Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: How to have a productive parent-teacher relationship

Most every teacher and parent recognizes the value of ongoing and effective communication, yet few embrace the opportunity, especially past elementary school. And when it does happen, the communication isn’t always effective. Egos, drama and narrow paradigms get in the way.

Yet parent-teacher relationships, like any working relationship, should not be so complicated. Communication can be optimized by creating and maintaining a sense of teamwork from the onset. But to ensure buy-in, teachers must embrace parental input, and parents must trust the educator’s observations.

Natalie Schwartz, author of “The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society” says that the most important thing is for parents to view their child’s teacher as a partner. Teachers want children to succeed. Yet sometimes parents view the teacher as an obstacle to this success instead of a partner.

Here are some of the things that parents want teachers to know, as well as what teachers would like to share with their students’ parents, according to an Education World article, “Can we talk? What parents and teachers want each other to know,” Martin Godwin’s “Secret Parent: 10 things we’d like to say to teachers,” and CNN writer Ron Clark’s “What teachers really want to tell parents.”

What parents want teachers to know

▪ Get to know my child. My child may seem average, but he is very special to me. Look for his uniqueness.

▪ Share information with me. Children can act very differently at school, and I count on you for insight into understanding my child. And please don’t talk negatively about my child to other parents, or to other teachers.

▪ I worry about the emotional and social well-being of my child. Telling me she’s doing fine isn’t enough; give me positive examples of why I don’t have to worry about her.

▪ Be vigilant and do not allow anyone in the classroom the opportunity to bully — even if you think it is insignificant.

▪ Welcome us into your classroom. Talk to us honestly. If you want our involvement and commitment, trust us enough to explain, discuss, and sometimes admit mistakes. And please do it before it becomes a crisis. Parents have a lot to offer at all grade levels — from reading to children, to talking about careers or topics you are covering, to helping with bulletin boards or lab activities. When parents are welcome in your classroom, they are much more likely to support you.

▪ Don’t make us feel guilty. Some of us work and some don’t. But we all want to help our kids. Ask us what works best in terms of appointments and conferences. Sometimes we just can make it to school and a phone call will work. Give us a list of volunteer options at the start of the year and we’ll sign up to something that works.

▪ Don’t blame the boys. Could it be something about the way we do schooling that doesn’t quite work for boys? Could we re-examine how to incentivize, reward and refocus boys rather than castigating their energy. Maybe they are the square pegs that don’t fit the round hole we’ve made for them.

▪ Schedule the “Back to School” evening at the beginning of the school year so we can learn your expectations for our children. Parents can be your biggest supporters if they know your goals and rules in advance and can reinforce them at home. Avoid the sign-up sheet madness and leave a dignified space for parents and teachers to converse without everyone else hearing.

▪ Show you care by attending PTSA meetings. Many teachers ask the PTSA for classroom assistance, but don’t attend any meetings. Remember that the T in PTA stands for Teacher.

▪ Forget the flyers and letters. Many parents work and notes sent home rarely make it there. To guarantee communication, please use technology like emails —or even a phone call. And please give us plenty of notice.

▪ Communicate! I don’t want to bother you, so if there is a sign of trouble or concern, please contact me before it becomes a major issue. And surprise me from time to time by telling me something great about my child.

▪ If you use an electronic grade book, post your assignments in advance so we can ensure that our child does what you assign. Also, post grades in a timely manner so we can see how our child is doing and/or find out if they are falling behind before it’s too late.

▪ Don’t overdo homework. I understand that homework is necessary, but families have so little time to be together; evenings shouldn’t be spent only doing homework. Also, be aware that you are not the only teacher in the school. My child has other teachers who give homework, too.

▪ Make sure to reward a child’s unaided efforts, especially when you ask for a historically accurate Tutankhamun mask. Many of those beautiful projects come from parents who end up doing the work while the child plays Minecraft.

▪ Keep projects short term. Four-week projects are too long for most elementary and middle school kids and typically end in a Sunday of shouting. As kids get older, let those who want to do interesting things with cereal boxes get on with it, but offer alternatives for those who don’t.

▪ Most of us are trying our best. Give me encouragement, not a list of things my child needs. Though it’s not an excuse, rudeness or aloofness can be a symptom of anxiety and personal stress. Bear with us: we’re human. We worry about our kids.

▪ Remember that parents are not perfect. No one is perfect, but when parents and teachers work together, great things happen for the child.

▪ When you assign internet or computer-based projects or a typed and printed assignment, please keep in mind that not all families have access to these electronics. Allow kids time to work on them in class. Especially the printing.

What teachers want parents to know

▪ We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, consider it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.

▪ I care a great deal about your child, but I am also concerned about all the children in the classroom. In any case, I will make a note to look out for your concerns and keep you informed.

▪ I will consider the truth of what your child tells me happens at home and reach out to you to confirm if you do the same for what he says happens at school.

▪ Let your child be a child; let her skills and talents emerge naturally. Emphasize effort perseverance.

▪ Most children today watch too much TV and/or video games. Limit these and encourage physical activity, reading, and imaginative thinking.

▪ If you volunteer to assist or chaperone, please try your best not to cancel at the last minute. I really depend on your responsibility and commitment.

▪ I am here to ensure that your child can succeed; your support and encouragement are necessary for me to succeed in that effort.

▪ Please step back and get a good look at the landscape before you challenge a low grade you feel the teacher has “given” your child. You might need to realize your child “earned” those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education. Be a partner instead of a prosecutor.

▪ Manners are important. The child who remembers to say, “Thank you,” “Please,” “Excuse me,” and “May I help you?” sets an example for all.

▪ Please read the information letters, emails and other communications I send home during the year. And when I leave a message or send an email, I really need you to respond. It is probably important.

▪ You are your child’s first teacher. You have more of an impact on his values, behavior, expectations, work ethic, and actions than any other person in the world.

▪ Education does not stop at the end of the school day or the start of summer. Your child needs you to provide enrichment and fun activities at home to keep the education going. Read to your child, even if she can read herself.

▪ Teach your child respect for others by treating him and other family members with respect. Expose him to people who are different. Be a contributing member of your community.

▪ If you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them.

▪ When you make an appointment for a conference, please be respectful and arrive on time. And if you cant make it, please let me know ahead of time so I don’t waste my time. When you do come, please write down the questions you have so I can make sure to address all your concerns.

▪ And by the way, if your child is excited about what he/she is learning and you think I am doing something right, please let me know.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.