Something to Talk About

How to communicate better with your child’s teacher.

It is a sad reality that no parent can ignore: Your child’s classroom is too crowded. It doesn’t matter if the class has 40 children or just 14; there is only one teacher. This one teacher must use a one-size-fits-all method at least for part of the school day. How then can parents strive to ensure their child’s education develops the child’s innate talents as well as strengthens areas in which the child struggles? The answer lies in effectively communicating with the child’s teacher. This can be accomplished by following a few easy steps.

The first and most important step is to uncover where to begin. Begin with your child. Is your child motivated? Is your child doing well in all facets of school? If there’s a particular subject troubling your child, then focus on the subject in which your child falters. If this isn’t the case, then start with whatever class your child enjoys the most. Success tends to breed more success. Capitalize on your child’s successes and look for areas that would benefit from time and dedication.

Once you have determined where to begin, speak with your child’s teacher. When first communicating with the teacher, keep it simple. Perhaps ask about two things your child is doing well and one area that could use improvement. See if the teacher’s statements mesh with what you’re seeing at home and hearing from your child about school.

The most effective method of parent-teacher communication that I have come across was created by one of my student’s parents. Let’s call the student, Dave. Dave was truly a kid who could do the work but was lazy. Dave knew it, his mom knew it and so did I. Despite all of my efforts, Dave would perpetually hand in the bare minimum. Then the notebook arrived. It was a simple black and white notebook in which Dave’s mom had made columns for the subject, date, grade and comments.

Dave’s mom wanted me to grade her son’s overall work each day. Not an exhaustive evaluation, my feedback was intended to give Dave’s mom a measure of how much effort he was putting into his schoolwork on a daily basis. Dave’s mom ensured the responsibility for having the notebook filled in rested on Dave’s shoulders. She deducted 15 minutes of TV time for every teacher whom Dave forgot to hand the book to for feedback.

Such a notebook aims to solve one of the greatest hardships faced by parents and teachers— how to keep the lines of communication open. A key reason why this tactic is a good one to try, if your child’s teachers are willing, is because the method shows the child that there are consequences to the child’s daily actions in school. Once this lesson is grasped, many struggling students becomes successful ones. Be sure to hold your child responsible for the notebook, if this is the path you choose.

Either way, after establishing regular communication with your child’s teacher, move on to the next step. As the parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Tap into that knowledge and work with the teacher to refine your child’s assignments, when appropriate. I believe, as both a teacher and a parent, that there is something fundamentally healthy about admitting an assignment is boring. All too often we try and ignore this fact. If both teachers and parents acknowledge the boredom factor and do something about it, together they can instill a lifetime love of learning in a child.

Now that you and your child’s teacher are working together, you should find it fairly easy to tweak an assignment to meet either your child’s strengths or develop weak areas. The biggest mistake you can make at this stage is to merely ask the teacher to adjust the assignment without giving the teacher an idea of what you have in mind. Generally, this works best if you discuss it with your child first and then decide how you could make the assignment more interesting. Be open to creating a task that conforms to the spirit of the assignment while ignoring almost every letter of it.

This new mode of communication affects your child’s education. You might want to develop an e-mail relationship with your child’s teacher for when assignment tweaking might be useful. Discuss what method of communication your child’s teacher prefers and the concept of modifying certain assignments before making any modifications to the curriculum.

If there is one question that can twist the stomach of any child, it’s “How are you doing in school?” The reason the question causes anxiety is because until report cards are handed out, kids are never certain about their academic standing. The solution? Once a month, ask your child’s teacher to write down the grade he or she would give if the marking period were ending. Suddenly, you no longer have to ask that dreaded question. You can follow up with the teacher’s tentative grading by asking what your child can do to improve his or her academic fate. Then have a discussion with your child about areas that need attention. Also be sure to give your child praise where praise is due.

Parents are a child’s first teachers. There is no reason for parents to stop guiding their child’s education once school starts. Instead, collaborate with your child’s teachers to encourage your child to enjoy learning and thrive in school and out.