Your toddler’s teacher is probably the second most important woman in his life. At least for now! It’s only natural then, that you may want to maintain a good rapport with her. M&B tells how you can effectively communicate with munchkin’s ‘miss’…
With someone new in your child’s life as well as your own, it may be hard to get on the right page. It is a good idea to do it from the start. Since teachers have a lot of influence in your child’s life. And since you two are on the same team in trying to ensure your child is successful in school, it’s important to know how to effectively communicate with your child’s teacher. Here are some ideas you can use to ensure you do that.
Words Swati Chopra Vikamsey
Visuals Mother & Baby Picture Library
THE NEW ARRIVAL
“This is the phase of life when the teacher is like God to every child. Toddlers believe more in the teacher than they do in their parents at this age. The teacher is, in fact, the most important person after the parents and what she does and says leaves a very strong mark on the psyche of the child and his development of the attitude towards learning,” says Salma Prabhu, well known clinical psychologist and director, Academy for Counselling and Education, Navi Mumbai, who does a lot of work with schools and school children. Agrees secondary school teacher Radha Venkatesh, mum to Keerthan, 4.5 years. She holds a diploma in Early Childcare and Education and a bachelor’s degree in education from the Mumbai University. “Like the mother is the first person a child bonds with in a family, the teacher is the first person he connects to in school. Children of three to four years need love and care, and an atmosphere to share their daily experiences, satisfy their curious minds and support intrinsic exploration. A teacher facilitates a child’s learning and also gives them a great sense of security.” Teachers are very important in children’s lives. Outside of their parents, teachers may be the adults that have the most impact on our children. This is why good working relationships with teachers are important, for your child as well as for you.
TALK TO HER!
Your child will benefit most if you and the teacher work together as partners in your child’s education. Most schools and teachers know that good communication with parents is an important part of their job. Some parents have had bad experiences when they were at school. Other parents have had bad experiences communicating with their child’s school in the past. Because of this, some people approach the school with a defensive or angry attitude. However, this can interfere with good communication and does not help your child. It is best to believe that the school and the teacher care about your child. Begin your communication with a positive attitude and a willingness to be a partner with your child’s teacher. Like Salma says, “She prepares him to read and write, she is the one who is going to be responsible for developing a confident personality. She will encourage him to do well and help if he makes mistakes. She will help him socialise and get along with other children in the class. She will guide him at every step.”
Apart from moulding him into a learned, polished human being, it’s your child’s teacher who will help you identify a lot about the apple of your eye. Remember that learning disabilities, hearing and vision problems are all first pointed out in the classroom. “It is very important for parents to have an open communication with the teacher, because the teacher can give an insight into the child’s abilities as well as his areas of concern. In case the child is facing issues with other children of his age or adjustment issues, you need to know it all and together the teacher and you could go for professional help required if any,” reminds Salma.
Additionally, children imbibe good habits like reading and social etiquette at the insistence of their beloved teacher. As experienced preschool teacher Jyoti Kothari, founder of Kinder Club, and mum to two, puts it, “The teacher is very important as she is the first formal point of contact responsible for incorporating the basic fundamentals in the life of a child in his formative years. The teacher enhances the strengths and works on the weaknesses of the child by motivating him in a playful learning environment.”
In turn, the teacher needs the co-operation of the student. In fact, if they don’t have one student’s co-operation or respect, it may be that the other students will follow suit. It is important for your child to have a good working relationship with his teacher. He needs to feel that he can approach the teacher if he has a problem. You’ll want to be sure he understands that he must do this in a respectful manner. Hence, the example that you set will go a long way in setting patterns for your fast-growing-up little one.
WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE
If this is your child’s first time at school, you may want to schedule a time to meet the teacher face-to-face during the first week of school. It’s an opportunity to develop a relationship while neither of you has any preconceived ideas or any complaints. The teacher will probably welcome a chance to get to know you, and the student, better. “Open communication gives the teacher a clear understanding of the personality traits and other issues which may need to be addressed in absence of parents like medical, behavioural or other aspects. The communication establishes a bond between the parent at home and teacher at school. This is accomplished by giving accurate information at the time of admission and the orientation meeting to ensure a level of faith and trust in each other,” suggests Jyoti.
Let go of all your previous negative school experiences. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to make a fresh start and see things from a different perspective. Be proactive! Instead of waiting for the teacher to write you a letter, make a phone call. You can write an introductory letter to let her know a little bit about you and your child. Offer your telephone number or e-mail address and let her know she is free to connect with you if she needs your help. It is important she understands that your goal is for your child to have a successful school year and you want to work with her to ensure that your child will learn.
This type of communication will be a first step to setting a foundation of respect that will help if things get a little stressful because of homework, behaviour issues, etc. In fact, it would be a good thing to ask the teacher right up front which form of communication she prefers. “Trust, co-operation, transparency and an unbiased approach are the keys to maintaining a good working relationship between his teacher and you. Both must identify areas where a child has maximum potential and provide an appropriate environment to nurture it,” feels Radha.
Many schools provide parents with a school handbook or directory that provides information about how to contact the teacher and the best time to do so. If not, ask the teacher or the school principal how and when you could contact the teacher.
