As parents, we want to help our children thrive in an educational setting. We wonder how to best prepare them for math, science, and cultivating interpersonal relationships. Learning how how to talk to your child's teacher, especially if there are any issues that needs to be discussed — your child struggling academically, having problems with another student, or individual behavior or concentration issues — will also help set them up for success. But these conversations aren't always easy to initiate and navigate, so Romper spoke to three educators to learn how to best discuss your child's education with their teacher.
"As a teacher... you never underestimate how important you are in a child's life and, because of that, how important you are in a parent's life," Karen Johnson, a retired kindergarten and first grade teacher with 25 years experience, tells Romper. "Ms. R," a fifth grade teacher with 14 years experience, says that she has a "deep respect for the ways in which families fiercely advocate for their kiddos. They help me see to perspectives to situations that off new ways for me to connect with and foster respect and trust with their kids in school." So before you start any conversation with your child's teacher, know that chances are high they take the responsibility of educating your child very, very seriously.
So what's the best way to approach your child's teacher with a question, concern, problem, or anything else? Remember the following:
Remember That Teachers Want To Hear From You
Some parents question if they should reach out for non-emergencies, they don't want to bother the teacher who they know is busy, and they certainly don't want it to seem like they're "difficult" or attacking anyone. But every teacher who spoke to Romper was enthusiastic about hearing from parents.
"I love talking with families because I see the work of education truly as a community practice," Ms. R. says. And Johnson says that, from day one, she has always been "in favor of parent communication. I never mind, at all, hearing from a parent."
Remember That A Teacher Probably Already Knows What You're Calling About
No one knows your child like you do, but teachers probably come close. They see their students hours a day, usually five days a week, and it's pretty difficult not to get to know someone pretty well under those circumstances. They also have a front row seat to the complicated social politics of a room full of young children. So if you want to bring up an issue your child is having in a teacher's classroom, know that they will probably have some perspective on what you're talking about.
Rachel L., a teacher at a Christian preschool, tells Romper that she and her co-workers will always know if something is "off" with a kid. "We get to know [our students] and understand their mood and how they approach things."
"The teacher should have an awareness of what's happening ... definitely if it's happening in the classroom," Johnson adds. "It would be unlikely that the teacher would have no idea."
Don't Go Straight To The Principal
"If you're having an issue, it's nice for the teacher to hear about it first," Rachel says. And Johnson agrees, saying that calling the principal before the teacher "will automatically create an uncomfortable dynamic."
Ms. R. also says she wants the parents of her students to communicate their concerns with her directly. "I would prefer them to name what they are seeing and understanding, offer me a change to name what am seeing and understanding, and work together with me in a way that feels positive together."
When Setting A Meeting, Let Them Know Why
If you want to speak to the teacher in person, try to be specific. "It's always helpful if, in a brief way, you let the teacher know what you want to talk about," Johnson says.
Of course, when you think about it this makes sense. Would you want an email from your boss that simply says, "We need to talk"? No! Because you're response is going to be, "Oh crap! Talk about what?! Is everything OK? I thought everything was OK. Is there a big problem here?"
Let the teacher know what you want to discuss before you actually discuss it.
Have An Idea Of What You Want Accomplished Before You Get In Touch
Knowing what you want to get out of the conversation will help ensure that you're calm and collected enough to proceed with an issue productively, as well as ensure that everyone involved is on the same page to make a more effective plan.
"Know specifically what you want out of the conversation," advises Johnson. "Know in your mind what your bottom line concern is and what you hope and want to happen."
Remember That Children's Perceptions Can Be Different From Adults'
Any parent of a young child can probably tell you that their kids see things differently sometimes. So remember that you may not be getting the whole story about something going on at school, through no fault of your child. "If you have a question about something your child brings home... call the teacher. They can clarify," Rachel explains.
This hazy or incomplete perspective is developmentally appropriate. "Sometimes a child's perception of something is different than the reality of it — your reality of their reality. They're at a different place in their cognitive development," Johnson says. While some students will knowingly lie about things, she admits, more often they are simply perceiving things differently and that perception becomes their truth, which is a place from which all the grown-ups involved must operate in order to move forward.
Try To Approach The Situation Calmly & In Good Faith
If your little one comes home from school crying because of an incident that you feel the teacher should have handled differently, it can be hard not to get emotional or go straight to Mama Bear mode. But remember, before you start seeing red, to try to get all possible information. "[Don't] come at the situation with blame and judgement," Ms. R says.
Johnson agrees and urges parents and caregivers to remain focused. "Try not to be confrontational ... keep your eye on the ball as to what you're really looking to happen and present it in a calm way that doesn't sound like you're attacking."
This, of course, doesn't mean that the teacher doesn't have to do anything, Johnson explains. "The teacher should always give you a plan of action to rectify the problem by the time the conversation is over."
Be Proactive About Telling Teachers About Changes At Home
"Please!" urges Rachel. "If we know in advance that they just got their flu shot... or if Rover died then teachers can accommodate a child in advance to try to head off problems before they even start."
Johnson says she recently had a student whose dog died, and because the student's parents communicated this loss with her the pastor at Johnson's school was able to come and talk to the student, and the other teachers were able to present the student with a book about the death of a pet.
Encourage Your Kid To Talk To The Teacher When A Problem Occurs
When it comes to interpersonal relationships and issues between students, Johnson admits that it can get complicated. "Kids don't always want to tell on other kids," she says, so sometimes issues won't be brought to the teacher's attention until days after the initial incident took place. This can muddle the specifics of the event and make it harder to mediate, so she encourages students to tell an adult as soon as something happens, and encourages parents to tell them the same.
Know What Issues Might Need More Time & Privacy
Rachel points out that if you see your child's teacher every day, try to be respectful of their time, both during the school day and at drop-off and pick-up.
"If a parent feels [they have an issue] that could be covered in just a few minutes, then I don't mind them ... just saying, 'Hey can I talk to you for a second?'," she says. "But then there are issues that, perhaps, need a little more in-depth focus." She explains that she's happy to set aside a separate time and space to give the subject the time, attention, and privacy it deserves.
If The Teacher Gets In Touch With You, Don't Panic
Many of us, I'm sure, have encountered the dreaded "Note from the teacher." But Ms. R urges parents not to take it personally or negatively. "Your child is never a problem, but there may be some behaviors that are problematic," she says. "I am coming to you after having used every tool in my teacher toolbox to support your child's agency in solving the problem."
Remember That You're On The Same Team
Every teacher who spoke to Romper was quick to emphasize that families and teachers working together produces the best results for everyone's top priority: your children.
"I want your child to have a successful, happy, productive year and I'm here to make sure those things happen," says Johnson. "That combination of [family], child, and teacher is so essential."
Remember That Positive Notes Are Always Appreciated
"I want family communication to also be about celebrating growth and joys. I love getting to call home to share how [their child]... really worked through a big challenge in class, how kind and caring they were to a friend," Ms. R. says. "We love hearing back things that you hear are going well, too!"