Learn how to approach and talk to your child’s teacher when there is a problem at school.
How to Approach a Teacher
Uh oh. Billy came home with poor grades and doesn’t know why. Sally ran off the bus crying because of a classmate said something unkind.
No matter what the situation, there comes a time in almost every parents’ life when they need to talk to a teacher.
My son once came home from school upset and we had this conversation:
Son: “Mom, this girl in class keeps bothering me. She won’t stop saying mean things to me. Sometimes she bumps me in the hallway or knocks my papers off of my desk. I asked her to leave me alone but she won’t stop.”
Me: “Have you told the teacher any of this?”
Son: “Yeah, but even when Mrs. Teacher talks to the girl, she keeps on bothering me and telling me I’ll never win.”
I had been walking him through what he should do if this student continues to bother him (this is continuing from 3rd grade), but since the behavior was continuing and perhaps was getting physical, it was time to talk to a teacher.
When Should I Approach the Teacher?
Part of our jobs as parents is to advocate for our children. As we are not in school with them, sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to find out about what is going on.
Sometimes we see the grades in the online grading system and want to learn more about why they are what they are. Sometimes our kids come home upset over what a classmate said or did. Other times our kids bring home a negative report but say they did nothing wrong.
It’s never a bad idea to get the other side of the story.It's never a bad idea to get the other side of the story when something happens to your child at school. #parenting #education Click To Tweet
If something happens once, like a poor grade or problems with a classmate, it might be okay to wait a bit to see if things improve. If it’s a note about behavior, a response soon after would be recommended.
Of course, if things are extreme, don’t hesitate to call or email your child’s teacher right away.
Before You Talk to a Teacher
As a former teacher and now a mom, I have been on both sides of this.
The teacher in me wants you to know that teachers DO want to hear from you, even when it’s a difficult topic.
The mom in me wants you to know that it’s YOUR RIGHT to contact a teacher whenever it’s for the good of your child.
It’s all about the way in which you communicate your questions, thoughts, and feelings.
Solid advice for when you have to anyone about a potentially difficult topic, right?
Remember: the goal in all of this is to work together for the good of your child.The goal in parent-teacher communication is to work together for the good of your child. #parenting #education Click To Tweet
If you have legitimate concerns about your child, teachers want you to communicate with them. They really appreciate when parents are actively involved in their child’s education!
Note: If there is an issue with something a teacher said or did that negatively impacted your child, get in contact with the principal using the same tips I give below for contacting a teacher. He or she can help you determine what the best course of action might be. Chances are you’ll be asked to go to the school for a meeting.
Before approaching the teacher:
Take a deep breath. If the matter is upsetting to you, take a deep breath and calm your mind before reaching out to the teacher.
Why? When you speak or email out of anger, you not only may say things you don’t mean, but you may also put the other person on the defensive. That tactic is never a good idea if the goal is to work together.
Take a deep breath, and maybe jot down on a piece of paper what you are feeling to get those feelings out of your head.
Speak with your child first.
♦ Is it a poor grade on a test or project? Ask your child what he or she did to prepare for the assignment and if they followed any instructions given. You’d be surprised how many parents called me or emailed me when I was a teacher to complain about a grade only to discover that their child not only had a very detailed rubric but also had weeks to complete a major assignment.
♦ Is your child being teased or bullied by other students? Find out as much as you can about the incidents, such as when and where the your child was being harassed. It is helpful to provide this kind of information to teachers so that they can be more observant of certain behaviors.
♦ Did your child bring home a note about behavior? Ask your child about the classroom rules and what is expected of students when they are in school. Doing this not only opens up a discussion about proper classroom behavior, it also might bring other things to light such as reasons why your child did not or could not follow a certain rule (example: Suzy was tapping Billy on the shoulder with her pencil, and when Billy asked her to stop, he was reprimanded for talking in class).
Write it all down. Write down all the important details you want to share. This way, you won’t forget anything when you talk to the teacher.
