The parent–teacher relationship can be complicated. Reputations, personalities, expectations, past experiences—so many factors contribute to the success or failure of a parent–teacher relationship.
There are many ways to improve a parent–teacher relationship, starting with the desire to have one. Your child’s teachers have committed their lives to teaching and instructing students. There is a reason they do what they do, and parents should be grateful for their students’ teachers and their dedication to the betterment of the upcoming generation.
Knowing you and your child’s teacher both have in common wanting what is best for your student is reason enough to attempt a positive relationship. Working as a team toward this common goal, with both of you providing insight and perspectives, is the best approach to helping your child achieve academic success.
Read below for advice from several teachers we interviewed on how to improve the parent-teacher relationship:
Support from Home
Buy school supplies. Be sure your child is equipped with all supplies needed for school. The school supply lists at the beginning of the year are helpful but don’t forget about what the students will need at home for studying and homework, such as calculators, pencils, notebooks, graph paper, etc.
Sign forms sent home. Throughout the school year, many forms or notes from teachers will be sent home with students. Paying attention to these, and signing and returning them in a timely fashion, will ensure clear communication and will prevent the teacher from having to follow-up with you or your student.
Help with homework. Reinforcing at home the objectives and lessons taught at school will help your child in classroom performance, retention, and understanding. Making sure your child completes homework each night, asking what they learned at school that day, and answering any questions your child may have will certainly assist both the teacher and your student.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is an area that is a challenge for many students, especially as they get older. Sports, jobs, social activities, friends, and increased homework assignments all contribute to schedules that often minimize sleep. Students may need help in shifting these priorities to ensure they can handle all their responsibilities, while still regularly maintaining proper sleep routines. Additionally, don’t underestimate the importance of exercise and healthy eating to your child’s success at school.
Avoid Being the Problem
Realize your child CAN do wrong. Parents often convince themselves that their perfect little angels can do no wrong. They believe that other students are always the problem, and their child is always the victim. To be effective parents, though, reality must set in. Every child makes mistakes and bad decisions from time-to-time, and there may be those occasions when a teacher will need to address your child’s behavior. During this situation, be open-minded and receptive to what the teacher is telling you, keeping in context your instincts and personal knowledge of your child’s character.
Teachers may not always be privy to the full story, and it may be that fault lies with others, but do not instantly dismiss any behavioral concerns brought to your attention by your child’s teacher. Classroom and social behaviors are not always consistent with behaviors at home.
Reel in your unrealistic expectations. You are your child’s advocate, and what is best for your student should always be your priority. However, have a realistic expectation of the level of daily individualized attention your child will receive in school. Classroom sizes obviously vary by school, but the teacher’s attention is divided by a room full of kids, all with their own questions and needs. Don’t expect your child to be the center of attention.
Don’t stick your head in the sand. If a teacher comes to you with a concern, either behaviorally or developmentally, don’t resort to being in denial about the issue. Teachers are professionals and experts in what they do, so if they determine your student has a specific need, you should definitely listen to and consider their advice. If a problem continues to be ignored, it could develop over time into an even greater social or academic disadvantage to your student—one that could have been caught and addressed early on.
Respond and communicate. If you are aware of a personal situation at home that could be impacting your child at school, communicating this with the school can help give the teacher some perspective and context for certain changes in behavior or performance. Sometimes a child may be too shy or scared to speak up, so a parent’s voice is often needed in order to communicate necessary information to the teacher. Likewise, if a teacher comes to you with questions, realize this is important and do not ignore these attempts at communication.
Engage and encourage. Especially for online schooling families, parents should play an active part in their children’s education. Acting as Learning Coaches, parents of online students should be assisting their children in daily assignments, guiding their schedules, and helping with directions and materials. Teachers are there to answer questions, provide resources and support, and to instruct and teach the lessons. However, there is much encouragement and involvement that must come from the parents as well.
In brick-and-mortar schools, parents still should attempt to be engaged as much as is possible. They may not be able to camp out in the classroom every day; but when the opportunities arise to volunteer or chaperone, parents can provide tremendous support by contributing their time and talents to assist the teacher and benefit the students. There are always things that can be done to engage with your child’s teacher and class, so don’t wait to be asked—reach out and offer a hand.
Respect Roles and Responsibilities
Attend conferences. Teachers put a lot of time and effort into planning for parent–teacher conferences. Don’t dismiss these as unimportant and do realize that the teacher’s time is valuable. These conferences are an excellent window into how your child is progressing and performing at school. Grades tell a story, but these conferences provide a much deeper level of understanding of what those grades really represent for your student.
Also, if you are divorced or separated, keep in mind the dynamic of your relationship with the other parent when attending conferences. Teachers do not want to be put in the middle of finger-pointing or family drama, so if you and your ex-spouse are not able to have a courteous discussion, plan to meet separately for these parent–teacher conferences. Otherwise, it is beneficial for both parents to be a part of these conversations.
Speak respectfully. This applies not just when speaking directly with the teacher, but also when speaking about the teacher. Your attitude toward your child’s teacher is contagious and will directly impact the respect your student demonstrates in the classroom. If you have anything negative to say, refrain from saying it in front of your student.
Empower your student. It is important for students to constantly be growing in their responsibilities. With each new grade level, your children should be expected to be more responsible for things like remembering their lunch, coming to school with their supplies, or writing down their homework. Empowering your students to accept responsibility for themselves will prevent your teacher from having to hand-hold them throughout the day, freeing up this time for more beneficial undertakings.
When it comes to a parent–teacher relationship, don’t be shy or hesitant to reach out and engage. Teachers would prefer an overly involved parent to one who never communicates, so don’t worry about annoying them with your questions or offering your help.
*Information and teachers’ perspectives obtained through interviews with both online and brick-and-mortar educators.