Curb school anxieties by talking to the teacher

By Sara Curtis on August 17, 2011
As a new school year begins, parents are often as nervous as their kids when it comes to getting to know the new teacher. What’s your best approach?

First, remember that you and the teacher have the same goal: a successful and enriching school experience for your child. If you view this relationship as a partnership, it sets a positive tone right from the start.

In September, write a friendly note to the teacher, introducing yourself and your child. “Start by saying how happy you are that your child is in their class and tell the teacher a bit about him or her,” suggests Dr. Linda Cameron, an associate professor at The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Include any information you think the teacher might find helpful: any fears or anxieties, special talents or interests your child has, as well as any health, dietary or religious restrictions. Include your contact information as well, and ask how the teacher would prefer to be contacted. “I’ve found that writing a friendly and upbeat letter makes parents feel better – it actually has a positive psychological effect.”

Once you’ve opened the lines of communication and set the tone, make sure to keep your conversations constructive and respectful. If you would like to talk to the teacher, set up a time to meet, instead of just dropping by the classroom at lunchtime or after school. Teachers are busy and may not have the time for a focused discussion if you arrive unexpectedly.

Come to the meeting prepared with questions and concerns, and make sure to pose them in a direct, but positive way. The language you use is important; saying “You need to be more on top of Olivia’s reading,” sounds argumentative. Instead, try “What can we do to encourage Olivia to want to read more?” Making the teacher feel like a valued partner will keep communication flowing smoothly.

And get as involved as you possibly can at your child’s school. “There is strong evidence that when parents are involved in the school in any way, the child benefits,” says Dr. Cameron. “Volunteer in the class, go to parents’ nights, attend school plays and barbecues – get connected in any way you can.” The more visible you are, the more frequent and easy your conversations with the teacher will be.

Dealing with a problem

Talking with the teacher may be easy when everything is going well – but what about when there’s a problem? “If you’re not happy about something, whether it’s a bullying situation or the way the teacher is speaking to your child, it can be really tricky,” says Dr. Cameron.

“Ideally, you want to nip it in the bud.” Make sure you don’t come across as blaming or threatening. “Say something like, ‘These are the facts as I see them, and I’m wondering what you think about it.’ Get the teacher’s help in solving the problem. A positive, nonaccusatory approach works far more effectively than one that’s defensive or angry.”

Go to the teacher first (don’t automatically go over his or her head to the principal). If you are not satisfied with the response, follow up with the principal and then the trustee, but let the teacher know you will be contacting them. And be sure to document the problem (if your child has been bullied, for example, document the incident in as much detail as you can) and meetings with the teacher, so you have specifics if you ever need to refer to them in the future.

By Sara Curtis| August 17, 2011

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