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Helpful Hints for Speaking with Teachers

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

I’ve been an educator for 13 years, and have been asked by numerous friends how to deal with a conflict that crops up in their child’s school.  Students come home at the end of the day filled with social and academic stress.  With growing classroom sizes and increasing curriculum demands in many schools, teachers are less likely to be able to stay in constant contact with parents about what happens while their children are at school. How is a mother to know when she should advocate for her child?  What does a father say to get the best results?  How does a parent know what is too much or too little involvement?  I find that, in all of my interactions with parents and teachers, the most successful incorporate the following do’s and don’ts:

Do make an appointment to speak with the teacher.  Teachers, like other professionals, are often busy even when they don’t appear to be.  In order to make sure that you and your child’s teacher have the time and space needed to reach a resolution, schedule a time to meet.  This also makes it easier to reach a resolution that day and not have it drag on long after the incident because you didn’t “just happen” to catch a teacher in passing.

Don’t assume it is the teacher’s fault.  Given the increasing pressures we see on kids, it is natural to want to advocate for them in any situation.  But a teenager may not always “hear” what a teacher has said.  For example, if Tony has been worrying about his grade in English, he may hear any critique of his work as an attack and report that his teacher humiliated him in front of the class.  Rather than immediately calling the school to demand an apology from the teacher, ask to speak with the teacher to find out the other side of the story.  This discussion also becomes an opportunity for the teacher to learn what Tony takes away from the classroom, which can help inform the teacher how to better interact with him.

Do plan what you would like to speak about beforehand.  We’ve all kicked ourselves afterward when we forget to bring up certain points in a conversation.  Outline the points that you would like to make sure you bring up during your conversation so that you don’t get sidetracked and end up not dealing with the concern that brought you to the meeting in the first place.  Putting it all on the table can also help you and the teacher be proactive about minor concerns before they become larger issues.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.  Being well-prepared for your meeting can help you be calm during the meeting.  Teachers are likely to sense your mood and match it during a conference; if you are tense, they’ll be tense.

Do remember that teachers want to see your child succeed, too.   Your children are the most important aspect of your life and you want to help them as best you can.  We, as professional educators, have the best interests of your children in mind, as well.  We want them to improve their skills and prepare for what lies ahead.  That understanding on both sides of the table eases many conferences and helps everyone come up with a solution that works.

I’m fortunate to work in a small school where active communication encourages a sense of collaboration.  Parents and teachers who communicate regularly have the ability to foresee potential stumbling blocks, and can work together in a positive, mutually supportive way to best serve the student.  Take a tip from someone who knows: the key really is communication.