Updated 10/2/2017: While there is good advice in this post, it was written in 2010. You can find updated advice here: How to Deal with Your Kid’s Teacher 2017 Edition.
This is such a touchy topic for me.
Lately, as I’ve been reading the school section of my local moms’ message board, I sit at my computer clenching and unclenching my fists, pursing my lips, narrowing my eyes, and basically turning purple, trying to not respond to some of these parents’ complaints about their kids’ teachers.
Now, I know it’s different when it’s your child, and it’s certainly different when it’s my child.
But, I’ve been hearing a lot of smack talk about teachers lately and as a former teacher, I’d like to say a few things in response.
So, here goes: How best to approach your child’s teacher when you have an issue with what is going on in the classroom.
I do want to say that I realize that there are some sucky, mean, nasty teachers who should find a different profession, but I do think that these are far fewer in number than parents seem to think there are. But, here, we’re just talking about your run-of-the-mill, first-offense type of teacher. Not big, huge issues, but we’re talking the small stuff here.
Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I’m not talking about MAJOR issues: like your child says that a teacher touched him/her inappropriately whether in an abusive/sexual manner. Or if you have had repeated problems with the teacher. Or if they write “you are an idiot!” on your child’s papers. By all means, go in, guns blazing, with your posse, pull your child out of the class, etc.
This advice is meant for first time and/or minor “offenses.”
First of all, if you have an issue with the teacher, CHECK YOUR FACTS.
I had a mom come in once, screaming at me that it was totally unfair of me to assign a 5 paragraph essay to her daughter to do in one night, especially since she had a math test in another class on the same day.
Flabbergasted, I turned to her daughter, who was pretty much cowering in the corner and asked her if she could please tell her mother how long we’d been working on that assignment(for a MONTH- IN class, and the only kids who had it for homework were those who had not yet managed to complete their final drafts in class). Not wanting to get in trouble, daughter had told mom that I had assigned it yesterday.
Way to look like a crazy mom. By all means, question the assignment, but do it in a calm manner.
In fact, STAY CALM! is pretty much the most important rule here.
I know you’re upset about whatever is going on, but it’s never a good idea to come in yelling and screaming. You might end up not being allowed into that teacher’s classroom again without an escort from the principal’s office(crazy mom of one of my former students, who actually slapped a TA, she was so pissed off).
If you think that the teacher picks on your child, do not go in and accuse the teacher of this.
Go in and ask about the specific incidents that your child is talking about. What did your child do to get silent lunch or their recess taken away or whatever punishment they got. And then ask what the teacher thinks can be done so that that behavior doesn’t continue to occur. And ask to be informed whenever it happens, stating that it’s easier for you to do something about behavior if you know about it sooner, rather than only being informed after something has happened for the tenth time.
Instead of complaining about punishments that your child receives, make your own suggestions as to a solution.
Much as I HATED them, I did have to use silent lunch(blech- I usually switched this up and had it be child had to sit near me at lunch instead- they need to get talking out somehow!) and take away some recess time. WHY? Because there’s not a whole lot left that teachers can do.
There are various behavior charts/systems that can be used and positive reinforcement, but outside of that, there’s not a whole lot left.
So, instead of complaining about how much you hate silent lunch(or whatever the punishment is): can you think of a better one? And let the teacher know?
Not everything is the teacher’s fault. This one is in specific reference to a mom who has been complaining that her child’s new teacher is horrible and her child has never had problems before, blah, blah. Really? It must be the teacher and couldn’t possibly be that the child just had to move cross-country, leave all his friends, and his daddy just got deployed for a year, could it? No, those things couldn’t possibly be affecting the child and making him act up in school. Must be an awful teacher.
If you are upset about what you perceive to be a grading error, just ask. You don’t have to come in waving the paper in question in the teacher’s face. Teachers make mistakes and will feel really bad about it and fix it. This is why, whenever I would be doing grades for report cards, if a student was super close to making the next grade, I usually just gave it to them, knowing I could have messed up somewhere along the line.
At the first conference, DO NOT bring in others. If you’ve never met with the teacher before, insisting that the principal, guidance counselor, education advocate, etc., be there with you. This is going to put the teacher on the defensive and might not even prove necessary. Give the teacher a chance first.
If you were at work, and someone had a question about something you did, wouldn’t you rather that they came to you about it first, instead of bringing your boss in right away?
If you do not like the way that the conference goes, THEN bring in the principal or whoever else you feel needs to be there.
In fact, always make sure you talk to the teacher about something first.
Asking your neighbors, parents of other students, the people in your moms group, etc., will probably do nothing but fire you up(since they’ll probably side with you, even if they don’t really agree with you) and then you break the most important rule of BE CALM.
Do not “threaten” and say that you are going to have your child moved to another classroom or that you are going to homeschool.
If the teacher is anything like me, she will politely say, “You are welcome to explore your options and if that is what you choose, you can pursue that.”
When what she will be thinking is “Let so-and-so across the hall deal with your madness. And if you homeschool, good luck, since you’re obviously an idiot.” And she’ll laugh.
Those are real options for you, but really, don’t ever think it’s a threat.
I could go on and on with these. But, I’ll leave you with one last suggestion:
if you are hearing things about a teacher that you do not like about the way the classroom is run, ask if you can come in and observe. Do not say that it’s because you want to take notes on what the teacher is doing. Say that it is because you’d like to be able to see how the class runs so that you can better help your child to be able to learn in that environment. That you’ll be able to help reinforce rules and procedures if you see them in action. Yes, that teacher might then be on “best behavior” when you are there. But, if you watch the kids, you’ll be able to see whether or not the teacher is being herself or totally different.
And, if you volunteer to help in your child’s class every once in awhile, you’ll really get to know what goes on.
That’s my advice. You can thank me later.