A few years ago, my son, Brooks, arrived home from elementary school dejected and tossed his backpack on the floor in frustration. "My teacher hates me!" Brooks declared. "She put me in the worst reading group in the class!" Having just interviewed 350 teachers for a book I was writing, I managed to stifle my impulse to charge into the classroom the next morning and confront Brooks's teacher. Instead, with a cooler head, I sat down with her two days later in a quiet period after school and heard her reasoning: She liked his friendliness and leadership and hoped he could draw out some of the reluctant readers in his group. Oh.
Establishing a good relationship with your child's teacher early in the school year is vital to your child's academic success. It opens the lines of communication and allows you to build a solid relationship that can provide insights into your child's learning style and interpersonal dynamics. Here's how to get started:
Find face time. In the first weeks of school, ask for a brief meeting alone with the teacher and let her know about your child's learning style, personality, and interests. Is he sensitive? Shy? Quiet at school but outgoing at home? A big talker? Does he have any learning issues the teacher should be aware of? Sharing this sort of information can help the teacher understand your child better.
Attend events. If the school has an open house or back-to-school night, go and listen to what the teacher has to say. You'll hear her philosophy and get a good idea of what's happening in your child's classroom just by looking around at the displays. Remember, teachers take pride in their classrooms.
Build trust. Try to build a rapport and mutual trust. When the teacher knows you respect her skills, she will be more likely to keep you informed because she can be honest without worrying about your reaction.
Hit send. Find out how your child's teacher likes to communicate with parents. Is it by phone or email? Then exchange contact information.
Meet the team. Touch base with your child's teaching specialists — from music and art instructors to phys ed teachers. Specialists often see a different attitude in your child than he exhibits in the regular classroom. These teachers get fewer phone calls and may have special insight because of the unique settings in which they see students.
Volunteer. Ask, "What can I do that would be of help to you?" Let the teacher know how much time you have available. She'll appreciate your effort to reach out.
Nearly all kids go through a period when they dislike their teacher. Your child may think he was treated unfairly or the teacher embarrassed him. Or he may feel he received an undeserved low grade. At times like these, it's only natural for you to become concerned. But before you rush into the school, make sure you have a clear understanding of the story from your child's viewpoint. Ask him for specific, concrete examples.
When you're ready, set up a meeting time with the teacher. Teachers appreciate advance notice to reflect on what you want to discuss so they can be prepared to speak in detail with the benefit of thoughtful consideration - and in a distraction-free environment.
At the meeting, tell the teacher the concerns your child expresses and ask for her insights. You are very likely to find that your child's version of events does not match the teacher's. Try not to be confrontational, listen to her perspective, and resist the temptation to complain to other parents, the PTA, other teachers, or the principal. Teachers want the chance to try to work things out first.
It's key to think of yourself as being on the same team with your child's teacher. You both want what's best for your child: good grades, success, and growth.