I will never forget her. Sprinting down the street to get to my tutoring client on time, it happened. She stopped me. “I know you never have time to talk to me, but I wanted to let you know my daughter won’t be able to do her homework because she has a dance recital tonight.” Out of breath and watching the bus leave without me, I said, “Sure, no problem.” What I was thinking was, “Couldn’t this information have been communicated through a note or during dismissal 10 minutes ago?”
When it comes to the relationship between a parent and teacher, especially at the beginning of the school year, it feels a lot like dating. Heads swirl on both ends: Will we like each other? How much personal information should I reveal? Am I talking too much? Are they listening to me? It is arguably one of the most important relationships a parent will have each year of his or her child’s academic life.
Since the start of school is a balancing act, nurture this relationship as you would any other. Parents are often anxious to talk to and pick the brain of her child’s teacher. Instead of having eagerness perceived as being overbearing, there are simple ways to let the teacher know about your child, her quirks and/or areas of concern and any other information without becoming “that parent.”
Remember that teachers are overwhelmed with back to school tasks. While you are itching to settle into a routine, so are they. Notes and newsletters are usually sent home within the first weeks of school. Most likely, your initial questions will be answered in one of these handouts. Back to school night is a perfect time to hear the teacher review everything from daily procedures, communication methods and curriculum overviews.
In addition, teachers might have you fill out a “Getting to Know You” sheet. It will ask for relevant information such as the birth of a new sibling or what your child likes to do in her spare time. It also may ask for any academic concerns, food allergies or miscellaneous information. My first year of teaching I did not provide this handout and after getting upset with a child for coloring his hair green, it was brought to my attention that he was color blind. I never forgot to provide that sheet again. If one of these questionnaires is not provided, create your own; any information is better than none.
Even with who, what, where when, why and how covered, there are always questions left unanswered. Recall the abundance of information provided. Did the teacher discuss the best way to reach her? If so, use that method; it was specified for a reason. If a teacher explains that making an appointment is the most effective way to have an in depth conversation, respect what is asked. A general request may be to have your child hand in a note in the morning as teachers have a mailbox to receive these daily messages. If you are uncertain that the note will reach the teacher (a common fear!), use one of the other methods suggested.
The reality is that teachers are happy to handle parental concerns and student issues. It is part of their job. However, at the same time, most of them have families and outside obligations. A parent should never feel that a teacher does not want to or have the time to talk about a child’s progress. If you feel this way, reflect on when, where and how you approach this person. There is simply a time and place as with everything else in life. Relationships have ups and downs and this one will be no different. Always remember we care for each student and respect every parent that graces our lives.
Amanda Lehrman, founder of TheMommaFiles, is a trained teacher and curriculum consultant. She attended Fordham University and received an M.S.T in Elementary Education and has worked with the Accelerated Literacy Learning program as well as Teachers College Reading and Writing projects, Kaplan K-12 and Catapult Learning. Amanda currently teaches 3rd through 5th grade students in a Gifted & Talented program in Edison, NJ.
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