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Classroom Confessions: NEA Survey Results

Chris Crisman

They deal with smart-mouths, spitballs, and snack allergies. You're stuck with homework battles, bus bullies, and AWOL permission slips. Educating kids has its challenges for both teachers and parents, and the kids are no doubt whining about both of you. But, oh, those sweet slivers of success, those moments when the proverbial lightbulb goes off in a child's head. They are the experiences that make it all worthwhile. (Certainly neither of you is in it for the money.)

Parents and teachers are the most important adults in a child's life, but they don't always see eye to eye—making it more difficult for students to achieve. “When kids know that their parents and teacher are on the same page, they tend to work harder in class, finish their homework, and—even more important—see that the grown-ups in their lives are working together to help them be successful,” says Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association (NEA) and former Utah teacher of the year. That's why we partnered with the NEA to take the pulse of today's teacher-parent partnership. One thousand respondents—half parents, half teachers—were willing to fess up. Here, the survey's most revealing findings, along with insights from an A+ panel of parents and educators.


Parents grade teachers: A

Two-thirds of parents have never had a problem with a teacher!

“I love my older son's teacher this year. Although he struggles as a learner, she always points out the positive about him. Not many teachers do that; there is often too much concentration on what is wrong vs. what is right.” — Liz Nolan, Northborough, MA

“I taught a student who was hard to connect with on a personal level and seemed depressed for half of first grade and all of second grade. When he finished sixth grade and was going to go on to middle school, his mother told me that I was the best teacher he'd had and they still kept my picture on their refrigerator. That touched my heart and reminded me that we don't always realize the impact we have on students' lives.” — Jon Cefkin, Denver

Teachers grade parents: B

“It may look like parents are a little happier with teachers than vice versa, but remember: Parents are grading maybe one or two teachers. Teachers are grading a whole class of parents at a time. You may be an A parent, but one or two parents may deserve D's or F's. That lowers parents' overall scores.” — Michele Borba, Ed.D., educational consultant and former teacher; author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions


How teachers connect with parents:

  • 73% of teachers send backpack mail at least weekly
  • 65% of teachers send a class newsletter at least weekly
  • 42% of teachers call several times yearly
  • 12% of teachers use social media tools like Twitter
  • 32% of teachers send individual notes yearly
  • 40% of teachers update class websites monthly
  • 19% of teachers use texting, LOL, FWIW

“It's easy for backpack mail to get stuffed in the bottom of a kid's backpack with an old juice box and forgotten. Technological options seem like they'd be much easier. But many families still don't have regular computer access, so we can't rely only on that. Don't expect to hear from your kid's teacher on Facebook or Twitter due to privacy issues. Texting isn't going to be common either: Teachers don't want to share cell numbers, and not every parent likes to be contacted that way.” — Lily Eskelsen

“My child has a tender heart, and his PE teacher called me at home to see if there was anything she was doing wrong because he cried about being last place in a race!” — Molly King, Hudsonville, MI

Do Parent-teacher conferences happen often enough?

  • 71% of teachers say YES
  • 48% of parents AGREE

“My son's second-grade teacher said during a conference, ‘He's a very average child.' It was horrifying. I think she meant he was where he should be academically, but it never should have been said that way.” — Jessica Park, Manchester, NH

“Teachers mean that a formal, once-a-year conference is enough for a high-level report of how each child is doing. But I think parents and teachers would agree that that's not enough. We need informal reports of how our kids are doing throughout the year, by note, newsletter, e-mail, or whatever works.” — Lily Eskelsen


68% of teachers have had trouble with a parent

37% of parents have had a run-in with a teacher

What parents do wrong:

  • 30% “Don't understand their student's issue”
  • 19% “Feel their child was being treated unfairly”
  • 19% “Weren't available to discuss my concerns”

What teachers do wrong:

  • 27% “Doesn't understand my concerns”
  • 23% “Treat my child unfairly”

“My son's first-grade teacher was completely aloof with the kids. She was absolutely professional, objective and fair, and I have no complaints about that. But a teacher has to be emotionally involved; she has to care about pupils' feelings, particularly in elementary school.” — Leslie McReary, Phoenix

“I have been told more than once—upon presenting a parent with a test score—that my tests must be incorrect because they know that their child is smarter than that.” — London Blackburn, St. George, UT 

What’s the one thing parents can do to improve the relationship? Teachers say: “Reinforce my schoolwork guidelines and deadlines at home.”

Teachers want parents to toughen up:

  • 84% of parents say teachers are effective at discipline
  • 49% of teachers say parents are good at enforcing rules

“Very often these days, the parent doesn't back up the teacher. As a parent, if you talk flippantly about the teacher with your child or don't insist that your child do the assigned homework, that's going to come across in your child's classroom attitude, too.” — Michele Borba