How to Contact a Teacher
Once you have an idea of what needs to be said to the teacher, it’s time to make contact.
There are the two obvious methods of contact- by phone or by email (see scripts for those below)- but there’s also the option to set up a meeting to speak with the teacher in person.
I’m going to go into details about each method, but before I do, here are some suggestions:
- When making contact, remember that you may not get an immediate response. It may take a day or so before you receive a response. When I was a teacher, we were told to call or email back parents within 48 hours. It may not be like that at your child’s school, but it still may take a few days. Of course, if a few days have passed and you haven’t received a response, feel free to contact again. Sometimes phone messages are missed or emails go to spam.
- Use your child’s full name. It’s best to include your child’s first and last name, in the event that there’s another child in the class with the same name (says the mom who named her son Aidan in a sea of Aidans/Aydans/Aidens). This is especially true if your child has a different last name than yours.
- Use “I” statements. When expressing your concerns, use “I” statements. These kinds of statements help to foster positive reactions from your listener. Saying “I am concerned with my child’s low test grade” rather than “You gave my child a low test grade” helps to open up communication with the listener so that he or she doesn’t feel like you are blaming them. You are able to clearly speak about the issue without putting the teacher on the defensive. Try statements like:
- I am concerned about…
- I am worried about…
- I am upset about how (the situation) was handled.
- I feel sad that…
- Understand that if there is another child involved, the teacher may not be at liberty to give you any details about them or their parents. This is due to privacy laws. Even if another student was directly involved in an incident, the teacher most likely won’t be able to give you any name or other details about other students.
- Remember that a teacher is one person often alone with 25-35+ kids, and things might be missed. I remember getting a call from an angry parent, accusing me of not noticing when her daughter was being picked on during a group assignment. Mind you, I had 34 kids in that class, and no assistant. According to the student, other students were whispering things to her when they were supposed to be working. As the student never told me such things, I had no idea! There is often no way to notice every single little thing that happens in a classroom (which is why I made sure to encourage my students to come to me with any problems after that incident!).
- Remember that teachers are humans too. A grade might be entered wrong in a grade book. An answer might be marked wrong when it is right on a test. A teacher might not get to contact you about a small issue immediately because she had to rush home at the end of the day to her daughter who was sick. Teachers are only humans, doing the best they can.
How to Call a Teacher on the Phone
If you decide to call the teacher, choose a time when you have time to spare and choose a location where you’ll have some privacy and quiet.
You can call a teacher during any time of the day, but keep in mind that teachers often don’t an opportunity to chat about an important topic unless it’s during their prep period or at the end of the day.
Chances are, when you call, you’ll be leaving a message. Here’s what you can say:
Hi, this is YOUR NAME HERE. I am STUDENT’S FULL NAME + RELATIONSHIP TO STUDENT. I am calling about REASON FOR CALLING. If you could please give me a call back, my number is PHONE NUMBER and the best time to call is TIME/DAY. Thank you.
Hi, this is Suzy Smith. I am Billy Smith’s mom. I am calling about the failing grade on Billy’s last assignment. If you could please give me a call back, my number is 867-5309 and the best time to call is any week day after 2pm. Thank you.
- When you do receive a call back, remember to use the “I” statements mentioned above in your conversation.
- Once you have your say, give the teacher a chance to share his or her side of the story. Have a pen and paper nearby to write down any new information you learn from the teacher.
- At the end of the conversation, it’d be nice to thank the teacher for his or her time. Even if you still might be upset by what happened, this little polite gesture could help keep the doors open for further communication down the road.
Sample Email to a Teacher from a Parent
If you’re anything like me, you prefer email over a phone call. As an introvert, I just hate talking on the phone when I could easily send an email.
Before sending your child’s teacher an email, consider this:
Anything you type in an email can be saved or printed out.
It’s important to note this because you want to be very careful about what you type. What may seem like strong language or just a joke to you may sound like a threat to someone else. Tone and facial expressions can not be ‘read’ in written text, so it may be hard to judge what someone else is truly feeling.
