My 16-year-old was devastated to realize he’d missed his first meeting as an officer in his high school band. For three years, he’d had his heart set on nabbing the Perfect Attendance award—for all four years in band—and now he’d blown it. My advice to him was the same advice I’d been offering since kindergarten. “Remember, teachers are people. Treat them like it.”
Jonah spoke to the band director, explained how upset he was about missing the meeting, how he’d been confused about the time, and how hard he’d been working for that perfect attendance award. Not only did Mr. Naquin accept his apology, but he took the time to extol the good qualities he’d seen in Jonah that led him to select him for leadership and assured him that in this case the absence could simply “fall off his record.”
My advice to parents as their child begins a new year with a new teacher is the same. Remember that your child’s teachers are real people just like you—likely people with families and full lives outside of school. Treat them accordingly. Make a human connection early and follow these A-B-Cs for establishing a beneficial relationship with teachers that’ll help you work together as a team for the benefit of your child.
Ask For Teamwork—Communicate to your child’s teacher that you’re interested in working with them to make the most of the time your child has in their classroom. Should you disagree with something they’re doing, communicate it respectfully to them and offer them the opportunity to explain their reasoning.
Be Encouraging—Teaching is a demanding job that doesn’t pay like it should. Never underestimate the power of encouraging words from you to bolster an overworked, underappreciated teacher. If you’re happy with the job they’re doing, take time to tell them so. Our futures literally depend on the work they’re doing with your children.
Create a Culture of Respect—Your child’s opinion of their teacher can affect their success in the classroom. Never disparage your child’s teacher within earshot of your child. If you have complaints, communicate them to the teacher—and their superiors, if necessary—but never in front of your child. It sends a signal that disrespect for people who are only trying to help is acceptable, and can lead to problems in the classroom and down the road.
Beyond that, there are other things you can do to keep the communication lines flowing.
Attend Your School’s Open House
Your child’s teacher will have a lot to say to new parents about how they’ll be doing things this year. Your presence at open house communicates that you’re interested in what they have to say, you respect the position they’re in, and that you want to open the lines of communication between you.
Prioritize Parent/Teacher Conferences
Even if your child is doing well in school, attend any planned meetings between you and the teacher. There are usually things going on at school your child won’t relay to you but you’ll be best served to know about. This is the time to ask questions or voice concerns (not during the school day, when the teacher is trying to teach).
Find Out Their Communicate Preferences
Some teachers are great at texting. Others prefer an email or phone call. Honoring each teacher’s preferred communication method not only demonstrates respect, but increases your chances for a prompt response—and a closer connection.
Keep Them in the Loop
If your child is facing special challenges in life, let the teacher know about it. If they’re acting up or shutting down in class, the teacher needs to understand why so they can offer appropriate support.
Volunteer if You Can
Each of us has something we can offer. You might offer to read to the class, chaperone fieldtrips, organize class parties, print the class newsletter, or schedule a time to speak to the class about your vocation. Ask how you can help.
Visit the Teacher’s Webpage Often
Some teachers are better than others about keeping their school-assigned webpages updated. But many post nightly homework and other assignments where parents and students can readily access them and email questions when they need to. If they have one, be sure to check it out.
In the end, the best thing you can do to get off on the right foot with your child’s new teacher is simply to validate them. Make it clear that you value the contributions they’re making in your child’s life, that you’re available to talk, and you’re interested in offering support in any way you can.