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When You Need to Talk to Your Child's Teacher

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Updated on Jun 10, 2013

Maybe your kid got banged up on the playground. Maybe you’ve had a bad homework blowout (again). Or maybe your kid’s clamming up and you sense something’s wrong. You need to talk to your child's teacher. No matter how careful you are, and how excellent your school, it’s bound to happen sometime. And, it's not always easy. After all, the last thing you want to do is pick a fight!

If you happen to be facing one of those tough conversations, here’s some good news: you can take solid steps to help things go smoothly. Here are some practical dos and don’ts:

DO bring up the issue directly and privately, not in front of other parents, staff, or kids. After all, would you like the teacher to embarrass you in front of others? Treat your teacher as you’d like to be treated: ask for a conference, or agree to exchange emails. Allow a few days to set this up, unless it’s a raging emergency. Teachers appreciate your courtesy, and your trust.

DON’T forget positives. Use the “sandwich” technique. No matter how mad you may feel, chances are that there are some good things happening in class, too. Start with those, and end with them too: “Juana has really enjoyed your reading program; thanks! But recently we’ve had this one problem…I appreciate that you work really hard for our kids; can you help?

DO keep a positive, matter of fact tone. Teachers need to hear your perspective, but it can be hard to get the facts if you leap to conclusions, or if you’re combative. Avoid “you” statements such as “You are not teaching Patty anything.” Say things like, “I’m worried about Patty. She doesn’t seem to understand fractions or decimals, even though I know it’s been covered for weeks. What can we do?”

DON’T compare. Want to wound your teacher and severely limit your rapport? Say, “Why can’t you be more like X?” It doesn’t work on your kids, and it won’t work on grownups, either. As a related issue, always try to keep your conversation focused on your own perceptions of your kid. Another surefire way to upset your teacher is to say, “I talked with X,Y, and Z and here’s what they said about you!” If you have heard other parents talk, urge them to speak with the teacher directly, too, but by all means avoid playing “telephone”—it’s a serious no-win for all of you.

DO state your facts. You may even want to bring written notes, and it’s very helpful when they contain dates and times. Make sure, however, that you focus on behaviors rather than labels. You might say, for example, “Bob came home with bruises last week and we’re upset about that.” By all means, though, avoid dramatic labels: “Bob has been assaulted by that violent, sociopathic bully.” You’ll only sound, well, crazy…even if your concerns could not be more justified.

DON’T walk away without a plan. There’s nothing worse than braving a hard meeting, only to feel like nothing changed. Once you have shared your concerns, make sure you and your teacher agree on what each of you can do; and then set a time when you’ll check in with one another, even if it’s a quick email message in a week.

Hard as these conversations may seem, you can take heart: school staff understand that they need to happen sometimes. In fact, your teacher may even call you. There are few things as hard—or as important—as advocating for your child. Be proud of yourself when you take on the challenge with grace and diplomacy!

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