The Key to Successful Parent-Teacher Relationships
(and no… it isn't apples…)
One of the roles I had when I taught in a local high school was to interview potential students' families. In the middle of a bustling school hall, I would sit behind a desk and have to enquire how often the family went to the library together, why the parents were not members of the primary school PTA and what they intended to do as part of the school community.
It was toe-curling at the time, but now that I have become a mother myself, I can fully understand how awful those interviews were for the families. But, without exception, all the parents politely answered my questions and sat smiling for the duration!
There are certain professions that garner a level of authority, regardless of age. Police Officers will always be spoken politely to and doctors are rarely questioned on their conclusions. Teachers also seem to have a degree of this authority.
When I switched sides in the summer to being a parent, and sent my child for his first day at a new school, I found myself raising concerns with my husband over minor issues I had. He suggested I email the Principal but I found that I couldn't as I didn't want to be labeled a troublemaker! Thankfully, the worries I had have now been resolved (without my input) and I have been working hard at taking part in PTA activities and making sure we are seen to be a functional, happy family!
It is ironic that, as a teacher, I am always very happy to meet with parents and discuss worries they have, yet as a parent I am reluctant to do so. It is a dilemma many parents have – how can you be involved with your child's schooling yet not be seen as intrusive and critical?
Don't be concerned about taking up a teacher's time after school. For a variety of reasons, most teachers are constantly contacting families so it is not unusual to chat with parents after lessons finish.
On more than one occasion, I had a student in my class whose progress was deteriorating. Only during a parent-teacher conference did the parent explain to me that there had been death or divorce in the family. Had the school known before, the child could have received counseling from the school social worker, been given extended deadlines and had a more caring learning environment. It is so important to keep the school updated with any changes or issues a child is experiencing. Teachers see education as just one aspect of their job. Student welfare is a huge concern in school and the more information we have about a child, the better we can guide them.
You should not be embarrassed about contacting your child's teacher about trivial issues as well. They may be important later on, or help the teacher to understand what is happening at home. Just a quick email or note in the handbook can often answer questions teachers have about why a student's behaviour or work ethic has changed.
Of course, a teacher's day is regimented by a timetable, just as students' are. For that reason, it is always advisable to email or call to arrange a convenient time for a meeting. This also means that the staff member can prepare for the talk. They can have grades ready for parents to look at or discipline records available. Also, if the teacher is given time to prepare, they will be more likely to talk to colleagues about the issues you want to raise and so the meeting will be more productive.
It is important to contact the right person in the school for particular issues. Go to subject teachers or head of department directly if there is a specific concern in a learning area. Class teachers should be contacted for general discussions about behaviour or overall performance in class. While it may be tempting to go directly to the Principal, unless it is extremely important, you are likely to receive a faster and more personal response from a staff member who has daily contact with your son or daughter.
If time allows, the best way to have increased communication time with teachers is by participating in PTA activities or weekend events. As your face becomes better known, staff members are more likely to approach you at an event to mention progress or attitude (be it good or bad). I often chatted casually with parents during PTA organized hikes or evening events about things that seemed too trivial to phone home about.
Unfortunately, most of the time, communication with parents is about worries with poor behaviour or grades. It is vital that the family is able to help the school by keeping promises. If, in the meeting, you swore that the X-Box would be unplugged, then unplug it. If you told the teacher that you would check and sign the homework and diary daily, make sure you do. Children who are aware that there are clear lines of communication with home and school are less likely to become complacent.
Finally, to maintain good relationships with your child's teachers, balance the concerns you have with praise for the school. Let subject teachers know when your child has talked happily about a lesson over the dinner table or when they have shown marked improvements. This not only lets the school know how it is doing, but it shows the staff that you take an interest in what happens at school and are an approachable, personable parent. DBL
By Jennifer Steventon