If you’re like most parents, your relationship with your students’ teachers is tenuous at best. The teacher sends home papers and you glance at them — maybe. You exchange an e-mail or two with her when there’s a field trip or your child forgot his homework. But developing a stronger relationship with your child’s teacher will benefit the educator and your child in the long run. We talked to several teachers and parents about dos and don’ts when nurturing this important relationship.
Your child may be the center of your universe, but that doesn’t mean that you need to know the details of every little thing he is doing during school. Don’t micromanage what goes on in the classroom, but rather, trust that the teacher knows what she is doing, says New York City parent and teacher Naomi Daniels.
Teachers need space and time to do what they do best — teach — and they don’t have time to send you a progress report every day. But do let your teacher know that you are there to support her whenever necessary.
“An open channel of communication is good for everyone,” Daniels says.
At the same time, parents should reach out to teachers and communicate any special needs that their student might have.
“Teachers can’t read minds,” said veteran teacher and author of “Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx,” Ilana Garon.
In a class of 20 students or more, parents need to let teachers know if there is something they should be aware of. Simply sending a short e-mail or requesting a parent-teacher meeting is enough, and teachers really do appreciate the extra information you can give them.
Yuri Min, a teacher and tutor in Southington, Conn., said that especially during the beginning of the year, she appreciates when parents share little tidbits about their children — their likes and dislikes and issues they may be having at home — to allow her to connect with her students better. These tidbits can be shared in passing during pickup or drop-off, or during informal conversation while you are volunteering at the school.
Social studies teacher Donna Paoletti at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md., picked up this trick in her 15-plus years of teaching: she begins each e-mail with a positive thing about the student. Regardless of what the e-mail is about, this puts the entire conversation in a positive frame of mind.
Parents can do this as well — start off each e-mail conversation with something that you appreciate about the teacher before addressing any concerns you might have.
DON’T expect immediate attention
Teachers are busy people and understandably aren’t checking their e-mail all the time. If you send an e-mail, expect that educators might take a day or two to get back to you. Most of the time, they are in the classroom, making lesson plans, or meeting with other parents.
“They’re not always sitting at their desk,” said Daniels.
Come to parent-teacher conferences with specific questions about your child’s progress and needs, says Garon. Know what your child has been doing, what he is struggling with, and what he enjoys. This will help your parent-teacher conferences be more productive and effective. Also, if you have to miss a conference, let the teacher know beforehand.
Understand that your child earned the grade he brought home, it wasn’t just passed down as a judgment from the teacher, says Garon. There may be contributing factors as to why your child is not doing well in school, but work to hear the teacher’s point of view before making assumptions. Automatically blaming the teacher is not a productive stance for the child.
“Just as parents are the authority figures at home, teachers are the authority figures at school, and parents should support that as much as possible. Teachers are the standard bearers for children while they are at school,” Garon says.
Daniels agrees. She points out that neither children nor teachers are perfect, and parents should understand that their children might not be telling the whole story. Make sure to hear the teacher out first before making any judgements.
Learning shouldn’t stop when the child comes home, says Garon.
“Parents need to do their part to foster good educational goals and outcomes,” she said.
Ways you can do this? Check your child’s folders often, ask open-ended questions about school, and generally be supportive.
Jenny Chen is a freelance writer specializing in education and parenting. She has written for Washington Parent and Mothering Magazine.
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