How to talk to your child’s teacher

School is stressful at times: for kids and for their parents. Whether it’s the overwhelming amount of work your child missed while you were on vacation, or a bully in class who just isn’t getting the “ignore him” message, or any number of other struggles, school can be hard. It’s a sea of uncertainty, and our kids are striving so hard to find their place in the world.

Sometimes, when things aren’t going well, we parents get into mama bear (or papa bear) mode and want to barrel into the school building to fix the injustices of life. But before you do actually barrel into your child’s classroom, take a look at these tips on how to effectively talk to your child’s teacher:

Step 1: Step back and let your child lead

First things first, ask yourself if you even need to get involved. Sometimes, we parents are so eager to help our children that we unintentionally take over for them when they are perfectly capable of doing something themselves. I’m not suggesting that you ignore a serious issue or tell your child to just grow up and deal with it, but I am proposing that one of the best things we can do for our children is guide them through the process of problem-solving so that they will be more capable in the future.

When I taught middle school, I had so much respect for the kids who would take their education into their own hands and approach me themselves about missing work, confusion regarding a grade on an assignment, and various other things. Your child may need guidance and support in this, but it’s a great opportunity for you to help your child learn important life skills.

If your child is complaining to you about a problem at school, ask them what they’ve tried to do to resolve the problem. Help them to make a plan for who they need to talk to and what they should say. Give them the opportunity to learn to self-advocate before you take the reigns. Once your child has attempted to solve the problem, if you still have concerns, take a more active role as their advocate.

Step 2: Make an appointment to talk in person (when possible)

Email is wonderful, and convenient, and I love it. As a teacher, I read and sent emails all the time to answer simple, quick questions from parents. However, if your concern is more complicated than a simple informational question, consider making an appointment with the teacher to speak in person (appointments are important so that the teacher can schedule to meet at a time when he/she won’t be rushed).

Yes, it takes more time, but if you have a real concern about your child, it’s so much more effective to discuss it in person. Have you ever had a text conversation with someone and realized after ten minutes of going back and forth that it would have been faster to just call them? When you actually talk to the teacher in person instead of communicating through a long email chain, you can get on the same page quickly and resolve issues effectively. Also, there is a lot less room for misunderstanding in person. Without being able to see a person and hear their voice, it’s all too easy to misinterpret the intention behind an email.

One of the best things about meeting in the classroom is that you can better see what your student is experiencing each day and help you be more informed about how the classroom works. Several times I had parents come into my classroom frustrated that their student didn’t know when something was due, but after I was able to show them the systems and routines I had in place in my classroom to make sure students knew due dates of assignments, they stopped blaming me and we were able to work together to help the student develop the skills and habits needed to keep track of the posted due dates.

If it’s really not possible to go to the school to meet in person, make an appointment to talk on the phone at a time when both you and the teacher can focus on the discussion.

Step 3: Assume best intentions

You would jump in a freezing river to save your child. I get that. I would for my kids, too. But remember that the vast majority of teachers really do want your child to succeed as well. When you talk to your child’s teacher, approach the issue from the perspective that you’re both on the same team. Explain your concerns, ask honest (non-accusatory) questions, and try to really find out the truth.

Even if your child is an honest kid, it’s important to get the teacher’s perspective. It may be that no one is “in the wrong” or lying, but rather just that there was a miscommunication or lack of information. Ask yourself if there is any information that the teacher may not know about your child that would be helpful in solving the problem. Working on the same team means no one needs to be defensive and you can BOTH be advocates for your child. Two heads are better than one after all, right?

Step 4: Be open to suggestions

You are the expert on your child. You’ve raised this child, you know his favorite foods and the name of his imaginary friend. However, your child’s teacher has spent years becoming an expert on how kids learn, and most likely has observed a lot of students over the years and learned a few tricks along the way that might be helpful. Ask for their opinions, and offer any of your own. Make sure that you leave with a plan of action that everyone can live with. These suggestions may require some extra from you as well as your student (and probably the teacher, too), but if you believe they’ll be effective, it will be worth it.

Step 5: Plan to follow up

Often times, concerns about students’ performance or experience in school will not be resolved overnight. Whatever solutions you come up with, plan a time to follow up with the teacher on how things are progressing, and then revise or set additional goals as necessary. Improvement—whether academic or social—may take time, but if you keep in contact with the teacher, your child is much more likely to improve and maintain that improvement.

Step 6: If all else fails…

If you have tried working out your concerns between yourself, your child, and your teacher, and you’re still not satisfied, it may be time to step up a tier on the ladder. Now, let me be clear, I think that 99% of problems can be solved with 99% of teachers, but I understand that occasionally there may be situation that needs to be discussed with a counselor or administrator. If you feel you need to do so, that’s okay. Do what you feel is best for your child. However, it’s wise to inform the teacher of your intentions. Don’t make it a threat; just explain that you’d like to get some additional support.

One final thought…

Teachers and parents both want the same thing: to help their kids succeed. Let’s work together to make sure that our kids achieve that success, not just in turning in today’s homework, but in developing the skills they will need to succeed in life.

What have you found works best in talking to your child’s teacher in the past?

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