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When your child has a problem in school – with a classmate, an assignment, or the teacher herself – don't hesitate to talk to the teacher.
"Parents need to remember that a teacher is often faced with 18 to 30 children in a room, all with unique issues and needs," says Gwynn Mettetal, associate professor of education at Indiana University South Bend and director of the University Center for Excellence in Teaching. As a result, teachers can't always give children personalized attention right away.
Once you contact the teacher to set up a meeting, think of it as a problem-solving or brainstorming session. Assume that both you and the teacher want what's best for your child and that you'll find a way to work together.
To get the most out of your meeting, the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association recommend these steps:
- Talk to your child before you go. Ask what issues he'd like you to address. Or, if the concern is yours, explain why you're going and get his feedback. Ask him to refer to specific children, activities, or classroom policies so you can be as clear as possible when talking to his teacher.
- Prepare questions in advance to help use your time wisely. You'll probably want to know how well your child gets along with others, if she participates in class, what her mood is like throughout the day, and what her best and worst subjects are.
- Dress appropriately. A power suit might send the message that you want to control the teacher, not work with her. Shorts and a ratty T-shirt could imply that you aren't serious about the meeting. Casual workplace attire is best.
- Be on time. The teacher probably has meetings before and after yours.
- Stay calm even if you're nervous about your child or angry about something that happened during class. You don't want to assign blame before you get all the information, and you don't want to put the teacher on the defensive. Rather than say, "I think your homework policy is misguided," try saying, "My son is having a problem with your homework policy. I'm afraid we don't understand its purpose. How can we solve this problem?"
- Be forthcoming about what's happening at home that could affect your child at school. Let the teacher know about any medical conditions (such as ear infections or chronic asthma), emotional difficulties (a grandparent's death or the birth of a sibling), or sensitive information (an impending divorce or financial problems – though you can certainly ask the teacher to keep this information confidential).
- Be prepared to talk honestly about your child. The teacher might want to discuss your child's behavior, personality, and interests at home. If the questions seem intrusive or personal, ask the teacher to explain why she's asking for the information. She probably just wants to better understand your child.
- Make a follow-up plan. If you're meeting with the teacher to solve a problem, ask for specific suggestions on how to help at home. If your child is complaining about difficult work, for example, the teacher might offer ways you can help him catch up.
- Don't stay past the scheduled meeting time. If you have concerns that you weren't able to address during the conference, schedule a follow-up meeting at your mutual convenience.
- If you're unsatisfied with the meeting, tell the teacher you'd like to meet again with her and her immediate supervisor. If you'd rather meet with her supervisor alone, let her know that's what you plan to do. Being open and diplomatic about your intentions will go a long way toward building good will.