By Robbie Fanning, M.A.
At the beginning of the school year, every parent wonders about the new-to-you teacher. Will she understand your child's individual learning or attention needs? Will she recognize your child's special talents? Will this year be a successful collaboration between you and the teacher — or a struggle?
Unfortunately, there is no operating manual for your child that you can consult for easy answers to your questions. But you can learn from other parents who are experiencing the same situations. We asked parents, "What tried-and-true steps or strategies have you used to foster a positive, supportive relationship with your child's teachers?" Here are their top-ten tips:
1. Help the teacher get to know your child. Mark Condon says, "During the first week of school, tell the teacher about your child as a person-her likes and dislikes, strengths and weakness, general personality traits, and your vision for your child in the future. The more the teacher knows your child as a person, the better she can address your child's specific situation."
Debbie Penny meets with all her child's teachers about two weeks after school starts. "I always have one or two goals for my son that I stress, like how to take notes or what to study for exams. It makes the teachers realize I am supporting my son and that together, we are partners in his learning."
Likewise, Michelle Hall gives the teacher a list of study habits and routines she and her child follow at home, "so she knows where my daughter is coming from."
Rhonda Jacobson also shares strategies with the teacher. "Keep the teacher informed about your child, including recent assessments, medical information, family situations-in other words, anything that will have an impact on your child's performance."
"Above all else," says DeEtte Wiberg, "I let them know how appreciative I am of them looking after my daughter's feelings."
For more tips on the first parent-teacher conference, read "Making the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conference."
2. Be collaborative. Patti Maddox tells us, "I have always stated at every school meeting that we are not the enemy. We look at this as a partnership, with the goal being to have our son succeed at education. We ask the teachers to tell us what we can do to assist them."
Margaret Franco concurs. "Treat your child's teacher as part of your team. Ask him for help and strategies you can use at home with your child-then do it! Teachers appreciate it when parents do their part."
Deborah Brownson says, "If the teacher wants to try a new strategy, I make a date in two to three weeks to see how the approach is working out. After trying their way, teachers may be more open to trying another approach."
When the teacher alerts you to an academic or behavioral problem, Mark Condon advises, "Let the teacher know what actions you have taken with your child at home to correct these problems. It also sends a message to your child that all of you are a team that supports each other."
Martha Randolph Carr says, "I'm very careful to pick my battles and be firm when necessary but without ever making it personal. No one wants to do a bad job, and very few teachers are truly mean-hearted. If a teacher appears overworked, I ask how we can do it together."
But don't concentrate solely on problems. Annette McMillian suggests, "When I see something positive happening to better my child's learning, I let the teacher know that she is doing a good job."
For a special education teacher's tips on collaboration, read "A Fresh Start: Partnering With the Teacher."
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Whether it's by email, phone, notes, or in person, our parent advisors make an ongoing effort to stay in touch with their children's teachers.
Sandy Barr says, "We communicate by email to ensure that important information, homework assignments, and project assignments are known."
Kathy Foy also emails her son's teacher at least once a week. "With email we keep in constant contact at times that are good for both of us, with time to ask and answer questions."
Michelle Hall says, "I make sure the teacher knows that I am open to any discussions and to contact me before a little issue becomes a big one."
Mary Drabik adds, "Not only do I email questions and give information, I also occasionally send appropriate articles and even funny jokes."
Carol Hudson believes that "having an open communication by way of notes and conferences with the teacher is a positive way of finding out how your child is doing in class. For example, find out what they are studying in science or history. Then talk over the homework with your child each night."
Emilie Serratelli and her husband email, phone, and stop by for chats with the teacher periodically throughout the year. She says, "In all the communications, we reassure the teacher that she is a key player in the child's care team because she spends the most time with our child."
4. Be even-tempered. Mary Peitso advises, "Don't try to lay blame on anyone. Attempt to deal with the issues at hand in a nonadversarial manner."
Amy Moore says, "Use 'I' sentences, not 'You' sentences — for example, 'I am concerned that my child is stressing about too much homework,' instead of 'You give too much homework!'"
Nancy Ficaro always tries to be "as positive as I possibly can when working with my daughter's teachers. I also let them know that I fully understand that working with a child who requires extra attention is not always easy, especially when they are trying to juggle the needs of the rest of their students."
Pam Swayne reminds us that being even-tempered applies to your child too. "When my child wants me to intervene at school, I don't react emotionally. Instead, I have him write out a list of what he wants to talk to a teacher about. Then we both go in. He does the talking, and I support."
5. Put it in writing. Susan Morgan and her husband have found that the best way to partner with their daughter's teachers is "to put everything in writing and to document requests, questions, and notes. We are always well prepared for the trimester conferences based on documentation to and from each teacher."
Kim Klupenger also puts it in writing. "Every month, I write a brief summary of how my child is doing at home — what areas I am seeing improvement in, what we have been doing to further our mutual goals, and what struggles we have been experiencing at home."
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