Here’s a difficult lesson parents learn during the elementary school years: Not every teacher is a perfect match for every kid or parent. In fact, a mom of a second grade student called me for help last year, after months of what she perceived to be negative interactions with her daughter’s teacher. In her words, she felt that the teacher “brushed off” her concerns. She described her daughter as “quiet” and “studious”, but she felt that her daughter didn’t get the help she needed to progress in reading. E-mail was the teacher’s preferred method of communication, but this mother felt that the responses were brusque.
As it turned out, this mother had developed a very close friendship with her daughter’s first grade teacher, and the highly professional (less warm and fuzzy) nature of the second grade teacher left her feeling dismissed. She worried about how this played out in the classroom. In the end, I helped this mother work through her feelings about the parent-teacher relationship. The truth was that her daughter was doing fine academically and socially. Sure, she lagged slightly in reading, but she was, indeed, getting the input she needed.
Bottom line: You can’t judge a teacher by the way she interacts with the parents.
It’s natural for parents to want frequent updates about their kids. They do leave them in the capable hands of the classroom teacher for most of the day, after all. But parents can’t forget about the big picture. Many teachers have 20 or more students in their classrooms. That’s a lot personalities, learning styles, and academics to manage!
Since research shows that parental involvement in education improves academic outcomes for students, it is important to build a relationship with your child’s teacher (even if your personalities are polar opposites). By forging this connection you’ll help your child thrive in school. So what do you do if you really don’t like your child’s teacher? You find a way to make it work. Here’s how…
1. Communicate the right way. All teachers are different and some prefer to communicate by phone while others rely on e-mail. Respect the teacher’s preferences and don’t expect an immediate answer. Try to keep in mind that your child’s teacher fields a lot of questions and concerns each day, and that doesn’t include making lesson plans! Keep your communication short and to the point and be prepared for the same style of response from the teacher. If your child is struggling academically, socially, or behaviorally, request a conference.
2. Be helpful. You can develop a relationship with your child’s teacher simply by pitching in. If your work or family schedule keeps you from being a volunteer in the classroom, ask the teacher what you can do at home. When my son was still in preschool, I spent many hours helping my daughter’s teacher prepare for lessons by taking projects home. Sometimes a little bit of help can bridge the gap between home and school and plant the seeds of a working relationship.
3. Keep your frustration in check. Sometimes kids come home with stories that upset us and it can be hard to keep our anger in check. Blowing up, either at school or at home, will only make the problem worse. Venting your negative emotions about the teacher (or the school) in front of the child won’t help anyone, and it might trigger your child to fear (or resist) going to school. Keep your cool in front of your child and try to help him work through upsetting issues instead of playing the blame game.
4. Seek help. Occasionally parents and teachers do clash. It happens. The truth is that it’s difficult to form strong parent-teacher bonds in a limited window of time. Teachers don’t have enough minutes in the day to greet 20-something parents each morning and ask about their lives, and many parents don’t have the time in their work schedules to attend every event or volunteer on a regular basis. That makes it difficult to find the sweet spot. If you’ve tried many times to communicate with the teacher, scheduled a conference, and you still see that your child is struggling (remember, this about your child, not you), seek help. Ask to speak to someone else at the school to find a way to help your child thrive in school.
I can’t stress this enough: Sometimes parents and teachers don’t get along, but the student is doing just fine. It is not the teacher’s job to be your new best friend; it is the teacher’s job to teach your child. If your child is struggling and not getting the help he needs, seek outside help. Otherwise, keep your cool and find a way to build a working relationship for the remainder of the year.