Maybe you knew you were in trouble as soon as you realized your son or daughter got “that” teacher this school year. But if you’re left feeling out of the loop, misunderstood, frustrated or even infuriated, don’t fret. Fostering a better relationship with your child’s teacher may take a little work at first, but the results are well worth it in the end.
1. Meet the teacher. Have you met your child’s teacher face-to-face? A five-minute introduction can develop rapport and make a world of difference. If it’s truly impossible, a friendly email or note is invaluable.
2. Don’t project. Your old school anxieties are precisely that – yours. It is common for a son or daughter to have similar school struggles, but try not to fall into this trap. A fresh mind is best.
3. Show up. Attend Open House, Meet Your Teacher, Back to School and Talent nights. Most are held in the evenings, so working parents can come. If not, call the administrator with suggestions. Discover what your child is learning. Ask questions. Encourage your child to share. Communicate. Send quick “just checking in” emails to the teacher throughout the year.
4. Keep emotions at bay. If you’re upset over a school- related incident, allow yourself the chance to rant, rave and growl to a friend or loved one. Then, prep yourself to meet the teacher when you are calm. If you find it difficult, send a neutral note or bring a friend to the conference.
5. Create a common ground. Don’t like what you’re seeing? Start with some common ground. “Miss Smith, I simply love the new social studies project, but I do have questions about the homework procedures.”
6. Use humor. Remember that a teacher is human who gets up in the morning and sometimes grumbles about school as well. Insert humor into your interactions to create rapport.
7. Fill them in. Tell your child’s teacher about your child’s positive qualities. No need to immediately reveal weaknesses. Often, a child behaves very differently at school. If there’s a problem, the teacher will make you aware.
8. Keep the teacher out of it. Never make it personal. Instead of saying, “I just don’t get your grading system,” you should say, “Let’s chat about the grading procedure in your classroom.” Always make a complaint or question directly about school procedures, curriculum or philosophy.
9. Don’t jump to conclusions. Ask a lot of questions. Factor in Junior’s age and the possibility that some of his perceptions may be a bit off. Instead of an accusatory “Why didn’t you punish John for yelling at my child?” try saying, “My child said something to me yesterday that concerns me. I would like to fact check this with you.”
10. Add some charm. Remember holidays and teacher appreciation days. Teaching is difficult, and most teachers are in it for the love of children. Maybe some have lost sight of that. Try warming their hearts with a child-made card or a gift card to a coffee shop with a note.
11. Volunteer in the classroom. What a great way to get a bird’s eye view into your child’s world at school. A one-time afternoon goes a long way toward showing appreciation to the teacher. Seeing your child in her own school environment may also relieve some of your concerns.
12. Show enthusiasm. Yes, there are inadequate teachers and schools. Teach your child that learning can be separate – and fun. Nourish the love of learning in your child.
13. Appreciate the opportunity. If your child is having difficulty, seize this teaching moment. Let him know problems are a part of life. Teach your child how to deal with problems through honest communication and a positive attitude.
14. Make a list. Do parent teacher conferences give you the butterflies? Make a list of concerns or worries to take with you. Or send an email with these questions prior to the conference.
15. Don’t badmouth. Try not to complain about your child’s teacher in front of the child. A child’s relationship with his teacher is significant. Don’t undermine it. Help your child become comfortable in his classroom. Help him to become an excited learner. The more passionate a child is about learning, the more education he will seek.
16. Involve the administrator. Ideally, he or she should be involved only if other methods of communication (above tips) haven’t worked. This gives a clear message that the parent doesn’t feel heard by the teacher.
Did you have any difficult situations with your child’s teacher? Were you able to work it out using some of these tips?
This article was originally published in September 2010 and has been updated.