Sooner or later, it’s going to happen—a conflict with your child’s teacher. Maybe it was something she said to your kid, a grade on a project, or a comment in a progress report. How you handle it could impact your child’s experience in that classroom and beyond, so proceed carefully. Below are some approaches to less-stressful school communications.
Before there are problems
If you didn’t start the school year by getting your child’s teacher’s contact information, do it now. Make sure you have email and phone numbers and that the teacher has ways to reach you too. Creating a climate that makes you both comfortable talking about your child and classroom specifics is important to keep small issues from getting bigger and helps bigger issues resolved right away.
Document the issue
It might seem inconsequential at the time, but if your child is upset and/or you’re bothered, take a second to write down the issue at the moment you learn of it. Everything will be fresher in your mind, which will count when you speak with your child’s teacher about it.
Plan your approach
If your schedule allows you to pick your child up from school, a post-school mini conference is usually effective. You might want to send the teacher an email (if he checks during the day) in the morning or early afternoon to give a heads up that you’ve something to discuss. Or, if you don’t want to broach the subject until you’re face to face, talk to him when you pick your child up, maybe arranging for an after-school play date so that your kid doesn’t have to be there for the meeting.
Attitude is key
Don’t come loaded for bear. The fact is that our pride and joys sometimes get things wrong when talking about what happened during their day. And another fact is that teachers are regular (and often overwhelmed) human beings that are prone to all the same foibles as the general population. Some are easy to talk to and some don’t communicate so well. Make sure that when you begin your line of questioning you are polite, respectful and ready to listen. You may discover that it was all a big misunderstanding. Or, you could learn that the issue at hand was worse than you thought…
When communication breaks down/Repeat offenses
By the time your child makes it through 12 grades, two years of preschool and a daycare or two, you will probably have become a pro at institutional crisis resolution. And somewhere along the way, you’re going to run into an instructor who raises your hackles and keeps messing with your kid! Maybe that person needs a career change. Maybe they’re having a life crisis. But chances are that you aren’t the first one to have a run-in. This is where checking in with other parents can really help. If you discover a track record for your child’s teacher, you can be more certain that whatever the issue, it probably has more to do with teaching style than a personal issue with you or your kid.
If you have tried communicating with the teacher and it didn’t go well, or you discover that the same problem persists, don’t delay—get some mediation. In most schools, a counselor can be a great person to help resolve the situation. Meet with the one at your school and have him arrange a meeting with the teacher as well. With a third party there, tempers will likely be kept in check and, most importantly, the school is now involved in the issue, which will need to be resolved in some way.
Depending on the problem or the structure of your child’s school, you might want to go directly to the principal. Check in with the most helpful person in the front office and find out the best way to get the school involved. Most importantly, don’t let the problem fester!
It’s never pleasant to have to talk to your child’s teacher. Depending on the situation, you will probably be angry and/or worried. Just make sure that you proceed thoughtfully and allow for both sides of the story to be told before deciding what to do next.