How to talk to your child's teacher so that she listens

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When it comes to your kids' education, their teachers are your best allies. Here's how to talk to your child's teacher so that she listens.

how to talk to your child's teacher

As your child begins school, you have to remember that his teachers will be your best allies in making sure he develops a lifelong love for learning.

As parents, we take our children’s schooling very seriously.

We agonise over which school is best for their needs, we spend hours ensuring that homework is complete and we worry about low test scores or negative teacher feedback.

While we all care deeply about our children’s education, we approach it in different ways. Some of us are constantly knocking at the teacher’s door while many of us, given our hectic lives and demanding daily needs, pursue a path of least resistance — we stay out of the way of teachers until disaster strikes (low grades or behavioural problems).

In addition, some schools do little to foster ongoing relationships with parents and teachers for reasons like cultural expectations, a busy working parent body and teaching staff who are overwhelmed with large workloads and hectic schedules.

This, unfortunately, can create a disconnect in the relationship between the two most important allies that a child can have, their parent and teacher. As a result, it’s not uncommon for this distance to contribute to strained parent-teacher communication.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Teachers and parents should view each other as partners in the success of children’s education, not battling opponents or contentious competitors.

As a classroom teacher for over ten years and a mother of two children currently in school, I have been on both sides of the conversation.

Here are some tips I’ve learned and begun to practice along the way. I hope you find them as helpful as I do in fostering positive, collaborative relationships with your children’s teachers.

how to talk to your child's teacher

Teachers spend hours at work, preparing lessons and taking care of our kids. We must express our gratitude with small gestures as and when we can.

Appreciation can go a long way!

Although we may not think about it each day as our kids march off to school, teachers spend hours preparing to teach each class.

They think about the needs of our children, the best methods to teach them and work tirelessly to create a positive and nurturing environment. They often spend the night worrying about a struggling student and spend many after school hours and days improving their educational pedagogy.

Saying “thank you” and acknowledging the hard work of teachers is an easy way to guarantee positive teacher-parent relationships. When I get an email from my children’s school or teacher, I always immediately click reply and write a short note of gratitude, even something as simple as “Thanks for all that you do for his education every day” or “She really enjoys your class and I’m grateful that she has you as her teacher.”

Depending on the environment and culture of school, I sometimes try to send a small homemade gift (cookies, a picture coloured by my child) with a note acknowledging my appreciation for the teacher’s hard work.

how to talk to your child's teacher

If your child is struggling do not blame either your child or the teacher. Instead try to understand what the child’s actual challenge is.

Be honest with yourself and the teacher

I had a parent visit me one day who began the conversation the following way “my child says that every day  she doesn’t know the homework because you never tell her.”

Of course, my initial response was to defend myself — to tell the parent the ways in which I communicate the homework each day. But then I stopped myself.

I realised that in this case the parent was really just worried about performance. It was easier to to excuse the child’s behaviour if the teacher didn’t properly assign homework than to confront the parental insecurity of a struggling student.

While I was able to help the parent realise through her fears and challenges, such conversations can often lead to hostile relationships between parents and educators; often even involving the child and impacting their attitude towards learning.

So…. Before you confront a teacher, try to be honest about what the real problem is. It will help the communication be clearer and allow you to work as an ally with the teacher as opposed to adversary.

Do try to change the language you use when confronting a teacher. It’s certain to make her more receptive to your feedback and concerns.

How to talk to your child's teacher so that she listens.

Don't say Try saying
“You’re not addressing the needs of my child” “I’m concerned that my child is struggling and I don’t know what I can do to help him.”
“You expect too much of the kids” “My child is finding school expectations overwhelming and I’m wondering how we can support her.”
“You’re not challenging my child” “I’m concerned about my child's future. I want her to be pushed to the maximum and have every opportunity to get into elite high schools/universities. How can we ensure she is meeting her full potential?”

Of course, it can be a challenge to stop ourselves and take the time (and brainpower!) to think about what we really need/want from teachers. But when we do, we’re sure to have positive communication and maximise our child’s educational support team.

Communicate in a safe and relaxed environment

It’s not uncommon to see a parent want to discuss a concern with a teacher at morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up times.

We often do this because it’s the time we remember our concern, our schedules may be too full to pencil in a specific meeting time, or we’re looking to learn more about our child’s progress in the classroom. Do not do this.

Drop-off and pick-up times are a chaotic and busy moment of the day for teachers. In addition, our children are often already holding our hand, waiting to go home, as we try to confront the teacher.

Instead, try make an appointment. Set up a time which will allow you and the teacher to meet in a relaxed environment which is safe for everyone and when there is ample time to delve into concerns and solve them. In addition, this format gives you and the teacher time to prepare for the meeting-to think about what you might want to say and what kind of outcome you are looking for.

Whether you’re looking to address a real concern or just get an update on your child’s progress, I’ve always found that everyone feels more satisfied and so much more is accomplished when communication is addressed in a safe environment.

how to talk to your child's teacher

You have to recognise that your child’s teacher does know him well. This is because she spends so much time with him everyday.

Remember you AND the teacher know your child

I once taught a student for three consecutive years, nearly two hours a day. In the third year, during a meeting with the parent, the parent joked that “perhaps you’ve had more conversations at this point with my teenager than I have!”

I was quite surprised by this comment. While it may have been true, I was more used to getting attacked by parents who were adamant that they ‘knew their child BETTER’ and took it upon themselves to compete in a race I wasn’t involved in.

When communicating with teachers, it’s important to validate the fact that both parent AND teacher know the child and care deeply for the child (obviously, on different levels.) Sometimes, they may know the child in the same way (both view the child as shy) or sometimes they may see different aspects (one sees a social child, the other a more timid one.)

But either way, it’s important to remember that the teacher and parent spend a lot of time with the child and, probably, have a deep understanding of them.

When talking to a teacher, be open. Be open to the fact that someone else might know your child just as well as you do. Be open to the fact that someone else may deeply and genuinely care for your child. Be open to the fact that your child may display a completely different persona in school than they do at home.

The important thing to remember is: both of you can know your child. Once you accept that, communication is certain to clearer, smoother and certainly feel better!

Good luck on your quest for ongoing positive communication with your children’s teachers. And remember… ultimately, you BOTH want what’s best for your child!!

Shona Schwartz is an educator and mother, focusing on helping children build tools that allow them to develop meaningful self-value. She has published in educational magazines and developed workshops for parents and teachers.

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