I have witnessed first hand the trouble a potentially threatening email can cause for all parties involved. You don’t want to be in that situation.
Also, while not mandatory, it is helpful to use proper spelling and grammar as best you can. You’re not going to be graded on it, but it can be very hard to understand a message when it uses texting slang or lacks punctuation. Sometimes, the meaning of the email can be lost if the teacher cannot understand it.
Here is a sample email to a teacher:
Dear TEACHER NAME,
My name is YOUR NAME and I am STUDENT’S FULL NAME + RELATIONSHIP TO STUDENT. I am emailing because I am concerned with STUDENT’S GRADE/SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED IN CLASS/STUDENT’S BEHAVIOR. If you could please respond at your convenience, I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Your NAME, and CONTACT INFORMATION (email address or phone number)
Dear Mr. Science Teacher,
My name is Suzy Smith. I am Billy Smith’s mom. I am emailing because I noticed that Billy’s grades have gone down in the past week. He says he is asking for extra help, but as I’m not there I’m not sure if he really is. I’d like to know if he is asking for help and what he could do at home to help his grades improve or if you have any other ideas why his grades are not where they should be. If you could please respond at your convenience, I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Don’t forget that it might take a day or so for the teacher to respond. If you don’t get a response in a few days, try resending the email. If after that there is no response, you may need to make a phone call or send in a note.
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Parent Teacher Meeting
If you would prefer to speak face to face with the teacher, you can contact the school and set up a parent teacher meeting.
To set up a meeting, you can either call the school or the teacher. Let them know when the best times would be for you to meet, and they can set up a meeting between you and the teacher.
Note: Due to privacy laws, some schools will ONLY allow those who are listed as parents, guardians, or if your child has an IEP, anyone from the IEP team to be part of a parent teacher meeting. Friends of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. may not be permitted to be part of the meeting.
Meeting with the teacher is just like making a call or typing an email, except that it’s in person. It’s just as important to remain calm and respectful as you would be in the other forms of communication.
First will be introductions, and then you’ll have the chance to talk about why you’re there.
Don’t forget to use your “I” statements! Chances are you’ll both be a little nervous about the meeting, so it’s best not to make the teacher feel defensive if the goal is to work together for the good of your child.
While you’re there, ask to see where your child sits in the classroom. It’s great to get some perspective of what your child experiences in the classroom. Is the seat too far from the board? Is it in the middle of the room where your child might feel anxious or be too distracted?
Also ask to see your child’s locker. Whenever a parent came to see me about a poor grade on an assignment, I would encourage them to ask their child to see their locker. You’d be surprised at how many times I could connect a poor grade with a lack of locker organization.
Too often, students would just throw important papers, like rubrics or study guides, in their locker and forget about them. Together with the parent I was able to show the student different methods of organizing so that they wouldn’t lose important papers again.
Thank the teacher. Be sure to thank the teacher for his or her time and provide a way of contacting you for any future communication.
Time to Talk to a Teacher?
After my son told me that the female classmate was still giving him a hard time, I decided to email the teacher.
But first, we had a chat.
When he told me more about the situation and I got all of the who, what, where, when, and whys of the story, I sent an email to his homeroom teacher and one of the special area teachers.
In the email, I:
- introduced myself
- used an “I” statement to share my concern about the female student’s behavior toward my son
- asked if there had been any observations made about my son recently, if he has been focused in class and what his behavior in the hallways or in other parts of the building is like (ie the “other side of the story”)
- asked the teachers to respond at their convenience
- added my signature and contact information
Within a day, I had responses from both of those teachers that were both very helpful with the situation and opened up the doors for future communication should anything else occur.
Don’t hesitate to talk to a teacher if you have concerns about your child. As I said in the beginning, it’s part of our jobs as parents to advocate for our children, even if it’s just to learn the other side of the story. Follow my tips above for a more positive experience.
Have Any Questions?
If you need to talk to a teacher about a situation but you’re not sure where to start, leave a comment below and I can try to help!