Talking to teachers

'The vast majority of teachers are dedicated professionals with the best interests of the children at heart,' a Western Cape Education Department spokesperson told me while researching this article. 'Their calling is to ensure that children realise their potential. They're on the same side as the parents.'

Comforting words, especially when echoed in some form or other by a host of education professionals countrywide. It would be naïve, however, to expect any teacher to see eye-to-eye with each and every one of their learners, day in and day out for the duration of a whole school year. It may be achievable in schools where classes are small, but it's a pipe dream for state teachers at the helm of classes of 30-plus.

What is required is not just for you to fetch and carry every day and pay your school fees on time, but to forge a meaningful partnership with your child's teacher and her school.

Show that sort of commitment to most teachers and you're off to a flying start when classroom problems or conflicts rear their head.

Of course, that's the perfect scenario. Sometimes it takes a while before a time-strapped parent gets round to meeting the teacher. And even in this day and age not all teachers are the open-door type. Either way, it doesn't bode well for conflict resolution.

Tips for talking to teachers
Make the first move – A conflict or problem shouldn't be the catalyst for your first meeting with your child's teacher. Find out what she expects of you and indicate your willingness to be a partner in your child's education. Raise any concerns from the previous year and discuss your child's strengths and weaknesses. And find out how the teacher prefers to stay in touch and the methods she uses to troubleshoot problems.

Walk your talk – Be seen at the school and touch base regularly with the teacher to monitor your child's progress. If you have the time, volunteer to help out around the school or join the governing body. Also respond to all newsletters or class notes that come home with your child. And never miss parent-teacher meetings.

Monitor your child – Make time daily to find out what's going on in the class and the playground. Besides fostering a healthy relationship with your child that will enable you to pick up early warning signs of trouble, the background information you gather will prove invaluable during chats with the teacher.

Play taxi – Offer to do lifts for at least one class outing or field trip during the year. Besides demonstrating your commitment to your child's education, mixing with the class for a morning provides invaluable insight into teacher and peer interactions.

Don't hold back – Whatever happens in the home has a strong bearing on your child's behaviour at school. So, unless it's private, rather tell the teacher about a major life change like a death, birth, illness, accident, marital problem, move or lost job. It will help the teacher understand your child's emotional state.

Play fair – If your child comes home upset, react only once you've calmed down and established all the facts. Whatever the problem, go straight to the teacher first and get her side of the story. Listen with an open mind and avoid pointing fingers. Once you've established exactly what the problem is and who is responsible for what, brainstorm solutions with the teacher.
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