Out of all the things that occur in a school year, the parent-teacher relationship is one of the most vital aspects of a child’s education. This relationship can either make or break a school year at times. While most teachers will tell you that the majority of their relationships with parents are absolutely wonderful, there can be instances when lack of understanding and miscommunication can really hamper the school year and a student’s progress. After over a decade in the field, I’ve come up with my very honest and candid advice on what I think can make a great impact on that ever-important relationship.
1)A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way
A teacher’s day is filled to the brim with teaching, managing behavior, meetings, lesson planning, grading, etc. It is so easy for us to get overwhelmed in the day to day hustle. Sometimes the only thing that gets us through the day are those small acts of kindness from parents and students. A kind little thank-you note, a morning hug, or a homemade picture can go such a long way. It really is the fuel that can keep us going. Teaching, while stressful, is also one of the most rewarding careers in existence and we love feeling appreciated. Don’t feel like you need to do anything grand either. We love homemade gifts just as much, if not more, than those Starbucks gift cards.
2) Understand Your Child is One of Many
I know it’s hard for us to understand that our own child, the center of our world, is not always at the forefront of everyone else’s mind. For parents, it’s second nature to be constantly thinking about their children. However, just as you want your child’s teacher to give their all to your child, so are 15-20 other sets of parents and guardians. Trust me, we wish we could bestow our undivided attention onto each and every one of our students. We are human, however, and even when we try our best, it’s simply not possible. Sometimes a request or an idea about your child might seem doable to a parent, but it’s not always that way for a teacher. A good rule of thumb is to always ask yourself if it would be feasible or realistic for a teacher who is also managing 16 other children.
3) Keep a Teamwork Approach
The best parent relationships I’ve had in my teaching career came out of the mutual understanding that we should and must be on the same team centered around your child. A student’s education and well-being cannot prosper in isolation at home or at school. Having a “Team Student” approach keeps conversations student-focused and takes responsibility off of any one person. Remembering that we’re all here to help each other, and most importantly your child, is the best approach to take.
4) Ask How You Can Help
If you want to be more involved in the classroom, but have a hectic work schedule, reach out to your child’s teacher. Many working parents often think because they can’t volunteer their time at a class party or come in and read a book, that they can’t help. Unfortunately, I see so many parents feeling guilty about their lack of presence or ability to physically help in the classroom. This breaks my heart to see as there are so many ways a parent can help out that do not require coming into the school. Ask your child’s teacher if they’re running out of any supplies, if they need help coordinating parent chaperones for a field trip, etc. There are so many ways to help out in the classroom that don’t require time off from work, and we appreciate it all. Ultimately, checking in with your child and being there for him/her is the best way you can be involved.
5) Go Easy on the Emails
Remember when we were growing up and our parents had to write notes to our teachers in order to communicate? Maybe, just maybe, there would be a phone call if things were serious enough. Nowadays, due to technology, teachers can be at your disposal 24/7. While easily being able to communicate has been a blessing (i.e. trying to figure out an afternoon pickup situation), it can be easily taken advantage of. I would say 90% percent of my parents use emails appropriately. However, if just a few are shooting off emails left and right at all hours of the day, it can become quite tedious. Furthermore, the more emails a teacher has to respond to, the less time they are spending preparing lessons for your child. Also, I have seen so many situations go awry because an in-person conversation happened over email. With emails you can’t always interpret tone, see facial expressions, and it’s easier for both parties to be less sensitive while sitting behind a computer. My best advice for emailing your child’s teacher is as follows:
- Keep it simple and to the point (this will almost always warrant a quicker response)
- Understand that teachers sometimes do not get around to emails right away. Typically schools give teachers around 24 hours to respond.
- Consolidate your requests/comments/questions as much as possible into one email
- Be realistic with your requests. Sending an email at 8pm asking a teacher to take a picture of the homework that their child forgot at school so they can complete it before they go to bed is probably not going to happen (based on many true stories).
- Feeling really upset or even really happy? Save it for an in-person meeting. Email to request a time and date to set up a conference or at minimum a phone call.
6) Mutual Trust Goes a Long Way
We all have our opinions on just about everything these days. Positive and negative, teachers seem to have opinions about the ways parents do things and parents have their thoughts on what teachers do inside of the classroom. The bottom line is, we need to all remember we aren’t the expert inside of those contexts which we are not present. Teachers are not at home when things unfold and we only know bits and pieces of situations. Conversely, parents are not inside the classrooms and don’t often realize the intricacies.
Studies have shown that there is a phenomenon in our society where people, because they have spent so many years in schools themselves, feel that they are experts in what should and should not be happening in the classroom. But just like with any other profession, teachers spend years studying child development, pedagogy, instructional practices and participating in field experiences. It wasn’t until about my 6th year of teaching that I really began to feel truly knowledgeable in my field. Teachers need to always trust that the parent is the expert on their child and conversely, parents need to trust that teachers are making the best decisions for your child’s education that they can, given all the factors involved.
