5 Rules to Follow When Contacting Your Child’s Teachers
As conscientious parents, we all want our children to do the best they possibly can in school. We want them to earn good grades, be treated fairly and have a positive experience in their classes. That’s why many parents take a proactive approach in establishing communication with their child’s teachers.
But how do you know if you’ve crossed the line between being a concerned, involved mom or dad—and morphing into a helicopter parent whose involvement not only annoys teachers but actually harms your child as well?
We’ve all heard the stories about students so enabled by their parents in high school that by the time they get to college, they don’t know how to keep track of their own homework, and still have their parents contacting professors for homework assignments and requests for deadline extensions. Several studies have confirmed the negative effects of being overly involved. In fact, an article published in June 2018 by the American Psychological Association cites findings that conclude “helicopter parenting may negatively affect children’s emotional well-being [and] behavior.”
Even for those who shun such helicopter behavior, it’s tough to know when to step in as a parent and when to back off. After all, the clear rules of classroom conduct for students don’t come with official, accompanying guidelines for mothers and fathers. What’s more, clear communication may be compromised if teachers and administrators fear running afoul of a persistent parent, even if that parent has indeed crossed the line.
We spoke to teachers and experts to get their advice about when, and how, to contact your child’s teachers. Here are five rules to follow:
Rule #1: Don’t Ask for Their Homework Assignments
It may seem harmless to email your child’s teachers to ask them what your child’s homework assignment entails for the next day, but many teachers agree this is not a good idea.
“Yes, this one is problematic,” says Jack Lionberger, an Educational Endeavors tutor and former high school special education history teacher. “When you reach out to a teacher on your student’s behalf, a teacher will very likely assume you are doing this without first consulting your child. It seems like a helicopter-type move.”
There are sensible alternatives, says Nathan Nichols-Weliky-Fearing, a tutor with Educational Endeavors and a former high school math teacher. “While asking for the child’s homework assignment might be over the top, I would ask to see if you can have access to the online classroom. With technology today, many teachers are posting the assignments online which makes sharing with parents very easy.”
Rule #2: Don’t Try to Change a Grade
Although you may think that your child has received an unfair grade from a teacher, it’s best not to ask teachers to reconsider their grading decisions. If a student is unhappy with his grade, it’s best for him to contact the teacher himself.
If you do contact the teacher regarding a grade, inquire about how your student can get better grades in the future rather than dwelling on past marks. “Instead of asking for a grade change on an assignment/test, I recommend asking for clarification on where points were lost so the student can focus on not making those same mistakes again,” Nichols-Weliky-Fearing advises.
Rule #3: Do Tell Them What’s Going on at Home
Although contacting your child’s teachers about homework and grades may not be a good idea, it is important to keep them aware of things going on outside of school that may be impacting your child’s performance. For example, you may want to alert teachers if your child is struggling with depression, recently experienced a breakup or a death in the family or if you are going through a divorce.
“Home life affects academic performance and social interactions at school,” says Mark C. Perna, generational and performance expert and best-selling author of Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations. “If your child is dealing with difficult circumstances at home or with family members, it’s best to be open about the situation with your child’s teachers. No need for excessive details, just a straightforward outline of the pressures your child/family is experiencing. This background information may help the teacher approach your child with an additional level of understanding and help.”
Rule #4: Do Ask Them For Their Feedback and Advice
If your goal is to help your child succeed in school, try viewing their teachers as allies rather than enemies; ask them for advice about how your child could improve. Often, teachers will welcome the opportunity to give their input.
“A teacher spends a lot of time with your child, and may have some helpful observations of your child’s needs,” Lionberger says. “By asking teachers their opinions and ideas, at the very least, you are making them feel heard … [and] fostering a positive and collaborative relationship with a teacher.”
Parents and their children can work as an effective team as well. “When it comes to how the student can improve, I encourage parents to guide their students to initiate that conversation with the teacher themselves,” says Lindsay Zoeller, a parent and student coach, and former Educational Endeavors tutor.
Rule #5: Do Tell Them About Bullying
Bullying is a serious issue that many students face, and often teachers are unaware of the behavior that is going on outside, especially on social media. If your child is being bullied by other students at school, you may want to alert your child’s teachers about the behavior. However, it’s important not to become too accusatory or gossipy. “In talking to a teacher, it is best to keep the focus on your own child and what you can do to help them,” Zoeller says.