Parenting

How to Start the Year Off Right With Your Child's Teacher

So here we are again. On one side of the door wait anxious children, backpacks jammed full of new supplies, standing next to parents who hope just as fervently as the children that this year will be a success. On the other side of the door stands the teacher, butterflies in her stomach, name tags in her hand, hoping most fervently of all for exactly the same thing.

Yes, it’s time to go back to school and, chances are, you’ve spent the summer wondering (and worrying) about which teacher your child will get. Well, whether you got the one you hoped for, or the one you were dreading, it stands to reason that you want to form a good relationship with her from the get go. For your kid’s sake. So here are a few inside tips from a mom who’s been on the other side of that door.

Be mindful of the teacher’s time

Most teachers get about 45 minutes of child-free time during the school day. It’s usually called a “prep” and is meant to be for planning upcoming lessons, meeting with other teachers to discuss curriculum, checking in with learning specialists, school psychologists and administrators about kids who need support, and all sorts of other important issues that arise throughout the day. Often, though, these precious 45 minutes are also used for her one and only time to pee that day, take a couple bites of sandwich (the rest of which will be found, uneaten, at the end of the day underneath a pile of papers), and check in with a student who seemed a little down that morning to make sure everything is okay. That’s why most teachers arrive early and stay late. Because the actual “prep” to make the classroom run smoothly still needs to get done.

So, if you happen to arrive at school early and see that your child’s teacher is already in the classroom (why do they put windows in classroom doors?) it’s not an invitation to pop your head in and say, “Oh good, you’re here! I have an early meeting this morning. Johnny, hang up your backpack and go on in,” while shoving your protesting child (who knows not to bother the teacher when she’s busy) through the door and leaving.

It’s also not the time to stick your head in and ask (no matter how apologetic your tone of voice) if she has a minute. She doesn’t. Not right then at least. Chances are your chid’s teacher is very open to speaking to you about any number of issues, large and small, but the proper way to bring something important to her attention is to schedule a time to meet. If it’s not a big deal (like you want to tell her that your kid didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and is cranky, or that he’s not going to like the lunch you packed, or that he’s going home with a different babysitter today) just quickly let the teacher know when she opens the door to start the day. By then she’ll have her game face on and be more than happy to talk to you. At least, she should be.

Assume she knows what she’s doing

So, okay, we’ve all had at least one teacher who’s a total dud. She doesn’t care about the kids, she doesn’t know the material, and she’s making your kid’s life hell. But, unless your child is going to school in a Roald Dahl novel, this teacher is the exception rather than the rule. Most teachers have at least one graduate degree in their field and are staying up to date (whether they want to or not) through professional development seminars, literature, and conferences. Chances are your child’s teacher really wants to be a teacher and feels at least some sort of calling to the profession. I mean, she’s not in it for the money. Trust me. So, it’s worth assuming she’s got a reason for teaching what she’s teaching and doing what she’s doing.

That doesn’t mean you have to like it. And that doesn’t mean you can’t raise concerns about it. It just means that, when you do talk to her, you should come to the conversation assuming that she’s not a total idiot. The fact that you went to kindergarten (or third grade, or fifth, or whatever grade your child is in now) does not actually mean that you have the same level of expertise as the teacher.

Telling her that her way of teaching spelling rules, for example, makes absolutely no sense and demanding she teach it the way you learned it, will get you nowhere (and will let her know that your problem is simply that you’re having trouble comprehending elementary school concepts). If, on the other hand, you politely express that you’re not sure what the purpose of the assignment is and listen carefully to her response, you’ve got the start of a helpful dialogue.

Assume she is invested in your child’s welfare and wants to see him succeed

No one wants to pick up the phone and find their child’s teacher on the other end. If this happens, chances are pretty good that your child has done something . . . concerning. Being a mom myself I understand the impulse to immediately go on the defensive before you even hear what the issue is. But this makes everyone’s life harder. And it lets the teacher know that you are more concerned with your child not being “in trouble” than with actually getting to the bottom of the issue.

In general, teachers (good teachers at least) call home not to get your child “in trouble” but, rather, to start a dialogue about what might be causing concerning behavior. So if, for example, the teacher is calling to tell you that your son poured water down the shirt of the girl who sits in front of him, the point of the phone call is a) to let you know why his seat has been moved to the other side of the room for a while, and b) to check in with you about how to help him not to do things like this in the future.

If, instead of listening to what the teacher has to say, you launch into a long story about how he saw someone do that on TV one time and it’s the babysitter’s fault because she lets him watch inappropriate shows, or if you begin a long tirade about all the things you are going to do to him when he gets home because you think that’s what the teacher wants to hear, you’re probably going to get a similar phone call in a day or two when he does it again. If, on the other hand, you approach the conversation as a brainstorming session between two adults who care deeply about your son’s welfare, chances are these phone calls, and the behaviors that cause them, will disappear. Eventually.

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So, as the hands of the clock tick slowly toward 8:30, and you prepare for the year ahead, take a deep breath and get ready. You can be sure the teacher’s on the other side of the door doing the same.