Teachers share what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to the parent-teacher dynamic…
So what is the right way to approach your child’s new teacher?
Do you introduce yourself on the first day? Is it important to tell them everything about your child in the first conversation …or are you best to give them space and let them figure things out themselves? What is it teachers would really like us to do?
They are questions that occupy many parents’ thoughts at the start of each new school year, so we decided to ask some current and former teachers for the answers.
The good news is each teacher gave very similar advice – and all of their suggestions (given anonymously) are easy to enact.
(It’s advice worth following too – decades of research shows that when parents and teachers have a good relationship and work in partnership, children do better academically and socially – but more on that later.)
Here’s the teachers’ advice in a nutshell:
First impressions count.
You and your child might be nervous, but chances are the teacher is a little bit too, with 25 new families to get to know (or 150+ in the case of high school teachers with multiple classes).
So if the teacher greets you or meets you with a smile in week one, say hello and give them a smile in return. “It probably sounds like an obvious thing,’’ says one experienced male teacher, “but you’d be surprised how many parents won’t make eye contact or will shy away from interacting with us in the first few weeks.’’
The same applies to email interactions. “Most primary school teachers send out an introductory email in the first week – the parent that replies to that email is a rare and encouraging thing,’’ he says. “It doesn’t need to be a long-winded reply and you don’t need to reply to every email the teacher sends, but it’s good to interact with the teacher at least in the first five weeks. Saying something as simple as ‘Hi I’m Bob, my son is George, he had a bit of trouble with reading last year but we’re really looking forward to the year ahead’, gets the relationship off to a great start. Be “humble, kind and interested,’’ he advises.
Show your child you respect and support their teacher.
“The attitude that the parent has towards the teacher will directly impact the attitude the child has towards the teacher,’’ one veteran educator shares.
“Model the respectful behaviour you’d like your child to show, so if your teacher comes to you with an issue, discuss things calmly and ask questions.’’
The teacher will more often than not be bringing an issue to your attention because they want your help to address it.
“It can help to remember that a parent and teacher are on the same team, in that they are both wanting a good outcome for the child. So rather than say ‘you did this wrong’ approach a problem with ‘what can we do to solve this situation, let’s fix it together’.”
And if you as the parent hear of an issue at school and want to get to the bottom of it, try to raise the issue with the teacher in a timely manner – and do it kindly. “Making an assumption about what is going on before you get the facts will do more harm than good,’’ a retired teacher with more than 30 years’ experience says. Another advises: “Resist the temptation to talk to all the other parents in the class or go on Facebook and talk about an issue. More often than not the issue may be a misunderstanding that can be quickly dealt with by having a conversation with the teacher.”
Try to leave any of last year’s issues behind.
Treat each year as a clean slate and a chance to start again, advises a senior female educator. “Children are really good at doing that, but parents can hold on to stuff from last year that a teacher may have done and if they put that on the next teacher it doesn’t get things off to a good start.” Another teacher agreed: “Starting off your first conversation with me with your grievances from last year is a bad first impression,’’ he says. Another ill-step is starting the conversation with ‘You’ve probably heard of me by now…’. “Some parents drag all their baggage with the school into the conversation with the new teacher but it tends to be better to treat every relationship as a fresh start.’’
Share your story with the teacher.
At an early point in the year, share any relevant family news or information about your child with your child’s teacher. “Teachers are the experts in the curriculum but parents are the experts in their child and teachers appreciate knowing details about the child they are teaching, whether it’s the family have just moved, or a grandparent has died, or that Mum is away with work which might be upsetting the child. Information sharing is critical.’’
All teachers confirmed that point. “Tell me and tell me early,’’ another said. “Once you know someone’s story you can’t help but look out for them a little bit.’’ A third teacher stressed that teachers “want that connection with you too’’. “Communicate from the get-go,’’ she said, “and be open and honest about your child’s needs and what you want from the teachers.’’
Use all the normal relationship-building skills you use in every other area of your life.
If you treat a teacher well, there’s a very good chance they’ll treat you well in return. Once a good relationship is established, it means if you need to have a tricky conversation or a problem arises, you’ve got a good base to work from. A good relationship is also a springboard to great communication about what is happening in the classroom, and once information sharing and educational goal sharing starts between teacher and parent, “that is where all the magic happens,’’ one teacher explains.
“We are human, so just like anyone we want to feel respected and appreciated,’’ another explains. “If you want your plumber to do a good job at your house, when he turns up you don’t tell him all the bad things the last plumber did and threaten him that he better do a good job this time. If you welcome him in and treat him respectfully he’ll be more motivated to do a good job and the relationship flourishes from there.’’
If the teacher is doing a good job, tell them. Better yet – tell the principal!
“Put pen to paper or finger to keyboard acknowledging how valued your child’s teacher is” – that simple gesture, one teacher reveals, has a “massive’’ impact on a teacher. “One email of thanks in March will reap rewards all year,’’ he says. Another: “Even saying ‘Johnny is always so excited for science lessons’ makes a big difference to a teacher who is putting so much effort into planning those lessons each week.” Telling their principal or year-level supervisor as well – “that’s awesome’’, says one teacher. Events like World Teachers’ Day are a great memory-jogger to show your appreciation if you haven’t through the year.
Ask how you can help – and enjoy the ride.
“Before the end of the first term, touch base with the teacher and show support,” a teacher advises. And if you find out the class is learning a particular topic that you have experience in or have resources at home or work that might assist, let the teacher know. “Come to class celebrations if you can, offer to help if required, let teachers know if you have any special talents, turn up to meet and greets and parent-teacher interviews and read all the information that comes home and discuss it with your children.’’ Another veteran primary school teacher offered this: “Enjoy every moment of the year ahead; 2020 only comes around once…’’
Academic research confirms the importance of the teacher-parent relationship
The QIS Parents Network wrote a series of stories last year explaining the importance of the parent-teacher relationship as the basis of good parent engagement in schools (and the powerful effect that can have on a child’s academic outcomes). You can catch up on the three-part series here.