Connecting with Your Child’s Teacher
by Susan Besze Wallace
At my first back-to-school night, I did quite a dance as I tried to draw near to my son’s teacher. Didn’t want to cut anyone else off, didn’t want to seem over-eager … didn’t know what to say when I finally shook her hand.
There was so much I wanted to impart about my child, my excitement and my willingness to help out. But I fumbled with words and left the room feeling queasy instead of quenched. This was new territory.
In the years since, I’ve learned that back-to-school night is not the place for a heart-to-heart. But I’ve also learned that teaming with my kids’ teachers is crucial – for all of us to be successful. So how do we stay connected to teachers, without pulling up a chair every day?
- View your child’s teacher as a partner. You know more than anyone about your child. Your teacher knows about learning. Keeping partnership in mind helps whether you’re planning a class party or working through behavior challenges. Always go to the teacher first with concerns.
Establish early on the best way to communicate with one another, especially when you need a quick response. Be careful with email. Former MOPS leader and 14-year teacher Susan Kramer shares: “I personally sent an email to my fourth-grade son's teacher. I was concerned about a comment she wrote on one of his papers. My intention was only to seek clarification. As it turned out, the teacher misinterpreted my email, thinking that I was upset and offended by her comment. Later, when I re-read … I could see how my ‘tone’ sounded angry. In the end, I wish I had simply called her instead of emailed.”
Preschool teacher Jill Waskow agrees: “I love email for reminders, absences, etc. Not for conflicts though. I love touching base with parents at the classroom door at arrival or dismissal. Not enough time for a conference, but time to get information about the child's day prior to coming to school or to tell the parents a funny or cute story or give quick praise about their child.“
- Volunteer in the classroom to appreciate the rhythm of the day and teaching style employed. You child’s classroom persona might surprise you!
- Maximize conference time. Come with questions. Ask for specific examples of how your child is doing; try not to compare. “At the end of a conference, I’d always ask the teacher how you can help at home with your child – and not just with homework,” says 23-year teacher Todd Campbell, father of two young sons. “Be sure to ask how your child is doing socially, including behavior and participation.”
- Respect the classroom. “Being excessively tardy makes my job difficult,” said MOPS mom and first-grade teacher Hollyanne Shiplett. “When you have a structured routine and children arrive late, you have to catch a child up.” Making sure your kids eat breakfast and have appropriate sleep also supports a teacher’s instruction. It’s easier for a teacher to be focused when students are.
Your child’s success will be enhanced by your active participation in their learning both at school and at home. And any uneasiness you might feel will likely fade when that teacher connection is made.
Writer and former MOPS leader Susan Besze Wallace credits much of her respect for teachers to her mother, who led a classroom and then school library for 23 years. Mom to boys 8, 6 and 4, Susan has to watch her tendency to be too chatty at teacher conferences. Reach her at email@example.com.