FROM THE ARCHIVE | Here are four tips to help your through those teacher-parent talks

Here are some tips on how to talk to your child's teacher. (Photo: Gallo Images / Getty Images)
Here are some tips on how to talk to your child's teacher. (Photo: Gallo Images / Getty Images)

Do you sometimes wish your child’s teacher would communicate with you more? Or are you tearing your hair out about the constant stream of emails you get because you feel they’re unnecessary?

What constitutes the right amount (and type) of communication can differ quite a lot, depending on the parents and teachers involved and what their expectations are. But there are communication strategies that can make for a more harmonious relationship.

There’s no doubt that good communication between you and your child’s teacher will help you keep on top of how they’re doing academically, address any issues and hopefully deal with problems early.

Here are some common scenarios and tips for dealing with them.

1. I don’t want to bother you but . . .

Last year Stacey* struggled to find a good balance when it came to communicating with her 10-year-old son’s teacher and she’s held back from communicating with his new teacher out of concern that the same thing will happen.

“I started feeling like I was asking too many questions because after a while her replies started to become very short,” Stacey says, adding that the friction eventually led to a total breakdown in communication.

“I want to be proactive and work with my son’s teacher, but I don’t want to annoy her with too many emails and requests. How much is too much?”

How to handle it

“Teachers generally have set methods of communication, such as parents’ evenings and homework diaries,” says Benoni-based educational psychologist Avika Daya.

“If you prefer more communication, pop the teacher an email every now and then (not every week). Teachers can’t be expected to give day-to-day updates on progress but on the other hand sometimes a more laidback teacher needs to be asked every now and then.”

Daya suggests contacting the teacher if, for example, you’ve noticed your child is struggling with particular things or specific subjects and want to know what support is available or if there’s anything you could do at home.

However, she warns that over-involved parents may give their children the idea that mom and dad will always smooth things over for them. “Keep in mind that your child also needs time to progress and grow and so constant questioning may leave your child and the teacher feeling overwhelmed.

“It may even contribute to them losing respect for their teacher, which can affect the teacher’s ability to discipline them at school.”

2. Enough already!

Courtney*, whose 12-year-old daughter is in Grade 7, has the opposite problem – she feels overwhelmed by the teacher’s constant updates.

“My job as a project manager is quite demanding so I can’t cope with the stream of emails and messages,” she says, adding that she doesn’t know what to pay attention to and what to ignore.

“It’s not that I’m not interested in my child’s education. I just feel like I’m being sent too much information. I’m happy for her teacher to handle the smaller things and only contact me when it’s really important.”

How to handle it

“Overcommunication from a teacher can definitely leave you feeling overwhelmed,” Daya says. “Remember, it’s okay to respond with a ‘thank you’ or ‘I’ll keep that in mind’ and not to overthink everything.”

It also depends on your child’s age, however, since the older they get the more responsibility they need to take for their assignments and projects. You will need to keep on top of projects if your child is in Grade 3, for example, whereas a Grade 7 learner should be aware of what they need to do and by when they need to do it.

“It might be useful to check in with the teacher about whether they’re merely keeping you updated about what your child should be doing, or whether they expect you to be more involved. This may remove misconceptions and unnecessary anxieties.”

3. I’m not a teacher!

Olivia* wants her 11-year-old son’s teacher to understand how frustrated she is with the amount of schoolwork he needs to do at home because his schoolday is shorter due to the pandemic.

“I know it’s not the teacher’s or the school’s fault, but I feel like I’m being made responsible for keeping my child’s schooling on track.”

She doesn’t want her son to fall behind but also feels like she can’t continue to take responsibility for so much of his schooling, while also working full-time (from home) and running a household.

How to handle it

“Although it has been overwhelming for many parents, their input has become incredibly important to teachers,” says Randburg-based educational psychologist Genevieve Sandler.

Daya suggests explaining your situation to the teacher and asking if he/she could help make things easier in any way. “Perhaps they would be willing to give you a heads-up about which work is most important and/or difficult. You can then focus on this work in your allocated time and let your child work on easier tasks by themselves.

If your child is battling with a particular subject, ask the teacher if there’s support available at school in the form of extra lessons.

4. When emotions runs high

Being asked to come in and see your child’s teacher is likely to bring up a lot of emotions. Mom-of-three Taryn* says it was one of her low points of 2020.

“I’d just gotten back from the school run and was about to start supper when my Grade 6 daughter’s teacher called to say she’d like to meet with me.

“By the time I got to the meeting the next day I’d gotten myself so worked up wondering what the issue was that I couldn’t relax. So when she told me she’d witnessed Leah bullying another girl I just lost it. I just got so defensive and kept insisting there was no way my daughter could have been involved in bullying another learner,” she says, adding that when she got home she felt ashamed about the way she’d reacted.

Her relationship with Leah’s teacher never recovered from her outburst, she says. “I have two younger kids as well and need to make sure that the next time a teacher addresses a concern with me, I approach it in the right way.”

How to handle it

“When your child’s teacher wants to meet with you, chances are she’s worried about your child’s behaviour or schoolwork, so it’s tempting to panic, get defensive or fly off

the handle before you’ve even heard what she has to say,” say Jane Linley-Thomas of Kindness Can, a local organisation that runs workshops to help schoolkids cope.

How can you stay calm? The key, she says, is in the way you approach the situation. Acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling and remind yourself that this is natural because it concerns your child but when you meet with the teacher, focus on understanding the issue at hand.

“Listen (and let the teacher finish), ask questions to understand and clarify, share information that might be relevant, ask what recommendations the teacher might have and together discuss a suggested way forward,” Linley says.

If it’s an issue that involves another child, it’s important to not immediately assume your child couldn’t have any part in it, Daya adds.

“Maybe it’s completely out of the ordinary for their personality – and there could be a good explanation for it – but don't immediately dismiss what’s going on,” she says. “A healthy, non-confrontational conversation with your child may reveal a great deal.”

*Not their real names

Teachers’ pet peeves

We asked a few teachers to tell us the things they wish parents wouldn’t do.

  • Requesting information about what their child is up to all day “Sometimes parents email constantly asking for updates on their child’s daily activities. While I understand their concern, I need to be focused on the kids during that time.” – Kersha, KZN
  • Contacting me outside of set (stipulated) hours “For example, contacting a teacher at 10pm for advice on homework. We’re here to help but we do need family time and downtime too.” – Terri, KZN
  • Requesting meetings without a clear reason “Sometimes parents request meetings without giving or sometimes not even having a clear reason. Not only am I unable to prepare for these meetings but it can often be a waste of time.” Tamlyn, JHB
  • Asking me exactly what’s going to be covered in a test “Or they might ask how questions will be structured. Sharing this with any parent will put the rest of the learners at a disadvantage. I usually just remind the parents that they need to stick to what I’ve told the child to learn.” Tamlyn, JHB
  • Trying to get a mark changed “Don’t ask teachers to reconsider their grading, even if you think it’s unfair. If your child is unhappy with his grade, it’s best for him to talk to the teacher himself.” Robyn, CPT


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