How to get the best out of your child’s teacher

Do you feel like you and your child’s teacher are speaking a completely different language? Here’s how to get on the same page, explains Yvonne Eve Walus.

There’s a famous cartoon about the difference between 20th century education and the schools of today. Back then, parents would read the end-of-year report and ask the child: “Explain why
your grades are so low.” Nowadays, the parents ask the teacher: “Explain why my child’s grades are so low.”

In many cultures, teachers are still the boss. You give them respect, you don’t demand special attention, and you don’t question their judgement. Obviously, that’s not always ideal. Teachers are only human; they can make a mistake, or fail to connect with a particular student, or simply have
a bad hair day. So how can we as parents get the best out of our children’s teachers?

Step 1: Communicate often

Christine thought she was doing everything right: Saying hello to her sons’ teachers every morning and hanging out on the school playground at pick-up time. She figured if there was a problem, the teachers would approach her. But, from a teacher’s perspective, speaking uninvited about a student’s lack of progress is not always easy. Some parents don’t want to be involved in their children’s education, believing it’s the school’s responsibility to sort out. That’s why, halfway through the year, when Christine asked casually whether her younger boy’s writing was on track, the response she got was: “Oh, I’m so glad you brought it up.”

Regardless of whether you have any concerns about your child’s learning, touch base with the teacher regularly. You can do it in person or send a quick email, ask a specific question or an open-ended one. Most importantly, let the teacher know upfront that you’re the kind of parent who welcomes being involved.

Step 2: Communicate early

Raise an issue as soon as it appears, because early intervention is best. Little problems are easier to sort out than problems left to fester. It’s the teacher's job to address any problems – academic or friendship or behaviour.

Step 3: be professional

If you go see a doctor, you share your health concerns with them and listen to their advice. You value that they are the professional but acknowledge that they don't know everything about you. You realise they have other patients to see and can't discuss those patients with you. Obviously, the teacher and parent relationship is more personal, but there should always be mutual respect. Cherish your child’s teacher. They are the one who spend six hours a day putting up with noise and disruption. They are the ones settling the students down and shaping young minds.

Step 4: Get the facts

If there’s an issue at school, your child may not tell you everything or be one hundred percent honest. So get both sides of the story before you go on the attack or – worse still – share your anger on Facebook.

Step 5: understand the teacher is on your side

Most teachers buy their own teaching resources, from “well done!” stickers to textbooks and whiteboard markers. Many will hand over their own lunch to a kid who forgot theirs. They take marking home and come into work during school holidays. Unfortunately, though, according to an international survey, two out of three teachers believe that their profession is not appreciated by society. Despite this discouraging statistic, most teachers love their job and want to do well by your child. In the words of one wise educator, teaching is like flying kites: “There is a need to find the right place and right time for every individual to soar. The kites may come to me in different shapes and sizes, damaged or made of quality materials. My goal is to get all of them to fly as high and as long in the sky as possible. ”

Bonus Step: Volunteer

If you have time, you might like to offer being a parent help in the class. This is a good way to see the teacher’s style and observe their interaction with your child. A good relationship between parent and teacher rubs off on the children making them enjoy school more. So get out there and assist your child’s teacher in building the bridge of communication between you and the school.

Making the most of parent-teacher meetings

At least twice a year, the school will arrange a formal parent-teacher meeting (or conference/interview). This is a one-on-one meeting between the teacher and the family (some schools will actively encourage the students to attend). The purpose is to discuss to the child’s learning, hear the teacher’s perspective, and ask questions. To make the most of the meeting, think back to the last few weeks or months and write down anything you’ve noticed about your child’s homework, attitude towards school, or general progress. Sample questions to ask include:

  • Does my child seem settled at school? 
  • How do they relate to and behave with other children?
  • Is my child progressing as expected?
  • Do they child take part in class discussions?
  • What do they do well?
  • Where do they need to focus their effort?
  • What can I do to help?
Yvonne Eve Walus is an education specialist, senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two children.
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