Imagine what it would be like if you were working for a different boss every year. No sooner had you gotten used to their way of doing things, understood the subtleties of their behaviour and expectations, and then – bam! – you have to get used to someone new. So it is for your child and his or her teacher – and you. No wonder the beginning of a school year can create so much anxiety. Keep in mind, however, that your child’s teacher feels just the same. He or she is in charge of a whole new group of students and a teacher’s responsibility is to get used to each of their unique needs, abilities and personalities.
By October, your child should be settled into his or her new class. You may have attended, or are soon to attend, a curriculum night or parent night at the school. It’s a perfect time to establish a productive parent-teacher relationship. The way in which you respond to the teacher’s requests, the manner in which you talk about the teacher with your child and the way in which you communicate with him or her sets an important tone for your child to follow.
Even if you’re not particularly thrilled with the teacher who has been assigned to your child – maybe because you’ve heard less than complimentary things from other parents – try to have an open mind and form your own opinion. A teacher who may not have been a good match for another child may be a perfect match for yours. Learning how to adapt to the expectations of the new “boss” is a great learning opportunity for children who will encounter many different people as they go through life. If your child reports something about his teacher that seems unfair, validate his feelings but let him know that you’d like to speak to his teacher, too. Then, arrange a one-on-one meeting with the teacher to share your concerns and to hear his or her version of what has been going on.
If you need to talk to your child’s teacher, call ahead to set up a convenient time to meet or talk on the phone instead of just showing up before or after class. Identify your child’s teacher’s preferred style of daily communication. Nowadays, many post homework assignments online and give out their email addresses. Some prefer a communication book, especially if there is an ongoing concern. However, be wary of including only negative feedback in the book, especially if your child is old enough to read the comments. Also, when a teacher has noted that your child is having problems, asking her to send an evaluation home every day only adds to the problems.
If both teacher and parent show appreciation for the time and effort each puts into helping to raise self reliant, confident and intelligent children, then your partnership will be valued and respected in a way that allows your child to put his best foot forward.
A preschool teacher is the next best thing to a parent. Preschoolers create strong attachments to both and without that attachment, very young children may not feel safe or able to separate from their parents. Your preschooler’s brain is like a sponge, eager to be filled with lots of facts and figures. If parents and teachers communicate regularly and help each other along, a preschooler will be the primary beneficiary.
A child’s relationship with his or her teacher will be a key factor in how motivated he or she is to learn and impress. By this age, a child’s personality shines through. Although children are typically not able to choose their teachers, students benefit from a variety of teaching styles. Don’t be afraid to share strategies with your child’s teacher that bring out the best in your child.
I strongly advise parents of high school students to attend parent-teacher interview nights, even if it’s only to hear praise for their children. Even though many teens say that they’d prefer that their parents be less involved in their lives, my experience is that they appreciate the interest their parents show when attending parent teacher interviews – and teachers do, too. It’s also good to put a face to the names of the teachers you have been hearing about all year.
Sara Dimerman is a psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2015.