Back-to-School Night and Beyond: Connecting with Your Child’s Teachers
Weeknights in early fall turn many parents into a post-magical-cake Alice in Wonderland. After fitting your body into a child-sized chair, follow these tips to make Back-To-School Night pain-free (barring cramping from those tiny desks!) and a positive foothold into the rest of the school year.
ARRIVE — AND EXIT — ON TIME
Most schools intend Meet-the-Teacher Nights as an opportunity for parents to hear about their children’s classes and observe their teachers in action. At the middle and high school levels, abbreviated periods often replicate the entire school day. Taking place after your own work day is over, Back-To-School Nights often add six hours onto the teacher’s day, which began around 5am (and will begin again the following day at 5am). Teachers use the brief breaks in between the mini-classes to use the restroom or take a few deep breaths before the next round of parents enters. If you’re late or want feedback on your own child’s progress, please don’t linger during the mini-break between classes. Instead, ask what you missed or schedule a one-on-one meeting by email on another day. Acknowledging the teacher’s humanity – and probable exhaustion! – will go a long way toward establishing good will.
SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE AND PLACE IT OUT OF VIEW
If there’s a true emergency or you’re waiting for an important call or text, stand outside the classroom until you’ve answered it. A ringing cell phone can steal a minute or more from the brief class and can rattle a teacher. Used to speaking in front of children but not adults, many teachers grow quite nervous about “performing” for parents. Try not to make an exhausting day (see Tip #1) more difficult by being “That Guy” (or “Gal”) whose phone disrupts class.
FOLLOW UP WITH A THANK-YOU NOTE, EMAIL OR CALL
While Tips 1 and 2 establish minimum standards of decorum for Meet-the-Teacher Nights, this one suggests raising the bar to lay a strong foundation with your child’s teachers for the rest of the year. Everyone enjoys receiving praise for a job well done or for going the extra mile. The fourteen-hour-day that your child’s teachers just put in during Back-To-School Night qualifies as an extra mile – or three! Just as the teacher remembers the parent who kept her chatting about textbooks until 9:45pm, long after Meet-the-Teacher Night had ended (true story!), she will also remember the gratitude you express for her efforts that evening – and all year long.
CONTINUE FOLLOWING UP THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL YEAR.
Middle and high school teachers often see 150 students per day. With lessons to create, papers to grade, students to see, and colleagues to meet, it’s impossible for teachers to remember to send an informal “progress report” without a reminder. If you would like an update on how your child is performing in a certain class, email the teacher directly. Then wait a couple of days for her to respond. In most subjects, a once-every-other-week report will provide a clear picture about a struggling student’s progress. Subjects with numerous quizzes or tests, however, might require more frequent checks, while those with infrequent graded assignments might require fewer. The teacher should be able to suggest an appropriate interval for his class. Whatever the frequency, make it easy for the teacher to respond by emailing him each time you want an update and allowing him at least 48 hours to respond. Oh, and don’t forget Tip #3 (“thank you”) on these communications, too!
CONTACT THE TEACHER BEFORE THE PRINCIPAL OR CHAIRPERSON
The easy rapport that you establish with your child’s teachers now should help mitigate future misunderstandings. Nevertheless, in spite of positive communication in the past, conflicts between students and teachers do arise. While I encourage middle and high schoolers to talk to teachers themselves when they’re unhappy with a grade, sometimes parents need to advocate for their children. If your child has already discussed a conflict with a teacher and the two have been unable to resolve it, call or email the teacher yourself. Don’t, however, go over the teacher’s head by contacting his boss without first giving the teacher a chance to respond to you. Not only do most administrators defer to the teacher’s judgment, but your efforts might unfairly paint you as “difficult.”
Hopefully, the strong foundation you help lay in September will soften any friction in future parent-teacher interactions. In the process, you will model for your child a healthy way to communicate with adults and to resolve conflicts amicably.
Dr. P. (Dominique Padurano, Ph.D.) is an author, speaker, educator, and Founder and Head Coach of Crimson Coaching LLC. Crimson Coaching™ provides expert academic assistance in all subjects for students aged 5 to adult.
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