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How to Talk to Your Child's Teacher

How (and How Often) You Should Talk to Your Child's Teacher

As a parent, I understand how hard it can be to leave your child with a stranger all day. They're your babies, even though they'll firmly tell you that they're "big" now. After all, now they're tying their own shoes and going to school. It can feel natural to want to reach out and get constant reassurance that everything is OK with them from their teachers.

However, as a former teacher, I can safely say that while that feeling is natural, it may not be the best thing for your child. Communication with parents is a big part of a teacher's job, but it's not the only part. By being aware of how, and how often, you should talk to your child's teacher, you'll make everyone's life easier.

1. Ask the teacher what their preferred method of communication is.

When I was a high school teacher, I gave out my personal cell phone number to my students and their parents. My preferred method of contact was either through text or email, and I'm happy to say that this process was never abused by any of my students. I never got a prank phone call or anything that crossed the lines of a teacher/student relationship, and parents felt comfortable being able to reach me when they needed to talk. It was what worked for me.

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However, not every teacher is going to feel as comfortable with this, especially with younger grades. While I gave my number out to my high school students, I wouldn't dream of doing the same for kindergarteners. Asking their teacher what the best way to reach them is will give teachers an opportunity to decide for themselves how they want to work with parents. If a teacher is not comfortable with giving out their personal information, do not hassle them about it. Respect their privacy, as I'm sure you want yours to be.

2. Be aware of limitations.

I've had parents get upset with me for not responding to an email or returning a phone call during school hours. Please understand that teachers are exceptionally busy teaching your kid during the day, and they may not be able to respond right away. Most elementary teachers that I know only get two hours a week to plan since most of their day is taken up by instruction, monitoring recess, and moderating after-school programs. If you have an immediate concern, please state that in the message.

Additionally, some schools might not have phones in the classroom. I've never had one that worked reliably, so when a parent called and left a message in the main office, it was hard to return it.

3. Be clear about what you're looking for.

If you're concerned about your child's progress with learning their letters or counting, say that in the message. This will give the teacher an opportunity to gather any relevant paperwork that you both can analyze or to meet with any resource specialists who can help provide clarity. Giving the teacher a general "I want to talk about Kayla" doesn't help.

4. Be respectful of time

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Remember: teachers do not have a lot of time in the day. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't be willing to work with parents, just that you might have an hour lunch break while they might have 20 minutes. When scheduling a conference, do so at a mutually agreed-upon time, which is usually going to be after school. If there is an aid or paraprofessional in the classroom, as there often is in lower grades, see if they can also contribute an assessment of your child, since they also work closely with them.

5. Not every little thing needs to be discussed.

Outside of major concerns and major grade benchmarks like progress reports and report cards, there isn't really a need to check in with the teacher. I've had parents email me every day just to make sure little Johnny was doing OK. This, quite frankly, is unnecessary.

Most teachers are able and willing to fill out weekly monitoring sheets or a quick checkbox of behavior every day. But these actions are relatively easy and not time consuming. Even something like a quick check-in, when done by every parent, can really add up. If an average class size is 25 students, a simple five-minute phone call can add up to two hours of additional work just to talk to all the concerned parents.

That being said, most teachers are generally accommodating, and if it would really put your mind at ease, ask the teacher if more frequent communication is something they are willing to do.

6. Assume best intentions.

Teachers do not take this job to relax on their butts and do nothing. Educators like working with children and, more importantly, really want the best for them. As with any interaction you have in life, things will go more smoothly if everyone assumes that the other person has the best intentions. While you may not agree on everything, knowing that the teacher wants your child to succeed and be happy will be a huge start to the conversation.

Image Source: Flickr user fivehanks
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