29 Oct 2019

Building Relationships with Teachers

Now that the school year is in full swing, do you have some questions for your child’s teachers? Does the homework appear to be too much, too difficult, or not relevant? Does your child struggle with understanding assignments and figuring out how to best study for a test? Do not be shy about contacting your child’s teacher to address your concerns. The teachers are there to help, and most of them want to work with parents to help children succeed.
The way you approach and relate to teachers can make a tremendous difference. One of the most important things I learned at Teachers College was to emphasize positive first, whether meeting with parents or writing student evaluations. No one wants to open a report card or attend a parent-teacher conference to be bombarded with negatives about their child. So we teachers start off by talking about what the child is doing well, and then lead to ways the student can improve, being constructive and positive.
Teachers are human too, and they do not want hear all complaints from parents. In fact, complaints tend to put people on the defensive, which is not productive or helpful to your child. So it is important to build a positive relationship with your children’s teachers from the beginning. This includes showing up at school events and conferences, volunteering for at least one activity, and thanking the teacher in some way for what she does. When I was a classroom teacher, I received and appreciated many useless gifts during December holidays, but what I appreciated the most was a heartfelt note. I had become a teacher from the business world, to more work and less pay. In fact, I worked far harder and longer hours as a teacher than I did at my previous office job. Like most teachers, I did it because it was fulfilling, and I wanted to make a difference. Being appreciated enhanced my job a great deal.
If you are concerned about anything at school, you should contact the teacher directly. (Teachers get very annoyed with parents who go to an administrator without approaching them first.) You can communicate with teachers by email, phone call, or by setting up a meeting. It is your job as a parent to advocate for your child, which you can do in a constructive way. Start the conversation with something positive. Plan what you want to say in a non-accusatory way. State your perspective, ask for the teacher’s perspective, and work with the teacher to find solutions. Have a pleasant and relaxed expression. Then the teacher will want to help. Be sure to pick your battles. A teacher will be more likely to make the extra effort for a child whose parent rarely complains than for a constant complainer.
As your child gets older, you should teach him or her to self advocate. The student can address the teacher with his or her concerns, and if this doesn’t work, you can then intervene. In our family, by 10th grade I largely stayed out of the picture. If something extreme happened, however, I intervened.
I can tell you from personal experience that educators are there because they want to make a difference. We can best help our children by building positive relationships with their teachers and by appreciating the teachers’ tremendous efforts to educate our children.

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