We had parent-teacher conferences at my school tonight, so I'm in the mood to reflect a little. I've had several friends ask me for advice recently about how to handle problems they're having with their kids' teachers or schools. Since these friends are all intelligent individuals who navigated the educational system successfully themselves, I assume that many parents may struggle in this area. The following is my list of things parents can do to help facilitate their children's school experience. Please note that this comes from my perspective as a high school teacher - some of these will probably seem very obvious or non applicable to parents of younger children.
1. Introduce yourself to your child's teachers! Do this as soon as possible, even if your child isn't having any problems. If a teacher knows that you're a supportive parent, he or she if far more likely to contact you when he/she begins to have concerns instead of waiting until there is a full-blown Situation on your hands. Also, teachers like meeting their students' families. Complimenting our students is fun! Please give us the opportunity to say nice things about your child! Don't you want to meet the adult your child spends many hours with per week? One mother at my last school could never make after-school events, so she would come at the beginning of each year during our lunch hour to introduce herself and let us know she was available to talk about her son. I loved that.
2. If you suspect your child is having a problem, contact the teacher! This is a great way to make sure your child gets the attention he or she deserves. I have 125 students. Hopefully, you have fewer children. You are the expert on your child and are more likely to notice a problem first. In addition, it's invaluable for teachers to hear a parent's perspective about their child. What is he like at home? Does she have any special talents or interests that I can be referencing in class to make it more interesting for her? Is he being too quiet/too loud/too social/too withdrawn in all his classes or just mine? Do you have any suggestions that could help us to solve this problem?
3. If your child comes home complaining that the teacher is mean, unfair, racist, sexist, or lazy, ask your child for specific examples and then contact the teacher. Please try to discuss this in the least confrontational way possible. Explain what you're hearing. Give her a chance to respond. There are some mean, unfair, lazy, racist, and sexist teachers out there. I'm sure all of us can think of an example from our own educational career. I'm also sure, however, that most of us can recall a time when students ganged up on a perfectly good teacher and decided to "sink her" or spread rumors about her. I know I participated in those types of activities (oh, the guilt!). I'm sure your child is a perfect angel who would never stretch the truth or exaggerate it to keep himself out of trouble. You should, however, still give the teacher the opportunity to clear the air before deciding to hold a permanent grudge against her for scarring your precious baby.
4. If you have a legitimate complaint about the teacher or class, voice this in private to the teacher or administrator. Telling your child that you don't like Mrs. Jones or have never understood the point of algebra is not going to improve your child's attitude or performance in that class.
5. Go to the school's parent-teacher conferences! I have 125 students. Tonight, 22 of them had parents stop by my room, which was a huge improvement over last semester's record of 10 parents. Of the students whose parents came tonight, not one has a grade lower than a C+. Chicken? Egg? Cause? Effect?
I know that many other teachers read this blog. What have I forgotten that you'd like parents to know?