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We Need to Talk: Parent-Teacher Communication

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“What should I do?” moaned my friend Barbara, a single mom to a beautiful first-grader, who called the other night in tears. Her daughter is having difficulty in school, and Barbara has had a tough time communicating with her daughter's teacher about how to improve the situation. 

Barbara and I have already had this talk earlier this year. I have given her my teacher-friendly advice on a couple of occasions. That advice included:

  • Send the teacher a note and ask for her daughter's reading level
  • Give her extension projects at home, challenge her “after hours”
  • Request a short conference
  • Volunteer to make copies for the teacher
  • Ask for additional practice on the specific skill
  • Visit the classroom and help with a project
  • Join her for lunch, get to know the other students

Plus: How to Get Involved at School

I have even defended the teacher only to be discouraged, just like Barbara. I should interject here and say that I hold all teachers to the highest standard. (I am a teacher and we can do that!) I am learning though, this is unfortunately not always the case.

My friend’s teacher was offended by the request for the reading level, did not reply to two conference requests—was half an hour late when they actually did have a conference, said she would send worksheets for extra practice—but did not, instead of returning calls—she text messaged, doesn't update her website, and said she didn't need volunteers for anything.

Grrrr…there are other things too. Classroom management is an issue. This has come up more than once. This master teacher, with almost ten years experience, resorts to a clip system and has children move their name up a stoplight. I’ve always wondered—what happens when they are on red by 9:00? I mean, where do you go from there? I’ll save that for another post…

Plus: How to Build a Good Parent-Teacher Relationship

So, being the Mrs. Perky Pants that I am, I keep on with the positive. Barbara and I work with her daughter, filling in the gaps. We share strategies for everything from controlling her talking to learning her math facts. But when is enough, enough? Why is Barbara so scared, yes scared, to reach out to the principal? She is worried about the implications that would have on her daughter.

How do we, as a society, let this happen? How is this ok? How can we fix it? How can we open these lines of communication and remind everyone involved why we are here—children. We are here to serve our children as parents and educators.

There are all kinds of advice out there for teachers on how to communicate effectively with parents. But where are the tips for parents? Where are the guides for the Barbaras of the world whose child’s teacher missed Communication 101 in teacher school? I did not find much, so here are my tips:

Plus: How to Improve Parent-Teacher Communication

  1. Start the year write! Write a letter to your child’s teacher telling her all about your little Susie Q-strengths, weaknesses, allergies, hopes and dreams. Put it in an envelope that says, “I know back to school is busy, but when you have a moment, I would like to introduce you to ___.” Short, sweet, not too pushy.
  2. Volunteer. If you are a working mom like Barbara, offer to cut out game pieces, print things from home, etc.
  3. Follow through. Do your part. Read each night. Check your child’s folder. Turn things in on time. Look over the homework. Let your child be responsible for her choices.
  4. Communicate. If you are so proud of your child for meeting a goal, thank the teacher! Share your excitement! If your child shares a concern or you have a concern, talk to your teacher sooner than later. Waiting for it to build up inside or talking to everyone else instead, will not help matters. While you’re at it, jot down those chats (or attempts) on a note card. Consider it your personal contact log. Teachers do that for each student!
  5. Request a conference. Be flexible with times and methods if possible. I always tell parents my first choice is in person, my second choice is over the phone, and via email is no choice at all! The written word can be taken many ways!
  6. Take the next step. If you feel your child is suffering-emotionally or academically-take action. Give the teacher a couple of tries, and then move to the counselor or administrator. Enough is enough and you must do what is best for your child.  There will always be another school, another choice, another something out there. It might be a harder road, but it will be worth the journey.

Remember your child’s teacher has her own life, 20 other students, paperwork, meetings, grades, and 6,789 other things going on each day. But also remember that you are your child’s advocate. When working with parents, I always think, “What if this were my child?” Sometimes that is easier said than done, but isn’t that a great rule of thumb for life: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated; treat every child like you want your child treated.

Plus: How to Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Will these tips be the fix on either side? No. But that is really the root of the problem—parents and teachers often see themselves as being on two different sides when really, we should be on the same side.

Do you have tips for working with teachers or parents? Please share!

Lyssa Sahadevan is mommy to an adorable preschooler. She is a first-grade teacher in Georgia, wife to a terrific hubby, an education advocate, and Georgia’s 2011 Mom Congress Delegate. She loves all things books and tells all about it at My Mommy Reads.

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