This is my annual reminder to be sure to start the new school year off right by establishing a great relationship with your child’s teacher! Each year I add a new tip or two based on suggestions from parents and teachers. Therefore, feel free to comment and let me know your suggestions!
I have a lot of respect for teachers. Dealing with overcrowded classrooms, budget cuts, and having to pay for many of your classroom supplies yourself just doesn’t seem worth the salary most teachers are paid. Now top that off with having to deal with demanding parents, disrespectful children (not all of them of course, but they’re out there), and the expectations of other teachers, administrators, etc., and you can see how difficult it is to be a teacher.
As a college instructor who is married to a former teacher, who is now an administrator, I’d like to offer these tips for communicating with your child’s teacher that will ensure you, your child, and the teacher have a great school year.
1. Establish communication early.
Don’t wait until there’s a problem to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Call or email him or her, saying who you are, who your child is, what support you might be able to provide during the year, and to wish him or her a great school year. Having established rapport with your child’s teacher early in the year will make things a lot easier should there be problems, questions, or concerns later.
2. Treat the teacher with respect.
Some people take an “I pay your salary, so you’re my servant,” attitude toward teachers. Teachers are partners in your child’s education, not the hired help. It’s important to use common courtesy when communicating with them—just as you’d expect in return. Another element of respect is going directly to the teacher, not to the principal, or your cousin the superintendent, if there’s a problem. Always go directly to the teacher first, before elevating the situation to someone higher up the “chain of command.”
3. Take opportunities to provide compliments and praise.
Let’s face it, when things are going well, we rarely take the opportunity to tell people they’re doing a great job. It’s not until something goes wrong that most people take the time to “communicate” with others. Most teachers don’t hear anything from parents unless it’s a complaint, problem, or “suggestion for improvement.” Be sure to look for opportunities to provide sincere praise and appreciation to your child’s teachers for doing their jobs well.
4. Ask, don’t accuse.
Children sometimes come home with different perceptions of situations that occurred at school that day than what actually happened. Before taking the story as fact, ASK the teacher about the situation.
You might start off saying, “I heard there might have been an issue today between Morgan and Hannah. Can you tell me more about what happened?” Rather than starting with, “Hannah said you punished her for no reason…”
If you’re concerned about the level or amount of work your child is doing, don’t say, “You’re giving Kelsey too much homework,” instead, you might say, “I’m concerned about the amount of homework Kelsey is bringing home, is there a reason it seems to be significantly more lately?”
5. Don’t be defensive.
Most parents have a difficult time seeing the “imperfections” in their children. When a teacher offers an observation about your child that’s less than complimentary, try to remember that the teacher is only offering it because he or she wants your child to succeed.
Try to look at your child’s behavior objectively. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask the teacher for specific examples before you respond, so you can better understand the situation. If you find you can’t, ask for some time to think about what the teacher has shared and set a follow-up appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue further.
6. Acknowledge first, share your needs (or your child’s needs), then ask the teacher how you can work together to find a solution.
Depending on your approach, or possibly the teacher’s past experience with parents who want to “have a chat,” the teacher might be wary or even defensive. To avoid creating a defensive situation, or making a defensive person more defensive, acknowledge the teacher’s position, PAUSE, then share your own needs.
“I know my child isn’t the only one in your class, but YOU NEED TO give him more difficult work.”
Note how the word “but” basically discounts the first half of what you said, leaving the second.
“I know having 23 seven year olds it’s not possible to cater math lessons to just one child. (Pause) I want to help foster my son’s love of math and his abilities. What can we do together to provide him with more challenging math problems?”
Note how this response shows your willingness to work with the teacher. It’s possible the teacher can’t meet your child’s advanced math needs and a solution outside the classroom, or even a different class, might be needed.
7. Teach your children to speak for themselves.
I remember my daughter coming home in 3rd grade with a paper that was marked 85, but when she added up the points, she should have earned a 91. She wanted me to call her teacher and take care of it. I refused and told her that she should go to her teacher the next day and politely ask her if she could recheck the grade. The next day, all was well and the grade was corrected. Teachers are human and make mistakes and students need to learn to talk to their teachers. I always tell my college students the same thing. Ask me if you have a question or think there’s been an error—especially since math isn’t my strong suit!
8. Don’t try to resolve major problems or conflicts via email.
You don’t have to make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher for every little issue or question—neither you nor the teacher probably has time to do so. However, for major problems, it’s better to discuss the issue face-to-face or on the phone for three reasons.
First, I’ve found that people become awfully “brave” when hiding behind a computer screen. When they’re angry or upset about something, they’ll say things in an email that they’d likely never say face-to-face or on the phone.
Second, the nonverbal elements of facial expressions, body language, and most importantly vocal qualities or your tone, don’t exist in email form. Therefore, a question you might ask that you intend to be totally straightforward, such as, “When will Drew’s grade be posted?” might come across as a sarcastic accusation, because people read emails as if a person was speaking to them. They infer tone and attitude—and they’re more likely to infer negatively than positively.
Finally, once you send that angry email, it’s gone. There’s no taking it back. In fact, if you do later regret sending that note to the teacher and try to “recall it,” that just makes that email more intriguing and more likely to be opened. If you don’t want to say something you’ll regret later, wait until you cool off and pick up the phone.
Teachers and parents: what other suggestions would you add to next year’s list of tips? Let me know!
Here’s hoping everyone gets off to a great start in the new school year and builds great relationships with their children’s teachers!