Positive parent-teacher communication is an important part of student success. As both a parent and a teacher, I recognize that sometimes the expectations of each are flawed or at odds with one another. As a parent, I sometimes wish that my child’s teachers would communicate more often with me about her struggles, but as a teacher, I’m very aware of how challenging it can be to regularly communicate with my students’ parents. Unfortunately, sometimes these conflicting expectations can get in the way of positive and constructive parent-teacher communication. While teachers have many responsibilities that are dictated by their job, there are also many things that parents can do to ensure that the lines of communication remain open and respectful. Below are 7 things parents can do to ensure productive communication with their child’s teachers.
Track your child’s grades
Almost every school now requires electronic grade books. This means that grades go live as soon as the teacher enters the grade. As a teacher, this can be frustrating because students and parents will sometime pounce on an error before I even have a chance to correct it. Once, the zero key on my number pad got stuck; I ended up entering a class worth of 1/10 participation grades instead of 10/10 grades before I caught the problem, but my email was blowing up before I even had a chance to correct the mistake (literally a matter of minutes). While I do wish there was a small delay between when the grade is entered and when the grade goes live, I do find it very helpful that parents can see how their child is performing in my class. Some grade book systems even send the parent an alert when a failing grade is entered. Despite this immediate access to their child’s grades, parents often express shock when I reach out to them to address concerns about their child’s performance in my class. If a child who normally does well suddenly bombed a test, I would expect this response, because I likely had the same response, but when a child is regularly failing assessments or receiving zeros on homework and classroom assignments, then it should not come as a surprise to the parents that I am reaching out to them. Parents who are aware of their child’s progress in his or her classes are the best partners in quickly addressing the needs of a struggling or unmotivated student.
Check your email
When I do need to reach out to a parent about a student’s performance or behavior, my first mode of communication is always email, for many reasons. First, there is the sheer fact that phone calls usually mean phone tag. My planning period or immediately after school are the only opportunities I have during the school day to make a phone call to parents. More than likely, those times aren’t convenient for working parents, and I can’t abandon a class full of students when a parent returns a call at another time. As a result, my attempts to reach parents via phone usually result in us leaving messages for one another for days, and that assumes I can actually leave a message. Even if I could get ahold of parents during my planning period or immediately after school, I can’t always rely on having those times available to me. The teacher and sub shortage means I am often called to cover another teacher’s class during my planning period. I might be able to send an email while supervising another class, but I can’t make a phone call, and depending on how often I am called to cover a class, it may be days before I actually get around to making that phone call. There are several other reasons why phone calls can be a challenge for teachers, but emails aren’t. I can send an email at any time during the day, not just during my planning period, and parents can respond when it’s convenient for them. When parents send me emails, I can take time to verify information or share documentation before I respond. While email might seem like a slower mode of communication because one has to wait for a response, it is often the quickest and most efficient means to address concerns or resolve issues. Checking for and responding to emails you received from your children’s teachers and using email to reach out to them goes a long way in expediting the communication process. Please remember, though, that teachers are under no obligation to respond to emails outside of their contract hours and usually have 48 hours to respond to any email, per school and district policies.
Let your child handle it
The best lesson you can ever teach your child is to try to handle their own business first. At the high school level, students should absolutely be expected to talk to their teacher about grades and deadlines before ever bringing their parents into the conversation, but even younger children can be encouraged to address issues on their own. My 5th grader struggles in school, but my husband and I often task her with addressing issues and asking for help before we get involved, and it works. She knows we’re not going to come to her rescue unless she has tried and failed to work with her teacher on a resolution. I try to have grade conferences with students every marking period, and I learn a lot from my students during those conferences, but with 150 students, I simply don’t have the time to check in on students every time they don’t complete an assignment or earn a lower than average grade. Students who come to me when they are struggling or concerned about a grade, rather than waiting until I address it with them, not only correct those issues immediately with little impact on their grade or performance but also usually get a few more check-ins from me because I know they’re as invested as I am in their success. Asking your kids to address their issues on their own teaches them important life skills, emphasizes their personal accountability, and helps build relationships with their teachers.
