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10 Don'ts Teachers Want Parents to Know

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Most teachers (at least good ones) want to hear from parents, and we encourage their involvement. Without question, parents play the most pivotal role in the intellectual and behavioral development of their kids, and I’m always grateful when parents show interest in how they can help their children succeed as students.

But whether you’re the parent of a student in a private, charter or public school, there’s a common list of not-often-publicized parental do’s and don’ts. I want to focus on the “don’ts.”

  1. Don’t get angry or argue with the teacher about your son’s or daughter’s receiving only a B+ or an A-. This smacks of entitlement and snobbery, while also reflecting poorly on your communication skills. Not everything your child does is flawless, and that’s not only okay, it’s also entirely human. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection, but you’re much better off politely inquiring what you child can do to improve next time.
  2. Similarly, don’t tell a teacher that as a history major yourself, you feel your daughter should have received a higher grade on an essay. There’s a lot more to teaching than sheer content knowledge, and your obvious bias aside, you don’t know how your daughter’s paper stacks-up against 9th-,10th-, 11th-, or 12th-grade standards.
  3. Don’t get angry over your child’s not being recommended for honors or Advanced Placement courses. Teachers work hard to place students where they are most likely to achieve the greatest success. By forcing your student to bite off more than she can chew, you show that you care more about how a transcript looks than your child’s intellectual growth. Few things make teachers more upset.
  4. On back-to-school night, don’t corner teachers to ask about your son or daughter’s progress. For many teachers, that evening is already fraught with enough tension and nerves. Expect to learn about what your child will be learning, and feel free to ask questions related to the curriculum. But it’s too early in the year to expect any authentic assessment on an individual’s performance.
  5. Don’t offer excuses as to why your son or daughter didn’t do the homework. This is all the more true if your student is an upper-classman, about to go to college. Except in rare or especially delicate situations, students should be encouraged not only to advocate for themselves, but also to deal with the consequences of their actions—or inactions, as the case may be.
  6. Nothing smells more like a “bribe” than a fancy gift. Even if this isn’t the intent, as in most cases I’m sure it’s not, perception is reality. Over the holidays or on special occasions throughout the year, a simple “thank-you” card more than suffices. On the whole, teachers are much more comfortable with receiving larger gifts from graduating students, after final grades have been entered.
  7. Wait until after graduation to invite teachers over for dinner. Most teachers feel honored by such an offer, but it’s important to remain friendly, not friends, with students and their families. Certainly, this can change after graduation. I’ve become friends with several of my former students and their families, but only after commencement.
  8. Don’t tell teachers that an assignment is “stupid” or “childish.” Rarely, this may be the case, but it’s important to use tact and politeness when communicating your feelings. Otherwise, you risk burning bridges and otherwise inflaming the situation. Teachers are professionals, and they deserve to be treated as such—even if they make a mistake now and again.
  9. Don’t approach teachers as if they are servants, at your beck and call. If you wish to speak with a teacher, please, take the time to email or call for an appointment. Don’t just show-up.
  10. Don’t go over a teacher’s head. If you a have question or concern, as a first step, reach out to the teacher first. Afterward, if you are still unsatisfied, contact the department chair. If after doing that you are still unsatisfied, as a last resort, contact an upper-level administrator.

If you’re a teacher, do you have any other advice for how parents should or shouldn’t communicate with teachers?


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David Cutler is a dedicated independent school teacher at Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where he teaches United States History, United States Government, and Journalism. He also serves as Assistant Boys Cross Country Coach. Cutler is proud to act as a Teacher of the Future for the National Association of Independent Schools. Occasionally, he also writes about education for Edutopia and The Atlantic. Cutler attended Brandeis University as an undergraduate with a major in History and minors in Latin American Studies and Journalism. He holds an M.A. in Comparative History, also from Brandeis.

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Guest Wednesday, 26 October 2016