Establishing a good relationship with the teacher at the beginning of the school year is essential, particularly for parents with children entering elementary school, says Donna Henderson, associate professor of counselor education at Wake Forest University.
“Two people working together who have the best interest of the child in mind have a greater impact than if they work alone,” says Henderson, who spent 12 years as a teacher and school counselor. “In today’s hurried world, taking time to know the people who are educating our future generation is more difficult, but more important than ever.”
Misunderstandings between student, parent and teacher are common, but can be lessened with early communication between parent and teacher. Henderson says the first contact between parent and teacher should be made before problems arise with the student.
“Most parents come in not knowing what that other side-teaching-looks like,” Henderson says. “They can often see the teacher as the adversary, based on their own memories from school. Getting to know the teacher as a person who wants the best for the student is important in breaking down that barrier.”
Parents can foster communication by taking advantage of open houses and other opportunities the school provides to meet with the teacher, says Henderson. She suggests
a good opening question may be to ask about the teacher’s greatest classroom success story. This is a good way to get to know the teacher and starts the relationship out on a positive note, she says. Also, ask what teaching methods work best for the teacher and what his or her schoolwork expectations are for the student. Parents should be willing to listen to the teacher’s needs and follow the guidelines if a problem does arise.
It is important for parents to share information about their child’s needs with the teacher. Make the teacher aware of special learning styles or needs relevant to the child’s performance that may not be documented in the student’s file, Henderson says. She notes that with today’s extended families, sometimes teachers are not sure whom to call when there is a problem. Make sure the teacher has all contact information in case of an emergency.
Parents can also offer specific ways in which they are willing to help, like chaperoning a field trip, helping with a bulletin board or sending snacks for the class. Any contribution a parent can make is beneficial, Henderson says.
“Parents need to ask themselves how they can be involved, how they can contribute to their child’s school,” says Henderson. “In turn, it will contribute to their child’s education.”
Remember that involvement does not stop in elementary school, she adds.
“Parental involvement in middle and high school is different than when the student is in elementary school,” Henderson says. “Students still want their parents to be involved, they just don’t express it.”
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