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How to be the teacher’s pet when you’re the parent

I have a secret: I am a teacher. Well, I was until a couple of weeks ago. The teachers in my district are heading back to school this Friday, and for the first time in twelve years, I won’t be with them. I am officially on a leave of absence. It’s a strange feeling. It will be a delight to spend the year with my 11-year old son and 4-month old daughter. But there are some things I will miss about school.

No matter what you hear about kids these days, and how rowdy the schools are, etc., there are very nice students out there who are a pleasure to work with. They may be your children. And there are very nice parents out there. Not surprisingly, the old adage is often correct: ‘the apple don’t fall far from the tree.’ Most of the time I liked the parents when I liked the kids. And, when I encountered a student that needed a swift kick in the pants, I often discovered that the parents did, too.

So what can you do to be a ‘good’ parent? Plenty. Here are some thoughts, from one teacher, about how to get on the teacher’s good side-no matter what the grade level is.

1. Communicate regularly, but not aggressively. Check in periodically, maybe every other week. I never liked it when a parent contacted me with one week left in the term to find out how Suzie could bring up her grade. I always wanted to say, ‘Why didn’t you call four weeks ago?’ On the other hand, when a parent called or emailed every other day, or worse, wanted me to call her every week, it was too much. Teachers don’t update the grade books every day. And if you call me at home, don’t expect me to remember what your daughter got on her test last week.

2.Try to communicate in your teacher’s preferred way. Some people respond best to email. Others prefer to send and receive notes. Others like phone calls. Find out what your child’s teacher prefers, and try your best to do it that way.

3. When you communicate, keep it brief. Lengthy emails and voice mails are no good. Just leave your contact info and briefly state your question or concern. The details can come later.

4. Don’t blame the teacher for your child’s problems. Contact the teacher, and ask questions, don’t point fingers.

5. Feel free to drop by if you want to watch or help, but don’t expect that anyone will be able to spend time talking to you. A teacher’s duty during the day is to be in class and teach the children. It is not appropriate for him or her to step into the hallway to talk with you for just a minute and leave the students unsupervised.

6. School is supposed to be fun. It’s OK if your child doesn’t have the best science fair project or book diorama. Don’t do it for her. Let her do her best in an appropriate time frame. That’s all teachers expect. Every teacher I know would prefer to see a child’s clumsy attempts than a parent’s professional work on a school project.

7. Don’t believe that your child’s side of the story is the only side of the story. A mom called me once to complain about her child’s failing grade. She said, ‘Cody told me that there’s just too much work and no one can keep up.’ I asked her if it seemed that her son was spending way too much time doing homework for my class. She became very quiet. ‘Well, no. He tells me he doesn’t have homework.’ It wasn’t difficult for her to see the light. Yes, there was some work to do, and yes, it was too much to do if he waited until the last minute, and yes, several of Cody’s friends were also failing. And that was because none of them were doing their homework.

8. Remember that middle school and high school classrooms could use volunteers, too. I never once, in ten years of high school, had a parent offer to help me. Yet when I offered in two of my son’s elementary classroom, the teachers responded, ‘Oh, thank you. We have plenty of help.’ See if you can make copies, grade workbooks, organize folders, return library books, give a student extra help, or anything. If your daughter doesn’t want you in class with her, go during a different period.

9. Ask the teacher if he or she has any needs for the classroom. Despite the billions spent by the government on public schools, it’s not easy for your child’s teacher to get $20 for construction paper and glue. A few pairs of scissors could really boost your standing in a teacher’s eyes.

10. Remember that you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Don’t expect a classroom teacher to do everything. The kids who do the best are usually either motivated by their own perfectionism (bad), or by involved parents and teachers together (good).

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