by Kelly McQuillan
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: September 2019
We all want our kids to experience success, which can take many different forms. Along with nurturing and support from home, the time they spend in school is integral to cultivating the mindset and skills that will set kids up for adulthood and carry them through their lives.
I worked in public education for over a decade, both as a classroom teacher and a teacher-librarian. Several years into my career, I became a stepmom to two 'tweens and my point of view was instantly broadened to include a parent’s perspective. It was enlightening, to say the least, and I know it improved my teaching practice. It also reinforced for me how important it is for parents and teachers to maintain good relationships.
I don’t mean a buddy-buddy, “let’s meet for coffee”-types of relationships, but those in which respect, kindness, and clear communication are prioritized. When any of these elements breaks down it can make life difficult for everyone involved, including your child. So, with a fresh school year upon us, here are a few tips to help parents work as a team with teachers:
Set realistic expectations
Your child’s teacher is not their parent. Expecting them to use some magical teacher power to “make” your child behave better/read more/eat healthier/feel better without support from you is not fair or realistic (although, it would be awesome). This might seem unnecessary to say, but ask any teacher to list some of the things parents have expected them to do and you’ll probably be shocked. In my experience I’ve had everything from parents begging me to stop their son from playing so many video games at home to a dad expecting me to tell his son for him that his grandfather had died. These things are hard, but they are your job as a parent.
That said, teachers are happy to offer suggestions of things you can try at home and to help support your child through challenges. They can connect you with experts and community resources and can even work with you to help reinforce home behaviour goals by carrying them over into the classroom.
Respect and kindness are key
It should go without saying, but sometimes these get overlooked when you are concerned about your child or struggling to get through your own daily obligations. For example, arriving at the beginning of the school day and expecting to have a detailed conference right then and there about your child’s academic progress disrespects the learning time of the other children and puts the teacher in a difficult position. They want to listen to your concerns, but they also need to take attendance, help the class settle, sort out any issues that just happened on the playground before the bell, and start the morning’s lessons. Instead, make an appointment for a mutually convenient time when you can be heard and the teacher can give you their full attention.
Try to be specific
Your child’s teacher is responsible for keeping track of the progress (in multiple subjects) of up to 30 students, not to mention their social/emotional/practical skill development. Greeting them at the door on Meet the Teacher night in September with, “So, how is _______ doing?” and expecting a full, on-the-spot run-down of their progress in each subject to date is sure to get you a deer-in-the-headlights expression.
Teachers give ongoing feedback throughout the year both formally via report cards and assignment marks and informally (comments on classwork/activities via online portfolios such as Fresh Grade, emails, phone calls, or even handwritten notes on work or in planners).
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify any feedback. Focused, clear questions will get you much more helpful, actionable responses. Teachers (including me) can have a horrible habit of falling into “eduspeak,” so if you’re not sure what a term or acronym actually means, please ask. It shows your engagement and reminds us to come out of jargon-land and explain things in ways people outside of education will connect with.
A really good question is, “What does that look like?” For example, if you’re not sure of the most helpful way to be reading with your first grader, ask the teacher to model it with them while you watch.
Keep teachers in the loop
As teachers we see a side of your child that you might not, and vice versa. If there is a stressor at home, for example an unexpected event, big change, conflict, or loss, your child doesn’t stop processing it when they leave for school—they carry their feelings with them. They might seem fine at home and then act out or be otherwise affected in the classroom. Likewise, your child may react at home to something that has occurred at school.
A lot of things can happen “under the radar,” so if you notice your child acting differently or if they express a school-related concern to you, teachers want and need to know, just as they communicate with you about things they notice. Keeping each other informed means that you can help each other to support your child, whether it’s with solving a problem or processing an emotion.
Also, if you are having trouble keeping up with the teacher’s expectations for students, for example homework, it’s important to let them know. Maybe adaptations can be made to the workload, or they might have suggestions on how to make it more manageable. Plus, since good teachers are constantly working to improve their practice, feedback from parents is invaluable to that process. It’s entirely possible that your teacher, especially if they are new, doesn’t realize the stress that heaps of homework can put on families. The key point here is to never assume—have the conversation.
So whether your child is just (like mine) starting preschool this fall, or moving up another grade in elementary or high school, remember that teachers want to see your kids succeed just as much as you do. Remembering to put kindness, respect, and clear communication at the forefront of interactions with them will help you work together as a team to support your child in their learning journey.
Kelly McQuillan is a writer, musician, teacher, and fledgling mother living in Comox, BC. kellymcquillanwriter.weebly.com.
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