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It's Up to Us: Bridging the Distance between Home and School

Posted by on in What If?
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While you may not see them, the parents or guardians of your students are in your classroom every day. As the primary caregivers of your students, they influence how your students think, feel, and react. Even though the ideal parent or guardian would be informed and supportive while providing a stable home environment and supervising homework, not all individuals meet these ideals. Instead, the parents and guardians of our students are people much like ourselves.  They want to do what is best for their children and don’t always know exactly how to go about it.

Some are overinvolved in their children’s lives and extremely sensitive to the smallest problem—real or imagined. Some will have a negative view because of unpleasant past experiences with school. Still others will be positive and supportive allies. Despite this complicated variation, one thing is certain. Creating a successful relationship with parents and guardians is the classroom teacher’s responsibility. Here are a few suggestions that can be adapted by almost any teacher.

At the start of the term send home a letter that explains the most important rules, policies, and procedures in your classroom. In particular, be very careful to explain your homework policy if you want parents or guardians to help you with this area.

Make sure that all written correspondence is neat, legible, and carefully proofread so that you appear as professional as possible. Readers should pay attention to your message, not question your expertise.

Contact parents or guardians when their children are successful as well as when you need their help in solving a problem. When they hear good news from school, parents or guardians realize you are trying to help their children be successful. When they only hear from teachers when there’s trouble, they quickly learn to dread conversations with us.

Be a good listener when you talk with parents and guardians. Often they are as confused and worried about a child’s behavior as you are. Listen carefully; together you can be a strong team.

If there is a death in the family or another kind of emergency, offer assistance in helping your student through the crisis. This small gesture will let them know you care about the welfare of their child.

If a parent or guardian requests weekly or even daily progress reports, comply with this request willingly. If you are not able to send progress reports electronically, set up a system where the student is responsible for bringing you a paper to sign at the end of class each day or week with the requested information.

It’s not a good idea to give out your home number. You should protect your privacy and personal life. Keep relationships with parents or guardians on a professional level.

If a parent or guardian calls you, return the phone call as soon as possible. Do not let even twenty-hours hours go by without talking to the parent or guardian. To do otherwise is not only rude, but harmful to your relationship with the child and his or her family.

Be quick to involve parents and guardians when there is a problem with a student. Many parents and guardians complain that teachers let problems get out of hand before calling home. This is understandably easy to do if you and the student are trying to work out the problem or if it does not seem to escalate, but it is not a good practice. If you notice a drastic drop in a grade, for example, notify the parent or guardian as soon as possible.

If a student’s problem is a serious one, set up a conference so that you can discuss the situation face to face. Be as flexible as you can in arranging time for this conference and make sure the parents or guardians have plenty of advance notice about meeting times.

Call parents or guardians at work if necessary. When you get them on the line, have the courtesy to ask if they have the time to talk to you at that moment. When you call a parent or guardian at work, be very careful about the message that you leave. Do not involve a parent or guardian’s co-workers in the personal business of one of your students. This violates the child’s privacy and is unprofessional on your part.

Never become confrontational with parents or guardians, even when they are confrontational with you. Instead, show your professionalism by projecting concern and caring. If they still are confrontational, politely adjourn the conversation to ask for assistance from a supervisor.

Never talk about another person’s child when you talk with a parent or guardian. This is not only unproductive and unprofessional, but it will also get back to the child or the other parents quickly.

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Julia Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Tech and spent the next forty years teaching in Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia. Recently retired as a classroom teacher, Thompson works for the Bureau of Education and Research conducting seminars geared to help teachers support difficult and challenging students. She is also a contributor/blogger for the American Federation of Teacher's site, ShareMyLesson.com.

Author of several books for teachers, Thompson's most recent book, the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, was published on Teacher Appreciation Day, May 8, 2018, a fitting date for a teacher who spent a lifetime learning from her colleagues both near and far.

Thompson offers advice for teachers on Twitter (@TeacherAdvice), on her blog (www.juliagthompson.blogspot.com) and on her web site (www.juliagthompson.com).

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Guest Thursday, 18 July 2019