Back to school season is here—that time when kids don crisp new denim and learn the ways of a new classroom. But let’s be honest—this is a big time of transition for parents too, and sometimes we make things so much harder than they need to be. Parents and teachers often have a complex relationship. Teacher friends of mine have shared stories of parents dictating how a child is to be fed at lunchtime, complaining openly about a spouse’s inept parenting skills, and advising which children can be part of their own child’s circle of playmates (not so subtle inferences about negative influences are not lost on those teachers whose job is not to dictate which children are allowed to become friends.) One teacher I spoke with was berated by an angry parent in his own classroom in front of a throng of gaping students because she disliked his method of assigning spelling homework.
Parents, we can do better than this. As much as we hope to pave the way to a successful school year, sometimes our involvement stirs up more trouble than it solves. The following stumbling blocks can trip up the best of us. Thankfully, with the school year just getting underway, we have plenty of road ahead to pave a clear path for the year to come.
Mistake #1: Nursing a Grudge Over Teacher Assignments
We’ve all experienced the disappointment of having our kids in the “wrong” classroom. We think the teacher is disengaged, disorganized, or doesn’t recognize our child’s value. When parents repeatedly criticize the style, personality, or classroom methods of their child’s teacher it doesn’t benefit anybody, least of all our children, and it nurtures an attitude of teacher contempt. Teachers are hard working education professionals, many of whom dedicate countless personal hours and dollars to ensure our children’s experience inside the classroom is as good as they can possibly provide. No teacher is perfect, but we are all better off assuming that their expertise, experience, and reasons for choosing this profession all count for something. They want what’s best for our children just as we do. We may not always agree on the methods, but more often than not the end goals are similar.
Mistake #2: Overstepping Your Bounds
The classroom is the teacher’s domain; respect it. While many parents love to volunteer, different teachers have different levels of tolerance or need for parental help. In my kids’ first grade class certain parents were in the classroom every week. In second grade, the teacher barely invited a parent in all year. This dramatic shift was surely a disappointment for some, but it’s important to allow teachers to direct their own workplace. Look for other ways to get involved if you like—the PTA/PTO, library, or school fundraising events are a good start—and show your child’s teacher that you trust them to conduct their classrooms in a way that works best for them and their students.
Mistake #3: Communicating Only When Something is Wrong
It is easy to stay out of a busy teacher’s hair by not communicating unless a problem arises. Unfortunately, if a problem does come up, our first communication with the teacher occurs when anxiety and emotions run high. Building rapport early is worth the effort. Send a note of greeting or appreciation, share an interesting article you read, or offer a friendly wave or kind word. This kind of connection helps if trouble does arise since you are starting from a positive foundation. And if no trouble comes, your sense of connection will help you maintain a positive view of your child’s experience throughout the year.
Mistake #4: Putting up a Strong Defense
Nobody wants to hear that their child is having a hard time at school. Our hackles understandably go up when someone suggests our kids need help. But too often we raise a defense while closing our ears to legitimate concerns. No one knows your child like you do, but teachers know lots of kids, giving them a unique perspective on how behaviors, trends, or tendencies may impact your specific child. I got several notes from my kids’ first-grade teacher explaining my son’s behavior in class. At first, I was upset and admittedly annoyed. Was she suggesting something was wrong with my son? But over time, during which I thankfully held my biting tongue, I came to realize that she was not judging or chastising; she was simply keeping me informed. Once I tempered my instinctual defenses I came to appreciate this teacher’s insights and efforts to work collaboratively with me.
Mistake #5: Limiting Who You Know
There are vast benefits of knowing not only our children’s teachers but other professionals at the school as well. If you only know your child’s teacher, you limit your exposure to the school culture at large and potentially limit the resources at your disposal if troubles arise mid-year. Get to know the school principal, the office administrators, teacher assistants, and the school nurse. They are all there to provide guidance and expertise, and they all care deeply for the kids. Additionally, these people are not limited to a specific grade level. In my kids’ school the PE, art, music teachers, and the librarian all interact regularly with students from Kindergarten through grade five. Getting to know these important people helps my connection with the school flow smoothly from year to year.
What has helped you connect with your child’s teacher in the past?