Parents, you’ve been there: your kid is struggling over homework almost every night. Or he comes home and says that he did “nothing” all day. Or you are just not sure that she is getting what she needs from instruction. Or any one of a laundry list of other issues that might arise during the school year, from academics to playground social status to family changes.
The best news? Your teachers are your best ally in this journey.
The bad news? Your teachers are humans who don’t like to be told what to do, how to do it, or that they are horrible people. And many parents come into tough situations with guns blazing, ready to mow down the teacher for every and any perceived wrong. The teacher reacts just like you might when you are being reamed out for something that might not be your fault: her guard goes up and she becomes reluctant to work with you.
Get your teacher to LOVE you!
1.Call or email your teacher as soon as you suspect a problem, be specific, and ask if she has noticed anything in school.
This will get the wheels spinning in the teacher’s brain. She will immediately begin to reflect on the past few days or weeks, looking for clues about what is going on with your child. As she thinks about how the problem is presenting, she is also brainstorming solutions to the problem.
2. Keep the lines of communication open, check in frequently and assess together how the interventions (if any) are working.
This keeps you on the same side of the problem, and doesn’t specifically blame anyone for the issue, whatever it may be.
For social situations, remember that the teacher has little to no control over what students do and say to each other, but she can help address the situation with chats, classroom climate, and bringing up the issues with administrators.
For mid/moderate academic problems (think: lack of motivation, frequent reports of “boredom,” and homework struggles), work with the teacher using any suggestions she might provide. And take boredom reports with a grain of salt. This is a kid who is being forced to learn subjects and do assignments not of his choosing, or who might not want to talk about what she does in school all day at home.
For moderate/severe academic problems (think: consistently failing grades, consistent lack of comprehension of instructions/materials, or other major academic issues), the teacher is already probably highly aware of the issue, and has likely begun to intervene in the classroom.
3. Schedule an in-person conference, if needed.
Remember that this is a meeting of two adults, one of who is the expert on the child being discussed and the other is an expert in educating children. You both have the same goal: to help this child achieve at his highest possible level. At this meeting, you might ask to see current work samples, look in journals, or see current classroom grades. Your teacher might send you home with materials to read or use with your child. You will probably also see exactly what your child is doing in school and how she is performing.
It can be eye-opening to see your child from a teacher’s perspective. Of course, we all think our kids are great and highly capable humans. But teachers see them as unique people and can accurately assess their social and academic capabilities, without parental bias. Find out what your kid is like in school, and go from there.
4. Do not go above your teacher in the school hierarchy
To immediately go to the school administration before checking in with the teacher is insulting and hurtful. Imagine if someone went to your boss or CEO before even consulting with you on a project you were working on. It stings, right?
Please, work with the teacher first. You will probably see results, keeping in mind that education is a journey and a process, not a miracle or overnight success. Progress takes time.
Now, if after working with the teacher and getting no where, or if you really think that the teacher is negligent/lying to you/not following through on interventions, go ahead and talk to the principal. But let the teacher know that you are doing this. Tell her in person and explain why. Or ask if she would like to sit down with you and the principal to solve the problem together.
What Not To Do
Don’t assume the materials aren’t already available to your child. I once had parents tell me their kid was bored and not being challenged. The student was in the gifted and talented program AND I had tons of extension activities available at all times. The student was simply choosing to not do those things and read her book instead.
Don’t assume that your suggestion hasn’t been tried. Many teachers have a long list of interventions and strategies that they run through, adapt, and implement. Teachers are excellent at collecting data and following the path that the data suggests.
If it’s a behavior issue, don’t assume your child is totally innocent (or totally guilty). There are always at least two sides to every story. For every action, there is always an underlying cause and a reaction. Your child, and his actions, fit somewhere into that chain of cause and effect. Every time that I’ve had a kid (or parent) come tell me about friendship issues, almost always both parties are partially to blame somehow.
You are dealing with an adult, who has degrees and certifications up the wazoo. Listen carefully before passing judgement. It is hard to hear that your kid is lying about something, anything. It is hard to hear that your child inflicted pain or injury on another. It is hard to hear that your child is not succeeding at the level you thought they were capable. Before you get defensive, remember that the teacher has so reason to lie to you, no reason to hide the truth, no reason to not present the facts accurately. This is her job, her profession, her passion. She wants your child to succeed, to have friends, to achieve academically and socially.
Ready to deal with any academic and social challenges that come up. And now that you and your teacher have worked together for the good of your child, remember to offer her a sincere and warm “Thank you” for all of her efforts.