Nobody wants to fall into Pushy Parent Syndrome. You know the type: those parents who show up at school to howl about homework, or demand A grades even when their children have done C work. You want to be one of the “good” parents. So if you’re like many folks, you just hang back and bite your tongue.

But keeping quiet isn't the best choice for your child. Research consistently shows that kids learn better when schools and teachers work well together, and that means they need to talk. Sure, teachers are busy, and parents can be pressed for time or patience, too. But waiting 'til the last minute, or choosing the wrong time to vent your frustrations, can be downright damaging to your relationship with your child's teacher, and may even affect your child's comfort in class.

Don't wait until the time is wrong to approach your child's teacher with the basic questions that can clear up many miscommunications between parents and schools. Whether your kid is just starting school or fairly far along in the process, don’t forget that you have a right—and even a duty—to understand what’s going on. Here are three questions that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your child's teacher, no matter what.

  1. What is my child learning?
    Pushy question? Absolutely not, as long as you ask in a friendly, upbeat way. School leaders understand that education is crucial for your child’s future, and you have every right to understand it. As a result of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, every state in the union has now adopted “standards”—lists of what every child should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Many schools now provide versions of these lists in mailers, conferences, and “back to school night” talks, but if you feel confused about any of it, go ahead and ask: how will the school be covering these topics? What methods will be used? What are the school’s goals for the kids?
  2. How is my child doing?
    Schools will give you report cards, and you can also look at grades and comments on your kid’s homework. But you don’t need to wait until stuff has been handed in to find out how your child is doing in school. In fact, if there was a problem, it may be too late to fix it by the time report cards roll around. It’s a good idea to ask early and often, "What’s going on with my child?" Be sure to tell your teacher if there are special stresses at home. Talk about how your kid is coping with homework. And be sure to report any playground problems your kid has mentioned—these are easily missed by busy school staff, but they can be devastating for kids. Working together, you and your teacher can figure out if your child is working at his or her full potential. One special note: these questions should always be posed privately, either in person or by notes or email. Your child’s personal progress is a confidential matter!
  3. How can I help?
    Teachers absolutely love this question. What could be better than a supportive parent? Beware, however: it may take a while to work out the right formula. In elementary schools, many teachers invite parents to help in the classroom, but don’t be intimidated if you’ve got a busy work schedule, or other kids to care for at home. Every time you make sure your child sleeps well, eats well, and arrives at school on time and with gear, you’re making a contribution. And when it comes to homework, your teacher can usually offer lots of ideas about how to help kids understand tricky assignments. Again, all you need to do is ask.

While these three questions won’t solve every problem that ever comes up, they can go a long way towards heading off trouble. You may never be best buddies with your child's teacher, but it’s always good to keep the conversation going, year round. Sure, they're busy, but most educators understand this: when adults talk, share, and cooperate in providing care, kids always do better.