Remember that there are two sides to every story
Every teacher has had at least one very negative interaction with parents who believe their angel of a child is incapable of doing anything wrong. These parents usually come in hot, yelling “my child said…” Often, the goal of these parents is to get the teacher in trouble for the perceived wrong the teacher has inflicted on the child, not to address an issue of concern over their child. It is not uncommon for kids to leave details out of their story or to paint their teacher in a negative light in order to deflect the blame. Doing so doesn’t make your child a bad kid. In fact, such behavior is pretty typical of kids, but when parents immediately believe the child and rage against the teacher, it teaches the kid that they can get away with such behavior and manipulation, and then those kids become repeat offenders. Even worse is when these parents double down when confronted with evidence that contradicts the story their child told them. Fortunately, these encounters are not the norm for me, but when I do face these types of parents, I find I am usually spending more time of my time and energy meeting with parents and administrators and justifying my actions than the child ever spent on work for my class. I’m not telling parents not to believe their children, but I am asking that they respectfully ask for and consider the teacher’s side of the story before they turn into a soldier of justice for their child.
Don’t escalate the situation
It’s no secret that lack of respect is one of the major reasons teachers are leaving the profession in droves, but this disrespect does not just come from the students. Frequently, disrespect comes from parents. Teachers around the country have been subjected to name-calling, slander on social media, threats, and ultimatums from parents, and in some cases, even physical attacks. No one should ever be treated with this level of disrespect, but some professions, especially those that deal with the public on a regular basis, seem to face it more often than others. While teachers may be “public servants” they are not in fact servants, and they do not have to bend to the whims of angry parents. In the event that you do feel the teacher is in the wrong, it is important to remain professional. Make every effort to address the issue with the teacher before involving the principal, and don’t take your frustrations to social media. The language you use is also important. Teachers are often taught to use “I” statements when interacting with disruptive or combative students, and parents can benefit from using such language when addressing concerns as well. Doing so focuses the discussion on the impact the issue is having on the student and the parent rather than on the teacher’s actions or inactions.
Have realistic expectations of the teacher
Your child’s success is important to his or her teacher. We wouldn’t be in this profession if we didn’t want to see our students succeed, but we are humans and we are not miracle workers. I can give your child all of the tools they need to be successful, but they still have to be willing to use those tools. I have students who will not do any work unless I sit next to them and help them, but I have 29 other students in the class, so that is not something I can actually do. It doesn’t mean I don’t want the struggling student to succeed; it means I can’t put his success above the success of other students in the class. Teachers also can’t suddenly whip a child into shape. If you know your child is irresponsible at home, don’t blame the teacher when your kid never turns in homework assignments. Furthermore, teachers keep having more and more added to our plates without additional time or compensation. This often means we cannot reasonably get all aspects of our job done in a timely manner, and sometimes what we would like to prioritize is not what we have to prioritize. Before accusing a teacher of not doing enough for your child, ask yourself if your expectations of your child’s teacher take into consideration their other students and responsibilities as well as a realistic view of your child’s behaviors and abilities.
Know that we don’t judge you because of your child
As a parent of a struggling student myself, I know all too well the fear of being judged by my child’s teachers. In fact, this fear might be amplified because I am a teacher myself, but I also know that kids are not always a direct reflection of their parents, and a struggling student is not a sign of unsupportive parents. My daughter really struggles with math, so her wonderful math teacher regularly sends home reminders of all of the resources that are available to help her with math. While I appreciate that these resources are available, I don’t get the same kid at home that she gets at school. She gets the medicated social butterfly. I get the ADHD kid who is unraveling from a day of controlling her behavior and feeling her medication wear off. Getting her to just do the assigned worksheet is enough of a struggle; trying to get her to watch a 20-minute video and play a math practice game on top of it is a battle my husband and I don’t always have the energy to fight. I want to do everything I can to help my child, but I also have to be realistic about the role she plays in her own success and the bigger impact of such nightly battles, and I understand that many of my students’ parents face similar struggles. Recognizing your own child’s limitations and viewing the teacher as a partner in helping them to overcome their struggles is a great way to build a strong relationship with your child’s teacher and to