You get your child’s teacher assignment for the coming year and cringe. Perhaps it’s the teacher with the worst reputation for being mean. Or maybe you meet him or her at open house and find the reception to be a degree above sub-arctic. Yep. It sounds like you could be in for a rough year if you and your child’s teacher don’t get along. But take heart: it may not be a lost cause.
Plenty of teachers say it’s OK if parents aren’t ready to call their child’s teacher a BFF. In fact, parents don’t need to be friends with their children’s teachers at all, says Amanda Morin, a former teacher/early intervention specialist-turned-special education advocate and author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. In fact, having a friendship with your child’s teacher could make it tough to advocate for your child in a situation that is somewhat adversarial.
Clashing with your child’s teacher shouldn’t influence your child, either.
“Parents don’t have to be warm and fuzzy about their child’s teacher for a child to have a positive learning experience in the classroom,” says Morin. “Liking a teacher isn’t nearly as important as having respect for the teacher’s approach to learning and the relationship the teacher develops with your child.”
If your child is learning and thriving and feels positive about the classroom environment, that should outweigh any need to like a teacher on a personal level.
“Of course, if your lack of warm and fuzzy feelings about a teacher are based on a valid concern about the teacher’s interactions with students, that matters,” adds Morin. Quality teaching isn’t a substitute for treating students respectfully or in a way that acknowledges their individual strengths and weaknesses.
There may be instances where you have to interact with a teacher you don’t gel with. And if they’re positive exchanges (you’re attending the spring musical or art fair), chances are you’ll only share a few brief words that will likely be positive about your child. However, parent/teacher conferences, academic performance reviews or issues related to your child’s education that concern you may warrant additional interactions with a teacher you’re not particularly fond of. The best way to negotiate any relationship with school personnel is to keep your child out of the mix. That’s because children often feel like they need to take sides when parents and teachers don’t get along. “Kids aren’t good at being neutral parties,” explains Morin.
As a result, a child may stop speaking up in class because he’s afraid that the teacher might take it out on him. Or a child who worries his parents don’t like the teacher may stop sharing details of his school day (even just about what he’s learning) because he’s afraid of how a parent will react to his stories.
Keep your feelings about the teacher from negatively impacting your child by not talking about the teacher in front of him. This includes not criticizing the teacher’s way of doing things when you’re helping with homework, even if you disagree with the theories being taught.
If you have to vent to or solicit advice from a co-parent, friend or the teacher, wait until your child can’t hear you. “That goes for phone conversations with friends or relatives, too,” says Morin.
Keep perspective by viewing your relationship with the teacher as a business relationship that has mutual interests: your child and his ability to succeed in the classroom. That means engaging in clear, concise communication when you have a concern about your child’s performance, achievements, social interactions, etc.
To do this, begin by sitting down face-to-face with the teacher. “If you’re able to sit down with the teacher to have a conversation, try to keep your personal feelings out of it and have a productive discussion about what’s going on with your child,” Morin explains.
However, if you don’t think you can keep your feelings out of it, take advantage of technology as a way to communicate. Email the teacher, leave a phone message with very specific information or questions or even just send in a note.
Whether you communicate by phone, email or a note, be respectful, urges Nellie Jacobs, best-selling author of Grading the Teacher. “In any meeting, be prepared, articulate, and keep to the point.”
Keeping a level head and open mind to the teacher’s point of view and perspective will also help achieve a resolution. “Take time to listen and ask questions until you understand. And let the teacher know you are willing to take on your share of responsibility if needed,” says Jacobs. Don’t be afraid to ask for ways you might help or offer realistic suggestions for the teacher. You know your child better than anyone and may be able to offer insight into what motivates him, what he responds to or what frightens him.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help if the relationship deteriorates.
“Like in business ventures, if talks break down, you may have to bring in a mediator to help,” says Morin. Your school’s administrators probably help mediate/navigate parent-teacher conflict more often than you think.
Keep it Copacetic
Tariq Akmal, Director of Education and Associate Professor of teaching at Washington State University says these tips will help keep the lines of communication open and help you navigate the waters should you have to advocate for your child with a teacher you don’t click with.
- Follow the rules. Don’t circumvent the school or classroom procedure for contacting the teacher and/or making an appointment. “This prevents things from starting out on the wrong foot,” says Akmal.
- Keep it short and sweet. Be concise in your explanation of your concerns during the appointment, phone conversation or in email. “Keep the explanation as focused on the student and the student’s experience as possible,” Akmal offers. Rather than saying, “I feel as if you don’t like my child,” explain “I have looked over my son’s work and the comments don’t really provide any explanation of why he earned this grade,” or “I did not receive any notification from you that my daughter was not turning in her assignments.”
- Keep your cool. If the situation has grown to the point that you don’t think you can maintain your composure, ask someone else (the guidance counselor, another teacher, the child’s other parent or close family member like an aunt, etc.) to attend the meeting to provide a neutral voice.
- Remember the rule of two. There are almost always two sides to every story. And Akmal says parents should be prepared to also hear the teacher’s view of the situation.
- Be patient. As with most complicated situations, a resolution to your concerns may require a series of phone calls or meetings. “Be prepared to follow-up and stay in touch with the teacher,” says Akmal. And remember that educators and parents have a common goal in mind: a child’s success. “Both will work to support that goal.”