Ten Questions to Ask Your Child’s New Teacher
Dr. Olaf Jorgenson
Posted August 12, 2011
Whether our children are entering kindergarten or college, the start of school is a magical time for families, a mix of apprehension and anticipation centering on meeting the new teacher or teachers in our children’s lives. Our daughters and sons wonder, will the teacher be friendly, strict, demanding? We ask, what will this individual’s relationship with our child bring to our life as a family?
Particularly for parents of elementary-aged students, the start of school can also involve quite a bit of anxiety. These are the formative years, the time when children acquire the fundamental skills and also determine their disposition toward learning: Am I good at math? Do I like to read? Is school a joy or a chore?
While many factors parents can control play into a child’s success at school — chief among these is the nature and amount of a parent’s involvement and support — teacher quality is undoubtedly the single most important variable in student achievement and fulfillment. And it’s a variable over which parents exert virtually no control.
What we can control, however, is the relationship we establish with our children’s teachers, and the mutual expectations we set that help shape the year ahead. Parents are, after all, the most important teachers; children spend more than 85% of their time at home, dwarfing the portion of time they’re in school. One of the best steps parents can take to optimize their relationship with their children’s teachers is to begin communicating early in the school year.
Parents should be aware that some teachers will be more receptive to interacting with you than others. Teachers are drawn to the profession because they love working with young people, and not necessarily with adults (we wouldn’t want it any other way for the professionals we entrust with our most precious assets, would we?). Consequently, be aware that teachers can be surprisingly intimidated by parents, particularly parents who are overly assertive or confrontational; I suggest you adjust your approach accordingly as you plan to begin a relationship with your child’s new teacher.
That said, the following questions can serve as a guide to help you develop a strong parent/teacher partnership from day one:
1. What do you think is the most important thing I can do with my child at home to help him/her be successful at school? (This is a great question to begin with because it honors the teacher’s expertise and clearly indicates your desire for a partnership.)
2. If I have a question or concern, how do you prefer that parents contact you? (Note: we have found that e-mail, while convenient, is a very limited means of sharing important information. E-mail exchanges can lead to miscommunication and often omit the emotional and nonverbal cues that happen in person or on the phone, so we encourage parents and teachers at our school to limit their reliance on e-mail, especially with any issue of a sensitive nature.)
3. I appreciate knowing about what is going on in class so that I can talk about it with my child. What is the best way to find this out?
4. Would it be helpful for you to know about my child’s school experiences and tendencies or needs, and if so, what would be the appropriate time for me to share this with you?
5. What is the most important quality for my child to develop to be successful at this new grade level?
6. What is your belief about homework? Do you or the school have a homework policy? What should I expect to see coming home each day as homework?
7. How will you notify me about my child’s progress? Do you alert parents only if there’s a problem, or does every child get periodic progress reports? (What you’re trying to determine is how the teacher and school ensure that children don’t fall between the cracks in terms of academic achievement and emotional well-being.)
8. What can I do to support you during the year ahead?
9. (With school underway:) Is my child actively participating in your lessons? If not, what can I do to at home encourage better engagement?
10. (With school underway:) Does my child appear to be well-adjusted to your class (confident, prepared, punctual, attentive, respectful, and capable)?
The parent/teacher partnership is a critical dynamic in student success; the stronger and healthier your relationship with your child’s teacher, the greater likelihood that you’ll be able to address problems successfully if they arise, and optimize your child’s classroom experience throughout the school year ahead.
Published in Almaden Times Weekly on Aug. 12, 2010