Here’s the dynamic now:

  1. Child comes home from school with horrific story of teacher/other student misbehavior/unfairness.
  2. Parent fires off vicious, accusatory email demanding immediate response.
  3. Teacher reads said email at 10:30pm when he/she has just finished grading and lesson planning. Exhausted, he/she fires back OR Teacher receives email at 8:30am when he/she has a class FULL OF STUDENTS and cannot respond.
  4. Parent reads response or does not receive an immediate response and gets even more angry.
  5. Armageddon.

There’s a better way. It’s not even difficult. It can be summed up in two words: slow down.

If your child comes home with a Paul Bunyan-like tale of epic malfeasance on the part of a teacher, breathe and wait.

By morning, your child’s version of events may have altered. (Maybe not. I’ll be honest, I’ve had some of my kids’ teachers do some pretty amazingly ridiculous/unfair stuff.)

Your emotions will have calmed down, hopefully.

Send an email that reads like this:

“Hi! Sariah mentioned that there were some issues with her project. Her version of events sounds a little odd, so I’m wondering if you could tell me what happened and if there’s anything I can do to help. I appreciate you! I know you’re busy with students, so I’ll wait for your reply when you have time. – Thanks, Sariah’s Mom”

If you do that, the teacher will literally print that email out and brag about how great you are to all of the other teachers, causing epic envy.

Don’t do this:

  1. Send email at 8:23am.
  2. Call principal at 8:35am with complaint that teacher “never responds” to email.

This actually happens. It’s happened to me multiple times. I’ve literally been in tears thinking, “Doesn’t she know I have 38 kids in my class right now? Does she really want me to bring their education to a grinding halt to respond to email?”

You will catch more solutions with email honey than email vinegar, and that’s not just true at school.

Support, not Strife

Let’s dial back what we expect (read: demand) and increase our support. How do we do that? Consider these ideas:

  • Join your neighborhood schools’ PTAs.
  • If the school is having a festival or fair or activity, attend.
  • Donate any useful items (I gave the school nurse my kids’ outgrown tshirts and pants for when kids had accidents.)
  • Volunteer to help at field days or other events where an extra pair of hands could come in handy.
  • Write nice reviews of the school on websites that review schools
  • Save boxtops for them.
  • Got a couple of bucks? Donate some pencils you picked up at back-to-school sales.

On the first week of school this year, I walked my happy, cute dog down the street to wait on the corner with a sign that said, “Brody says ‘Have a Great Day!'” You don’t have to go that extreme, but you can support the school, even if you don’t have students who attend it.

Let’s be promoters, not detractors. Even if the school has issues – perhaps especially if it has issues, it needs support. No organization gets better through constant attack.

We can do a better job of supporting teachers and schools. We can and we must, or we will soon find that the only people willing to work for low pay under constant attack are not the kind of people who have the power and ability to raise up our children.

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Best Wishes!

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