Whether it’s the first day of school or you’re nearing the end of the second semester, you may love your child’s teacher … or you may be counting the days until the end of the school year. Like them or not, your child’s teachers are an inevitable part of your parenting life. But a teacher can be your child's second strongest advocate (you're the first), the biggest pain in your backside, or anything in between. It's in your child's best interest for you to communicate well with teachers, so make it a snap with these conflict resolution strategies.
Put on a happy face—at least on day one.
If a coworker meets you for the first time and starts off with a list of complaints, you wouldn’t be crazy about dealing with that person. Teachers are no different. Rather than starting off the year with a list of all the things the teacher has been doing wrong, take some time to get to know each other. Meet your child's teacher on the first day of school—or even before school starts, before the stress of tests, homework and problematic behavior sets in.
Use the magic of compromise.
In your first talk with a teacher, decide on how you both are most comfortable communicating. "Be clear with teachers about what you like and expect in terms of communication, and what form is the easiest for you." says Lauren Takao, a teacher from Honolulu, Hawaii. How often do you hope to speak with the teacher? Do you prefer email or phone calls? Can you set up an in-person meeting a couple times a month?
The teacher may say she can't be involved with your child the way you'd like. If that’s the case, be open to compromise. Instead of a phone call twice a week, make it once a week. If email isn’t working, try for occasional meet-ups after school. Every teacher is different. Lauren prefers to meet with parents in person. "There's something nice about face-to-face interaction,” she says. “You have to deliberately make time to both be somewhere at the set time, and that shows commitment and involvement."
Set the bar high and reach for it.
What level of involvement is right for you and your child? Answer this question for yourself, then explain to your child's teacher what kind of education and attention you expect for your child. But as a show of good faith, make the teacher a promise. The specifics of that promise are up to you. It could be that you'll come in to help with major projects or that you'll always work to ensure your child behaves. Your teacher needs to know you're just as committed as she is.
Kelli DuCloux, a mom, a teacher and a Ph.D. in educational psychology, has a routine she's implemented for her son, who is now in high school. On the first day of school, she makes a point to meet each of her son's teachers. "I firmly shake each one of their hands, look them in the eye, and identify myself and which child is mine,” she says. “I let them know that I have high expectations and I take my child's education very seriously." She makes her presence known and her expectations clear. As a result, she and her son have both had highly positive relationships with his teachers.
Know when to be a bear.
You're not always going to see eye to eye with a teacher. And sometimes you have to be a little aggressive to act in the best interest of your child. Kelli recalls a time when she didn’t do her usual routine of introducing herself to a teacher, because she believed there wouldn't be a problem in a physical education class. She was surprised to find that another student had been sexually inappropriate with her son and the teacher did nothing when he was informed.
In this situation, she felt it was necessary to go directly over the teacher's head and complain to the principal. The lesson: Your child may not always get amazing, dedicated teachers. Rely on your gut for when it's appropriate to take aggressive action on behalf of your child.
Hug it out.
No, you don't have to actually have to hug it out if that's not your thing. But it can be all too easy to concentrate so intensely on your child that you may forget teachers are people too. They get sick and have bad days. They can get flustered and impatient. They also need encouragement and a positive word every once in a while.
If your teacher does something you think is wonderful, let her know it. If your child says something positive about the teacher, send a quick email telling her about it. Ideally, your child's teacher will be a part of your family's team. And like any team, you've got to be positive with each other.
Even if you discuss your expectations with your child's teacher mid-year, remember to keep a positive attitude. Coming to the table with a friendly and appreciative demeanor can go a long way to creating a lasting and productive relationship with a teacher. Kelli remembers fondly of times she and her son visited some of his former teachers. For her, it is a "wonderful experience" to see a teacher with whom she built a strong, warm relationship and have them see how her son has grown. If you keep in mind the principles of compromise and compassion, you'll be well on your way to a positive and collaborative parent-teacher relationship.