When our children are preschoolers, we tend to have easier access to their teachers. We see them at drop-off or pickup, and there may be field trips or other activities at which parents are welcome. We can get a sense of who their teachers are and make a connection.
As our children move through elementary school, it takes a greater effort to get to know a teacher. Opportunities to volunteer in the classroom lessen. It’s harder to catch a teacher for a quick moment, and making a connection can be a little more challenging.
By the time our children reach middle and high school, we’re rarely a presence in their school day. Meeting their teachers likely happens only if we spend the allotted nine-minutes-per-class (or some other fraction of time) at back-to-school night or if we set up a meeting.
Whatever your child’s age, maintaining an open communication line is important to your child’s school success and well-being. Here are a few tips for making the connection to your child’s teacher and school, whatever your child’s age.
- Attend back-to-school night or other orientation. This can often be your first opportunity to get a glimpse of the curriculum for the year. Understanding what will be covered and what is expected of your child can help you support their learning. It also gives you a sense of the teachers’ styles, which may in turn give you a better understanding when your child relays a story from school.
- Read the paperwork teachers send home. At higher grade levels, teachers may outline their expectations of students on a sheet that parents must sign. Don’t just sign it – read it! Understanding these expectations will allow you to support your child as they navigate the class. If your school supports teacher web pages, make a point of browsing there. You can see firsthand what assignments and directions teachers are setting out for their students.
- Take time to listen. A 60-second check with your child each day lets you know what’s happening in school, what is on the agenda for homework and what projects are coming up. It can be more than 60 seconds, but getting in the habit of “checking in” will help you feel more connected to your child’s classroom – and help you ensure your child is prepared for school. If there are red flags you (or your child, if he/she is older) can email the teacher.
- Email. In this electronic age, email can be a great way to reach out to a teacher with quick questions, to set up a meeting or to volunteer help. If you are concerned with something going on in the classroom, whether it has to do with another child, the teacher or schoolwork, don’t wait to request a meeting. If you’ve already established an open line of communication it will be easier to ask questions by email. You’ll also be able to determine when an email, conversation after school or scheduled meeting is the best route for a particular situation.
- Volunteer. This isn’t possible for every parent (or parents of older students whose teachers have less need for volunteer help), but teachers sometimes need help with tasks that can be done at home or outside the school day – stapling papers, stuffing folders or sorting book orders. Reach out to your child’s teacher to offer support. If nothing else, you’ve made a connection.
- Get involved in your school’s parent-teacher organization. The purpose of these groups is to support students and educators. Whether the group provides funds for arts and enrichment programs or a teacher appreciation luncheon, there are ways to show support for your child’s school. You’ll also feel more connected to the school if you are involved.
- Respect the teacher. When you know the teacher’s expectations, rules and curriculum for the year, respect it. Each teacher has an idea of what works best for their classroom. As parents, it’s our job to trust their professional ability to do their job (unless they give us reason to think otherwise). When you respect your child’s teacher(s), you model positive behavior for your child.
- Have an open mind. Some years, our children have a teacher that does not seem to be a good fit. Trust that most teachers are not “out to get” anyone. If you set up a meeting, have an open mind, and remember: you’re on the same team. You’re both concerned about the academic success and personal well-being of your child.
- Be kind. Teaching is extremely challenging in today’s world. Know that your child’s teacher was hired because they have the qualifications to do just that – teach. The teacher who may seem excessively strict or unusually quirky may turn out to be one of the most loved educators in your child’s life. Give it time – and remember, it’s about your child’s relationship with the teacher, not yours.
- Be supportive. Many teachers spend their own money on supplies for the classroom, so if you’re able, offer support. Boxes of tissues, pencils, hand sanitizer – ask your teacher what he/she needs. If you can provide material goods, there’s one thing you can give that’s free: a compliment. Teachers often hear from parents who are upset or have concerns. It would be nice if we also occasionally said, “thank you.”
The bottom line is that by getting to know your child’s teacher(s), you can better partner to support your child’s academic success.