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Approaching Your Child’s Teacher

By Kristin E. Bieber, Ph.D.

Teacher helping students

You can help your child get the most out of the school year by developing a relationship with his or her teacher. Communicating with your child's teacher is necessary to understand your child's strengths and needs, to learn how well he or she gets along with peers, and to help problem-solve academic, social, or behavioral issues. Here are some tips for approaching your child's teacher to address four common concerns:

  • I am concerned that my child is falling behind academically. Declining grades, homework difficulties, and continued academic concerns, despite intervention, all warrant a conversation with your child's teacher. Explain the purpose for your visit before stating your concern (e.g., "I wanted to meet so we can help Sam reach his full potential"). If possible, state your purpose for meeting by using inclusive language ("we", "us"). Avoid words that imply a problem with current strategies (even if you believe there is one). Stating, "We need to come up with a more effective plan" may not get the same response as "I want to work together to help my son do his best. How can we make some changes to the plan?" Include specific information or describe a pattern you have noticed ("Sam has been in his small reading group for two months. I am concerned because he is still reading at a second grade level"). By emphasizing data or facts, you can stay focused on solving the problem and minimize the potential for defensiveness or blaming.
  • My child is frequently teased at school. Seeing your child upset because of what peers have done or said is difficult. It may be tempting to ask your child's teacher what was done to punish the peers or other details about the peers. Instead, devise a plan with your child to handle teasing. Encourage them to ignore it and teach them to identify when they should tell a teacher. Share this plan with your child's teacher and ask if they can praise or acknowledge your child's efforts to follow through with this plan.  This strategy could also be used to address other classroom concerns.
  • I am concerned that my child has a difficult time getting along with his or her teacher. Personality clashes between children and teachers are common. They can provide opportunities to teach your child how to get along with people whom he or she does not like. If there are specific practices or procedures that you believe are hurtful or are creating difficulties in the classroom, engage your child's teacher in a problem-solving conversation. Ask if your child's teacher has noticed these difficulties, and then share some of your own difficulties talking with your child about a certain topic or managing a specific behavior. Acknowledge your child's teacher's unique perspective and share what you've found helpful at home.
  • I am concerned that the teacher is not doing enough to address my child's needs. This can be an especially difficult conversation. Review previously agreed-upon strategies to support your child and start a conversation about barriers to implementing them. Acknowledge that implementing new strategies takes time. Ask what you can do to support school efforts at home or in the classroom. If these conversations are met with resistance and your child continues to have academic or behavioral difficulties, it may be time to enlist the help of the school psychologist or an outside professional. 
  • Other tips for approaching your child's teacher:
    • Attend open house nights and other school events. Your attendance at these events sends the message that you are invested in supporting the school. Showing an interest in the school early on provides you and your child's teacher with opportunities to have conversations that are not just focused on solving a problem or addressing a concern, which is important for relationship-building. It also keeps you informed about school expectations and procedures.
    • Determine how your child's teacher prefers to be contacted. Ask if email, telephone, or in-person visits are best.
    • Find out if you are able to observe or help in the classroom. Your willingness to be in the classroom lets the teacher know that you view your child's success as a joint effort.
    • No news is not necessarily good news.  If you have concerns about your child's performance at school, reach out to the teacher; do not wait to be contacted first.

Remember that both you and your child's teacher want your child to be successful in the classroom. Acknowledge efforts that the teacher has made and thank him or her for instituting helpful strategies. Even if you do not agree about everything, keeping your shared goal in mind will help you navigate tricky situations.