Teachers are very powerful people in the life of your child. Primary school teachers are influential for a full year of your child’s life and have an important role in your child’s happiness. Yet many parents miss the opportunity to ally with the teacher to ensure that there is consistency between the approach you are taking at home and the way your child’s behaviour is managed at school. When there are problems at school, or the child announces that they hate the teacher some parents become hostile towards the teacher. This benefits no-one, particularly not the child. They see poor cooperation skills modelled, it affects the relationship you child has with their teacher, and it makes your child feel like a ‘victim’ rather than an individual who can solve problems. Not to mention the fact that the teacher will no longer be willing to approach you if there are problems at school.
So what are the benefits of a good parent-teacher relationship?
- You will have a positive influence on your child’s year
- Your child will feel more confident about handling problems at school
- Your child will have a more positive view of their teacher and the recognise difficulties of maintaining discipline in a whole class of children
- You will be passing on life skills of cooperating with a person in authority and respecting their rights and differences
- Your child will be happier at school and achieve more academic success
- Your child will benefit from the home environment supporting what they are learning at school and will feel more motivated to behave at school
So what can you do to foster good relationships with your child’s teacher?
Before the start of the school year
- Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher before the start of the school year
- Ask the teacher what is going to be covered during the year, and how you can help at home
- Mention a few of your child’s good points – don’t go on about the difficulties your child has. This next year will be a new start, so the teacher’s expectations are important
- Volunteer to help with hearing children in the class read or helping with school trips. But make sure that you really do have time to help -consistency and reliability are important with parent-helpers
During the school year
- Send your child’s teacher positive e-mails or notes. Everyone needs to get positive feedback on things they are doing right if they are to feel motivated. Comment on anything you notice they are doing well. Please don’t let your first communication with the teacher be negative!
- Establish a good relationship with the teacher. Whenever you can hold brief informal conversations with them before or after school.
- Be sure to attend formal teacher-parent meetings such as parent’s evenings to discuss your child’s progress
If there is a problem
It may be best to ignore minor problems. The school will have policies on handling certain situations and children are not always as innocent as they protest. Occasionally children will get an unfair punishment –and you can still choose not to get involved. Sometimes you can help your child learn from the situation without meeting with the teacher. Think carefully about what benefit will be achieved by arranging a meeting. Have a clear idea of the positive outcome you want for your child. (And reprimanding a teacher is not a positive outcome!)
Where you feel you need to get involved
If you do need to go and see the teacher, make sure that it is after doing a problem-solving exercise with your child and your child agrees unless you feel fairly certain your child is in danger, or there is a compelling reason you need to get involved.
- Tackle problems as they arise – don’t store up a big list of grievances
- When talking about the problem be brief and concise.
- Don’t attach any blame. If it helps write what you want to say down beforehand. Sentences starting ‘My child felt angry when….’, ‘It seems that… ‘, or just make a non-judgemental statement of the problem. Try not to start sentences with ‘You’ – as they may be seen to be blaming the teacher
- Listen to the teacher and ask them for their suggestions or feedback
- Respect the teacher’s point of view
- Remain polite and positive
- Focus on sorting out the problem
- Make helpful recommendations
- Try to leave with a plan of how you and the teacher will be dealing with the situation
- Arrange a follow up with the teacher – where you should focus on the positive outcomes before mentioning any challenging areas that still remain
Don’t forget to work with your child on problems they are experiencing at school. Refuse to see your child as a victim. Instead, empower them by recognising any emotions they are feeling and by problem-solving together to work out possible solutions to their challenges. Your role as a parent is not to fight their battles, but to empower them to deal effectively with issues they will inevitably encounter on their journey through school. Be their coach, their supporter and their guide. Don’t dis-empower them by letting them know that you think they are incapable of sorting out their own difficulties –instead, give them the tools they will need for a lifetime of dealing with situations they are not happy with.
As a small aside, my 8-year-old daughter was distraught when she found out who her teacher was to be the following year. She cried all the way home and expressed worry throughout the summer holidays. The teacher had a reputation for being sharp and mean. I acknowledged and empathised with her fears but chose not to intervene and instead told my daughter that I had confidence in her ability to cope. This teacher became my daughter’s favourite teacher of all time.