Talking to Teachers: Seven Steps to a Productive Meeting

When your child enters school a new institution enters your family.  The school influences your family life, your child’s life, and his or her sense of well-being.  Often this is a positive influence — new experiences, new friends, pride in learning.  However, for most parents there comes a time when you need to schedule a talk with the teacher.

Think of this relationship as a collaboration.  You need each other.

Here are some tips for making that talk as productive as possible.

1.  Manage your feelings. When your child has difficulty in school or you feel that the teacher has been insensitive, it can bring out the “mother bear” in you. Listen to Mother Bear and let her know that you are going to attend to the problem. You will be more persuasive if you are calm.

2.  Consider the teacher a colleague with a  set of skills and information that you need.  You know your child and the teacher knows education and your child in school. Some parents carry their feelings from their own unhappy school experience, and they are intimidated by classroom teachers. To them I say, you are the expert about your child and what happens at home.  The teacher needs you.  Other parents are condescending to teachers.  You might have more education and you might be ten years older, but this teacher has training that is specific to education.  In addition, the teacher sees your child during the school day — she or he has important information for you.

3.  Be clear about what you want to address.  Perhaps you want to tell the teacher that the spelling homework is taking an hour a night.  Or perhaps you have a question about the requirement for independent reading which is causing havoc in your household.  Perhaps you want to inform the teacher that you child is being bullied, and you are concerned from your child’s report that the teacher is insensitive to this.  Put out your concerns without blaming or accusing.

4.  Ask for input and listen.  You may learn things about the homework, the classroom, the teacher, and your child that you did not know before.  This is useful to you.

5.  Offer a solution.  Be open to the teacher’s solutions as well.  Perhaps your child could have fewer spelling words.  Perhaps you need some guidance in choosing independent reading material for your child.  Agree to give the solution a try.

6.  Arrange be in touch to share information about how the solution is going.  Regular contact by e-mail can reduce the need for future face-to-face meetings.

7.  Thank the teacher for his or her time.  Everyone likes to be appreciated.

Working in this way sets the groundwork for a respectful working relationship.  This is the most likely way to be helpful to your child.

 

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Photo credit:  U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Comments

11 Responses to “Talking to Teachers: Seven Steps to a Productive Meeting”
  1. Carolyn,

    Again, you remind us that one of our first responsibilities in parenting is to be aware of and to manage our own emotions so that we can act in healthy and productive ways. I have many years of school parenting ahead of me, and I found the tone of this post to be helpful and calming. I may have to bookmark it for future use!

    Warmly,
    Ann

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    These are such clear suggestions! I know containing the Mama Bear isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely an important first step. I’ll be passing this on to my friends who are parents.

  3. JoAnn Jordan says:

    These are all important tips. Often the challenge comes in the parent being an advocate for their child and managing their emotions. Asking questions and asking for alternatives is sometimes important. As a parent that has been key to accessing information and assistance we have needed.

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Ann,
    I certainly hope that it is useful. I could have used this advice 15 years ago. I’m very happy to be able to pass it on now.
    Carolyn

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Thanks for your comment. And thanks for passing this post on to anyone who can use it. It’s so important to acknowledge hurt and anger in order to be calm when advocating for oneself or a child.
    Regards,
    Carolyn

  6. dr.cstone says:

    Hi JoAnn,
    I agree that it is challenging to advocate and manage feelings. I didn’t go on to talk about the challenging meetings about Independent Educational Plans where there are half a dozen school and the parent or parents. Those are really tough. Even in the best school systems, children need their parents to advocate for them. Parents have a part of the picture that teachers don’t, and they obviously have the greatest investment.
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Carolyn

  7. Thank you for this good reminder and very helpful suggestions. In my experience as both a parent and a clinician, communication is often where things fall apart on both sides.

  8. HI Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. It’s true–it can be hard to communicate clearly about these things, especially when feelings run high. And I agree, my experience comes from being a parent and a clinician. It’s humbling and informative for us to be in the parent seat!
    Carolyn

  9. Hi Carolyn – good post! I remember being a new parent of a school age child and how challenging it was to manage my emotions..but yet how useful it was to take a collaborative approach. This approach has served me em well over the years. Remember your reputation precedes you at your child’s school.

  10. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Barb,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that this is an interaction that makes teachers anxious as well as parents. This is like an outline for the discussion.
    Carolyn

  11. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Kathy,
    It’s so true that one’s reputation as a parent precedes one. Teacher support each other (as they should–it’s a tough job), and they definitely share their experiences–the good and the bad.
    Regards,
    Carolyn