It can make all the difference for a great school year.
It wasn’t until my kids got older, when both their education and their emotional lives became more complex, that I realized how much overlap there is between the parents and the teacher in a child’s life. It’s so much easier for everyone — not to mention infinitely more beneficial for kids — if that overlap develops into a harmonious relationship. After all, teachers aren’t exactly in this for the cash. They are 100% invested in our kids, but they can’t help teach and guide them if they don’t have a fuller understanding of their lives at home and their struggles outside the classroom.
The same can be said for us parents. The reports our kids bring home are understandably one-sided, and it’s impossible for us to help teach them how to tackle academic struggles or navigate social stress without seeing the bigger picture.
Establishing friendly and collaborative relationships with teachers is essential in order to give our kids a solid foundation of support. But you don’t have to go overboard and text your kid’s teacher so often that your iPhone automatically sorts them under “favorites” — I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t appreciate that. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help foster a solid relationship with your child’s teacher.
1Do: Sign up as a volunteer
When that sheet got passed around on Meet the Teacher night, did you sign up? If not, check your email and see if the teacher has asked for additional help or mentioned volunteer spots that haven’t been filled. Pick one — even if it’s not your cup of tea — and just do it. I signed up to help in the 3rd grade garden last year (despite the fact that plants have been known to die just from being in my presence) because it was the last slot available. But I knew that face time was important, both for my son and for his teacher. And guess what? I learned that the garden is actually a pretty cool place to volunteer. As long as someone else is in charge.
2Don't: Show up unnanounced
One year, my daughter’s 1st grade teacher — who was brand new to teaching — got a trial by fire in the form of an overly involved but unhelpful parent. This mom had some separation anxiety combined with definite expectations about what kind of education her daughter should be getting, and that mix made for an unnecessarily stressful fall semester. She would show up at any hour and enter the side door instead of checking in at the front office (where they certainly would have stopped her from interrupting class). She would creep into the classroom and just sit, observing and, eventually, correcting the teacher. This undermined the teacher’s authority and her confidence, as well as disrupting the class. Eventually the faculty stepped in and handled the situation, but the year had started so poorly that the class never fully recovered … and the sweet teacher never returned.
3Do: Schedule parent-teacher conferences
I know, so many times stuff comes up with our kids and we feel like the teacher needs to know right now, or respond to … also right now! Sometimes that’s true, but those times are much rarer than we tend to believe. If parent-teacher conferences are months away, it’s totally cool to send an email (NOT a text) and ask if the teacher can meet with you for half an hour at a time of his or her convenience. Put those parameters in there, because limiting the time and allowing flexibility to accommodate their schedule makes them much more likely to respond positively … and less likely to dread the meeting when it arrives. Remember, teachers are people too, and they spend every day trying to teach our kids the best they know how. Give them some grace and have patience.
4Don't: Be intrusive or demanding
My anxiety level skyrockets when I get that Sign Up Genius alert to schedule a parent-teacher conference and hastily log in only to find all the normal human hours taken, leaving me with 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. But guess what? I pick the least awful, because the most awful choice would be to text the teacher and ask for a time outside the three solid days she’s already blocked off for nothing but one-on-ones with parents. First of all, texting is intrusive. It’s impossible to compartmentalize texts the way you can with emails, because at least the inbox can be checked only during hours they’ve dedicated to work. But their cell? That’s their lifeline to their own family, friends, and children. Unless they’ve explicitly requested communication via text, respect those boundaries and go through proper channels. Second, don’t ask for special favors unless it’s an emergency. Seriously, these teachers work long, long hours … and yes, most of them will acquiesce and find time for whatever it is you need, because they care about your kid that much. But guess who’s paying for that time? Their own family, or their church community, or sometimes even their peace of mind. Don’t do that to them. Just pick a time slot and make it work.
5Do: Give thoughtful gifts
I am a terrible gift-giver. Luckily, my mom always has my back. She spent years teaching before transitioning to administration, so she understands the importance of teacher gifts and never fails to have something thoughtful picked out for all the kids’ teachers for holidays and teacher appreciation. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either — last year we gave Trader Joe’s mason jar cookie mixes to the kids’ teachers because they were cleverly named, “It’s Sedimentary, My Dear Watson.” Don’t break the bank, but do make the effort.
6Don't: Send negative signals
Every year, someone puts a picture on Facebook of a wine bottle with their kid’s face printed on the label and some caption like, “because my kid is why you drink.” It makes me wince, because that’s not funny. That’s telling the teacher exactly what you think of your own child, and if you make your child take it in? Double whammy, because now you’re taking a blow at your child’s self-worth in the process. Gifts that undermine or denigrate either the amazing work teachers do every day or the amazing little creatures they do it for are completely inappropriate. Remember that the gifts you give your child’s teacher reveal a lot about you as a parent and as a human being. Make them thoughtful, kind, and considerate.
These things are just the basics — there’s a lot more to developing a solid relationship with your child’s teacher than appropriate gift-giving and resigning yourself to Sign-Up Genius leftovers. But these are solid ways to start building a foundation of respect and goodwill that will give your child, their teacher, and yourself the best chance for a wonderful school year.
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