The first day of school is fast approaching. And, while you may or may not have already met your child's teacher, you know that your teacher is going to ask you some questions about your child. She wants you to talk about his learning style, areas in school that are the most challenging for him, and anything else concerning him or your family that would be helpful for her to know.

Of course, the first two she’ll eventually figure out for herself. It’s the last one that’s tricky. What exactly is she asking? And how much should you tell her? Parents can sometimes feel reluctant to answer private and personal questions about their kids, especially if they feel that that information might start the year off on the wrong foot.

But parents should see their child's teacher as an ally, not an enemy. “So many times parents look at themselves and teachers as two separate sides of the fence,” says preschool teacher Colleen Miller. “It is important for both sides to work together to best serve all children. When teachers ask for information, they are doing this to set up environments for children to succeed. The more information a teacher has about a child's personality, learning styles, behavior, even home life, the better the teacher can serve that child.”

But if we tell our child’s teacher about every small issue he has, won’t that give her a prejudice against him? Maybe. But many parents, like Becky Daily in Dallas, Texas, think it’s a risk we need to take.

“I learned the hard way that it is my responsibility as a parent to spend time educating my kids' teachers about their needs,” says Daily. “Our daughter has Central Auditory Processing Disorder. She has a hard time sitting still and sometimes needs to do her work standing at her desk or at a counter. Her IEP indicates this, but during one school year her teacher did not read her IEP right away. Nine weeks later we had a conference because she couldn’t get my daughter to sit still and wanted to put her on medication. It was a nightmare. From that point forward, I have made a point to tell her teachers her history at the beginning of the year and to educate them about what CAPD is and what behaviors they will see.”

So what should, and shouldn't, you share with your child's teacher? Consider the following list of areas you may want to let your teacher know about this fall.

  • Healthy Issues. A no-brainer, right? Of course you’re going to pass along that he’s allergic to peanuts or bee stings. But don’t forget to mention asthma or speech delays.
  • Family Issues – Anytime there’s a move or death in the family, teachers need to know. But sometimes there are more uncomfortable things to talk about – like a divorce. If your child may worry or feel upset about it at school, your teacher needs a warning so he’s better equipped to help her.
  • Personality traits – Is your child shy? An extrovert? Someone who has a hard time sharing? Or a child who needs space, quiet, or even physical activity to succeed? This is important information for your child’s teacher.
  • Behavior concerns – If your child had issues last year with hurting other kids, being bossy, defiant, or lying, the teacher will likely appreciate the warning. Be careful how and what you say on this one, however. Parents don’t want to get their child off to a rough start with a teacher who’s already labeled her as a troublemaker. Instead of saying, “Last year, Jenny got in trouble at school because she talked too much,” try, “Jenny is very verbal and loves to express herself through conversation.”
  • Adoption – Is this relevant? Some parents think not. But others like to give teachers a heads-up, especially if there’s an open adoption relationship with the birth family. This also helps to ward off any difficult assignments – such as making a family tree.

Teachers aren’t interested in getting the scoop on every detail of your family life. But they need to know personal information about you and your family in order to do the best job they can for your child. Telling them sensitive information might be hard to do, but it will make things easier for your child, as teachers will be able to put performance and behavior into context.

The bottom line: When you’re trying to figure out if something is news she can use, ask yourself whether or not your child will be affected by it at school. If he likely will, then you need to let the teacher know. If not, you can keep it to yourself.