By Karen Nemeth, EdM

Children learn and grow with the support they receive from their families. In fact, research shows that parent involvement is a very important factor in ensuring a child’s success in school. Open communication between family and teacher plays a critical role in determining how well your child will do in school.

Some conversations between families and teachers focus on exchanging important information such as learning more about family traditions and cultures that help teachers get to know the children. At other times, teachers and families will share good news about the child’s accomplishments at home and at school.

Every once in a while, conversations may turn to difficult subjects. Here are some ways to approach challenging discussions with your child’s teacher:

  • When you have concerns about the teacher or the school
    • If you have a concern that your child is not being treated properly or not getting the right support for learning, you have a right to express that concern to the school. Send an email or text message to your child’s teacher first and ask to have a meeting or phone conversation. If there are language differences, you can ask the school to provide an in-person interpreter or a phone interpretation service.
    • If you think your concern should not be handled by the teacher, reach out to the school social worker or guidance counselor for help.
    • Try to begin every conversation with something positive. You might say “I appreciate the great things you are teaching my son. I have a concern about one part of his school experience. I hope we can talk about ways to make things better.”
    • Try to talk clearly about facts and what actually is happening. For example, you might say “I have noticed my child has had no assignments in this class for the past 4 weeks. I wonder how a grade can be given with no assignments.” This is more informative than saying something like “I don’t think you know what you’re doing!” Avoid making accusations or assumptions about what might have happened. When you and the teacher talk about actual examples or incidents, you will support a mutual conversation rather than an argument.
    • These conversations may come up when the family receives a letter from the school recommending placement in bilingual education or English as a Second Language classes. If you are not sure whether you agree with the placement, you can contact the teacher or the school principal to discuss the situation. Sometimes you will learn more during an honest conversation than you did in a letter. That can help both the school and the family come to agreements about what’s best for the child. This resource from the U.S. Office of English Language Acquisition at the Department of Education offers support and information for families of children who are learning English. The Family Toolkit is available in several languages. It contains questions to get these important conversations started. https://ncela.ed.gov/family-toolkit
    • Work with the school to focus on looking for solutions to the problem.
  • When the teacher has concerns about the child’s learning or behavior
    • Teachers work hard every day to support the well-being, growth, and success of every student. When a teacher contacts you to discuss a concern about your child, you can be sure they have your child’s best interests in mind.
    • It may be difficult to hear that your child may not be learning or behaving at the same level as other children his or her age. The focus of the conversation should be about finding ways to get your child exactly what he or she needs.
    • Try to listen openly to what the teacher has to say. It may even help if you have a friend or family member with you. Two people can listen and remember better than one. Ask for details so you can understand exactly what the teacher has observed and why they are concerned. For example, if the teacher tells you he thinks your child is not reading at the same level as other students in the class, you might ask for examples of what your child can read and examples of material that he was not able to read.
    • Take time to think about what you have learned. You don’t have to make decisions or come to conclusions right away. You might need to listen to the information from the teacher and take a short time to think before you respond.
    • If you have information about your child that is different than what the teacher reported, take notes and share with the teacher. For example, if the teacher reports your child does not do much talking at school, you might take a video of your child singing songs or playing with cousins at home to demonstrate how you see your child.

Think of the conversation as a discussion about what would help your child to be the best they can be. Always ask for an interpreter for important conversations if you think that is needed. School personnel are usually aware that it is not a good idea to use students to help with interpreting in such conversations. This puts too much pressure on them as they do not have the experience or technical knowledge to translate difficult topics. You can also ask for the information in writing so you can review it again later or with other adults to be sure you understand.

Work together with the teacher as your partner for the success of your child. With a positive attitude, even a difficult conversation can have successful results.

Karen Nemeth, Ed.M.
Is an expert in first and second language development and early learning and she hosts a well-known resource website at www.languagecastle.com. She has written more than twelve books and many articles for teachers, leaders, and families, including her newest book -Families & Educators Together: Building Great Relationships that Support Young Children.She works with many programs, schools, and organizations as a consultant and presenter throughout the U.S. and other countries.