7) Remember There are Multiple Sides and Perspectives to Every Story
It’s so important to remember that sometimes your 8 year old’s version of events and how things unfolded is not always as is. Trust me, teachers are constantly bombarded with wild tales of what happened at home. We take them with a grain of salt and understand child perspective is sometimes a little skewed. I promise that you don’t want us taking everything they tell us about you as the whole truth as much as we don’t want you to do the same about us. Also, just because your child didn’t see so-and-so getting a consequence, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If you have questions about things that happened in the classroom, just ask. This goes so much further than immediately pointing fingers.
Imagine getting the following emails. Which one do you think you would be more willing to respond to? (Unfortunately I tend to get way more email 1s than 2s).
Dear Ms. Belcher,
Johnny has spent the last 4 hours crying because Joan called him a bad name and you did nothing about it. How could you let this happen? Isn’t it your job to supervise the children at all times? I will not tolerate this bullying of my son. If you aren’t going to do anything about it, I will go to “administrator name”. Please let me know exactly how you plan to fix this situation.
Dear Ms. Belcher,
Johnny has been very upset all evening about an incident that happened with Joan today on the playground. I would love to set up a meeting tomorrow or the next day and speak with you more about what happened so I can better understand the situation and help him at home. If you are unavailable to meet in person, perhaps we can discuss over the phone. I hope you have a great day.
8) Watch What You Say in Front of Your Children
Children are brilliant observers and digesters of information. They are far more aware of things than we will ever understand. No matter how upset you are with your child’s teacher in the moment, please refrain from bashing him/her in front of your child. It is the number one way to completely deteriorate any positive relationship they might be able to still have. If your child has a complaint about school, listen compassionately, offer advice, and let them know that you will contact the teacher to set up a meeting.
9) Encourage Your Child to Speak Up
One of the best ways to keep wires from getting crossed is teaching your child to say something to the teacher whenever something upsetting has happened. I can’t even tell you how many emails I’ve received late at night about some event that happened in a special (art, gym, etc.) school lunch, or recess that I was completely oblivious to. I would say a large percent of the time these issues arise is when the children are not under the direct supervision of their homeroom teacher. Teaching your child to communicate early can result in issues being dealt with in a timely manner while the incident is still fresh in the students’ minds. With younger students, sometimes by the time we approach them the next day, they don’t even remember what happened. This is not to say that sometimes students won’t feel comfortable talking to an adult outside of their caregivers. However, it’s a good habit to go ahead and try and establish.
10) But Also Advocate For Your Child
You and your child have a special bond. Your child loves and trusts you like no other and will share things with you that they will not with anyone else. Frequently, children won’t feel comfortable telling an adult at school about something that is bothering them but they will open up completely to someone at home. Teachers need and want you to share these moments with us. I’ve had situations where something was going on under the radar for weeks and it wasn’t brought to my attention until much later. Just remember, we can’t do something about it if we don’t know about it. It is impossible for us to know every single thing going on with all of our students at all times, therefore we need you to alert us if something isn’t going as planned. You are our greatest ally.
11) Share Funny Stories
I love when parents include me on funny anecdotes and happenings outside of the classroom. Conversely, I love telling parents about those moments when their child had me in stitches. When parents include me on what happened over the weekend (funny moments, sport triumphs, family trips, etc.) it sends me the message that they care about me knowing who their child is outside of school and think of me as an important member of the child’s life. As an added benefit, the more I know about a student’s hobbies, interests, pet peeves, etc., the more I can tailor an educational program around his/her specific needs.
12) Fill that Bucket!
The parent-teacher relationship is just that, a relationship, and an important one at that. This is a person who is spending the majority of their waking day, Monday through Friday, with your child. Even the most talented, intelligent, well-behaved children will have their rough days and you may have to have difficult conversations with your child’s teacher. Just like with any other relationship, it’s important to fill that bucket up with positive moments, so if there is a more challenging conversation that needs to happen, you’re starting at a place of abundance, and it won’t be so tough. If you’re really happy with your child’s teacher, make sure that person knows. Often in the school day, parents and teachers get so caught up in the minutiae that teachers are not told when things are going well and people are happy. This goes for teachers as well. Not only should they be communicating with you when there are concerns about your child, they should also be reaching out to you during the good moments as well.
You can also check out our 8 Things You Can Do Now to Help Your Child Get Ready For School, How to save money on school supplies and Back to school lunch ideas.
By Jennifer Belcher
Jennifer Belcher has been an educator for over 12 years. She has experience in public, private, and International schools. Jennifer has served as an elementary, middle and collegiate level teacher. She has lived in Jersey City for over 3 years. Currently, she is a private tutor, freelance writer and social media manager.