By Janeen Lewis

Do you feel intimidated when you think of talking with your child’s teacher? What if your child complains about problems with his or her teacher? What do you do then? I’m a parent and a teacher, so I’ve been on both sides of the teacher’s desk. Here are some tips to help you communicate and connect with your child’s teacher so that all involved can have an amazing school year.

Meet and greet the teacher. Teachers like to meet parents at the beginning of the school year so that, if a problem does occur, a teacher’s first encounter with a parent isn’t a call about misbehavior or academic struggles. If your school hosts a Back-to-School Night in the days before school starts, make it a priority to attend. Introduce yourself and show your support for the teacher. There will probably be several parents waiting to meet the teacher, so you may not be able to have a lengthy discussion, but making this initial contact helps break the ice.

Be involved. One of the best ways to get to know your child’s teacher is to be involved in the school and classroom. When school starts, let the teacher know if you can volunteer. Because the beginning of school is a busy time for teachers, wait the first couple of weeks until the class is settled in, and then contact the teacher and ask, “How can I help?” If you can’t volunteer during the day, offer to organize donations or supplies for projects or parties by setting up a parent sign-up list online. Ask if you can cut out items the teacher has laminated or track down supplies for a lesson. Come to after-school events, school productions and parent-teacher conferences so that you are visible and can touch bases with your child’s teacher. If your career is related to something your child’s class is studying, offer to come in and answer questions. Many employers build in time for employees to volunteer in schools so they don’t have to take time off from work.

Keep communications open and positive. Teachers welcome questions and concerns and are proactive. As a teacher, I would much rather know about a problem early so that I can deal with it in the best way for all concerned. Your child’s teacher should be open to your questions and suggestions, so don’t be too intimidated to ask. Keep up with written teacher notes, field trip permission slips, report cards and any other written communications the teacher sends home. Sending a quick response to the teacher’s requests makes the teacher’s job easier. Remember to keep communications positive. If you have concerns or think the teacher has dealt unfairly with your child, don’t dash off a negative note and send it first thing in the morning. For sensitive conversations, call and set up a time to meet after school. Of course, encouraging notes brighten a teacher’s day!

Try to understand both sides. Teachers have a lot to manage in their classrooms, and with 25 or more students to supervise, sometimes they make mistakes or don’t see every problem. Your child may think something happened in class that wasn’t fair, and it’s easy as parents to react emotionally and blame the teacher. But support the teacher as much as possible while you gather information about what happened. Try to help your child see the teacher’s point of view, and talk about how people can have differences and still work together to succeed.

Advocate for your child. Don’t be afraid to speak up if a problem in your child’s class becomes pervasive. If your child’s grades start to slip, he or she is continually unhappy or you suspect a classmate is bullying your child, work with the teacher to devise a plan to help.

Make a change as a last resort. Sometimes children have personality conflicts with their teachers. This actually offers an opportunity for growth if teachers and students can work together in a respectful and productive manner. After all, this is what children will need to be able to do when they grow up. But if problems persist, it may be time to request a change to another class. Discussing your options with a school counselor or administrator may help you navigate a tough year.

Understand that teachers are human. Most of the teachers I know are caring individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of the children they teach. Often, they are parents too, and although it is hard to imagine, at one time they were students who lived through awkward growth spurts, problems with peers, lost homework and braces. They understand what parents and kids are going through, and they strive to build a positive connection between school and home.

Janeen Lewis is a teacher, writer and mom to Andrew and Gracie. She has been published in several parenting publications across the country, and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales.

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