A Teacher’s Guide to Partnering with Parents: How to Work Together to Create a Holistic Educational Environment
Guest post by Jess Foster
It’s back to school time, and with the change of classrooms, teachers, and possible new schools there may also come feelings of discomfort. I can only imagine what parents feel as their children enter higher grades full of higher expectations. Change can evoke real feelings of anxiety as parents seek what’s best. Teachers feel no different as we carefully shape courses we think will reach all of our students effectively. Certainly no amount of preparation guarantees success, but at least both parents and teachers are both working hard to do what they think is best for the kids involved. While students toil away at new classes, trying to learn new landscapes of rules and expectations, we, as the adults in their lives, need to give them the support to help them succeed. That starts by making sure we work together rather than resist each other’s efforts. Here are some suggestions about how to work past uncomfortable anxiety and work towards a true, healthy partnership:
Respect each other’s expertise: While teachers look to you for guidance about getting to know your child, teachers are experts on the age groups they teach. This is especially important in the tween to teen years when children can act out of character as they test boundaries, succumb to peer pressure, or simply make a mistake. The best conversations about less-than-desirable situations, whether it be a discipline issue or a grade, is to listen and first try to accept what the teacher says as truth. Chances are if a teacher has taken time to call attention to a problem and agreed to meet with you to discuss it, the issue was not one they took the time to fabricate.
Steer conversations away from blame and towards solutions: Though it’s easy to blame a teacher for an outcome, it’s much more productive for students to see themselves as an integral part of the process. Every teacher is different and so are their teaching styles. Though some might seem more effective, students will certainly meet bosses and co-workers of many different personalities too. Talk to your teen about different strategies to adapt to different teaching styles as a first resort. Only after these strategies don’t seem to be working should the conversation change.
Take time before you react: Blame is passed at lightning speeds and students rally each other to build anxiety quickly. This is only compounded further when they have friends and parents readily accessible to field their initial feelings of rejection, disappointment and failure. Unfortunately, technology easily allows us to bypass time to process. No one likes the feeling of rejection or failure. It’s uncomfortable. It’s easy for us as parents to respond only to our child’s reaction to an event, rather than help them sort through the actual details of the set-back. Crying because a paper or test didn’t go the way a student planned can lead to a healthy conversation about why. Perhaps it’s a conversation about how to plan or better understand expectations next time. Your child will ultimately feel more in control if she sees how her own decisions can affect outcomes.
Hard work doesn’t always pay off. At least not on it’s own. I have seen students take advanced classes and flounder. The parents then come to meet with the teacher, citing that their child is having trouble keeping up with the class work even though she “works hard”. Though teachers hate to hear that a student is upset by their class, it sometimes speaks to the student’s learning trajectory more than the amount of work a teacher is giving. Teachers are tasked with getting students to a certain point by the end of the year. If a student comes in behind, teachers are under pressure to get them caught up. This can be daunting for the student to realize and sometimes the reaction from the student (frustration, anger, overwhelmed feelings, tears) can be equally upsetting to parents. The important part to focus on is helping students see the long game, rather than a short one. A “C” on a paper can be an important step in the writing process if it helps the student learn. It is the job of the teacher to help students focus on the specific skills they should be improving and the job of the parents to help the student focus on the process of learning rather than the outcome alone.
Partnering with teachers isn’t an easy task, especially when they are in the role of passing judgment on your children, judgment you know will affect future decisions like college. However, it’s important to shift our mindsets to see each other on the same side. Parents want their children to be successful and teachers want to help. The more we’re able to start conversations there, the more often students will achieve at their highest potential.
Jess Foster is a playwright, dramaturg, and teacher whose work has been produced in New York, Providence, Boston, Washington DC, Albuquerque, and Iowa, where she earned her MFA from the Iowa Playwrights' Workshop. When she's not working in the theater or chasing her children around, Jess teaches English to high schoolers. She is originally from Maine and received her Bachelor's degree from Wheaton College; she currently resides outside of Boston with her wife and two sons.
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.