As a former English teacher and now a parent of three school age children, I’ve been on both sides of the parent-teacher conversation – and I continue to learn from each perspective. As a young teacher, I remember feeling nervous and sometimes defensive when parents approached me about something I was teaching or a grade I’d given their child. On the other hand, as a parent, I like to know more details of the curriculum. And if I’m worried about a grade or a behavioral issue, I like to understand the issue and work with the teacher to address it right away.
Parent-teacher conferences are taking place around the mid-state (and across the country) and I’ve interviewed teachers and parents at all grade levels from Kindergarten through High School – and compiled some of my own experiences both as a teacher and a parent – to help parents navigate the world of teacher conferences, relationships and communication.
Below are some tips and best practices aimed towards parents to ensure a strong, open and supportive parent-teacher partnership for the whole year:
As a parent, our attitude towards school and the way we speak about teachers, administration and school, in general, has an enormous impact on our children – no matter what grade. Excitement about a teacher is contagious, but so is cynicism and negativity. We need to make sure our attitude about school and our child’s teachers reflects the attitude we are hoping to see in our child. Some additional thoughts on perspective from teachers and parents:
- We are all human and we all make mistakes – even teachers! Often teachers are held to a higher standard in terms of perfection and parents need to remember that teachers are human too.
- Never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your children. In the heat of the moment, we may get frustrated with a teacher or a situation at school. Vent to your spouse or partner…or to a trusted friend if needed, but keep those conversations far away from the ears of your kids.
- Let your child see that you value education and teachers, specifically. You can do this by modeling behavior, using encouraging words about teachers and school in general and simply making education a priority in your home.
“My personal perspective is that parents must be an advocate for their child AND an advocate for their teacher even… especially…when there is a conflict.” -Middle School Parent
I have learned that it is essential to establish regular communication with your child’s teachers throughout the school year, during good times and during bad times (more on bad times in a minute). No matter the grade level, effective communication at its most basic consists of meeting with the teacher, being a positive partner in the learning experience, and keeping lines of communication open. Here are some other communication tips from parents and teachers:
- Find out the best way to contact the teacher. Ask for times when it is convenient to talk. Don’t expect them to be able to talk if you happen to be at the school and run into them.
- Write short emails or notes and follow up with a phone message to the school if you don’t get a response in a few days. Be sure to include your phone number and/or e-mail address.
- In e-mail communication, be brief, stick to the point, and don’t use emojis, pictures or graphics. Stick to school-related information in e-mail.
- Emails can often lead to miscommunication – make sure if there is an issue, you proofread your email and/or have someone else proofread.
- Ask the teacher about expectations regarding homework and what to do if there are problems with homework.
- Inquire about how your student is doing both academically and socially – how do they interact with other students, who do they sit with at lunch, etc.
“In Kindergarten, this is often the first line of communication for families – the first time they’ve had to establish teacher relationships. Emails are the easiest, but sometimes translations can be confused. When in doubt, set up a conference or a phone call. It takes a village to raise our children and teachers should welcome all input.” -Kindergarten Teacher
On those inevitable occasions when parents and teachers disagree about assignments, relationships, homework, or teaching approaches, open communication can be invaluable for resolving differences. However, dealing with direct disagreements also requires respect and discretion by both parents and teachers. It may be hard to hear what teachers have to say if they deliver bad news about your child but try to focus on solutions and work with the teacher to come up with a plan to help your child be successful. Here are some additional thoughts from teachers and parents on how to handle conflict or concerns:
- If there is a problem, talk to the teacher first. Never go above the teacher (to the administration or the board) before talking to your child’s teacher. But also don’t be afraid to talk to other school personnel if needed – after you’ve tried to talk to the teacher. A school counselor might be able to intervene if you are finding teacher communication to be difficult.
- Set up a meeting or call directly with the teacher about the problem. Sometimes the teacher is unaware of the child’s difficulty or perception of a situation. Sometimes a child misunderstands a teacher’s intentions, or the teacher is unaware of the child’s confusion about a rule or an assignment. It is important to check the facts directly with the teacher before drawing conclusions or allocating blame. Direct contact is necessary to define the problem accurately and to develop an agreement about how best to proceed.
- Be diplomatic, especially in e-mail. Choose your words carefully and avoid criticizing the teacher.
- Do not involve other parents or students before you’ve discussed the issue with the teacher.
- Be positive, supportive and curious. Try not to put the teacher on the defensive. Try using phrases such as “Can we talk about…?” Use “I” statements such as “I’m confused about…”
“If you have an issue with a grade your child received or something the teacher taught, set up a one-on-one meeting with the teacher and discuss it. A lot can be worked out through a civil discussion and listening to each other’s concerns.” -Fourth Grade Teacher
Studies show that a positive parent-teacher partnership helps your child not only have a positive attitude toward school but also be more successful in school. Here are some tips on how to nurture that partnership:
- Continue your child’s learning at home by assisting with homework, helping your child learn time management skills and talking about school at home.
- Offer to help the teacher by finding out where they need help. This will look different depending on the age/grade level of your child and the schedule of the parent. One parent may be able to help as a homeroom parent while another may be able to stop by for 30 minutes every week to help with tutoring while yet another may be able to donate classroom supplies. Determine the best way you can help and then commit to helping.
- Send a note of appreciation to the teacher when things go well in class (and mention this to the Principal).
“Parents and teachers are on the same team. Trust your teachers and support them so that they can do their best for your child.” -High School Teacher
I get that we’ve all had great teachers and not-so-great teachers – and the same will be true for our kids. There are teachers who will adore and bond with your child and others that simply don’t understand him or her. There are teachers who naturally communicate well with parents and others who don’t. But I firmly believe that respect for each other and an open line of communication creates a positive school experience for everyone involved.
Are you a teacher? Are you a parent with school aged kids? Have you worked through a conflict with a teacher? Would you add any tips or advice to this list? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!