WHEN, WHAT, HOW AND HOW OFTEN
“The approach of the parents need to be very positive and open-minded. They need to approach the teacher with the ‘I need your help’ attitude rather than the ‘you could do this’ attitude. Teachers do not like to be told what to do, but if asked for help, they would go an extra mile. You should make it a point to attend all the open-day sessions with enthusiasm and an open mind. Don’t take the recommendations of the teachers as criticism, but consider them as an insight,” suggests Salma.
When to communicate? According to Jyoti, “Parents need to discuss or brief the teacher about the medical, intellectual, emotional, social and cognitive areas of their children.” Regular and ongoing feedback from the teacher will allow you to better provide the specific help your child needs. Often, you can anticipate a problem. Your child may have had difficulties in the past. Your child may tell you about a problem. You may also notice some problems with homework or class papers. If you suspect a problem, contact the teacher immediately. Do not wait. Also, do not think that just because the teacher has not contacted you that this means that there is no important information to communicate to you about your child’s education.
What to communicate? It is important for the parent and teacher to discuss and agree on what concerns or problems need to be monitored. It is important to be specific about this information. Some examples include: specific information about homework assignments or test dates, the child’s level of participation, how well the child minded the teacher, or the percentage of work completed in class. Salma feels that the areas which could be discussed with the teachers would include academics, comfort level of the child, relationships with peers, extracurricular activities, difficulties such as inability to read, write or participate, aggression, if expressed, or submissiveness.
How to communicate? There is a variety of ways to communicate regularly with the teacher, including face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or through written notes. You will need to work together with the teacher to decide on which method of communication would be the easiest and most helpful. Make an appointment to visit, don’t just show up: Yes, teachers are more than open to meeting up with parents but remember, they have a job to do and a schedule to follow and can’t be expected to be available at your disposal. Hence, it’s better to enquire about when the particular teacher you want to meet is free and inform her that you would like to visit and have a chat. And remember, be punctual. Communication should always be honest and direct; gossip is not productive, and it compromises your own integrity. Don’t let big problems slide, but choose your battles wisely. If you are finding that you have problems with every teacher on a regular basis, you are likely the problem. Gather all the information before making any decisions or arriving at any judgements. Know that everyone appreciates a kind word. Thank her, praise her. Thank her for being sensitive towards your child or giving him extra attention.
How often to communicate? How often you need to communicate with the teacher will depend on the severity of the problem. For more serious problems, you may need to have daily contact with the teacher. Formal systems like a school-home note or a journal are easy to use and require little teacher time. For less severe problems, weekly feedback would be enough. The important thing is to communicate regularly. If you are facing a problem with your child, try to speak to the teacher. Try working out the problem. If unsuccessful, discuss with the supervisor (with the teacher’s knowledge). Include her in the discussion if possible. Salma opines, “It is not advised that parents smother the teacher with constant visits. You can stick to the meetings that happen during the open day. This can turn into an exception only if there are any issues which need very urgent attention, for example, the child not adjusting to the class, or disturbing others or getting bullied by peers, etc.”
NOT SO GOOD NEWS?
You must stand with the teacher even if you don’t like her. We are humans. And we may not get along with every other human. However, know that this is not about you. It is about your child and his education. Of course, it helps if you and the teacher see eye to eye on everything, but it is not necessary. What is necessary is that the child knows that home and school are on the same side of one key issue: his education.
* When there are serious communication issues with the teacher, always talk about it. If she does something you do not approve of, give her a chance to explain.
* Don’t call the principal to complain about something that you think has happened, without giving it a fair hearing.
* Undoubtedly, teachers should treat your child with respect and consideration, and should follow a code of conduct.
* However, don’t be quick to judge them. Of course, if the teacher is harming your child in any way, you must take action, but those kind of serious instances are, fortunately quite rare.
Also, consider a teacher’s view point. As put forth by Radha, “While discussing children in school, it is preferable to discuss about one’s own child rather than comparing or complaining about others. It is also important to consider the conditions children and teachers work in. A teacher usually is responsible for a minimum of seven-eight children in a class and unreasonable demands from parents may not be appreciated. Parents must also know that a teacher has limited authority and hence very complex or sensitive issues should be discussed only with the superiors in the school.”
Follow the chain of command. Not only will it be more effective, not only is it the right thing to do, you are sending a powerful message to your child. When there is a problem, you deal with it at the source.
Don’t rush to your child’s defence. Just as you feel protective of your child, as teachers, they feel equally responsible for those under their care. Hence, don’t rush to conclusions or accuse the teacher if she tells you something negative about your child. Instead, give her a patient hearing and let her explain her stand. Also, work with the teacher to find out the best way to help your child overcome his shortcomings.
“The teacher is the most important person after the parents and what she does and says leaves a very strong mark on the psyche of the child and his development of the attitude towards learning”
Radha advises, “Specific problems concerning one’s child should be discussed privately and not in a general parents meet. It is always better to note down the points of discussion or the questions parents wish to ask the teacher. Whatever the problems are, the parents and teacher must come up with a common solution/understanding that will empower the child to deal with the problem. Too much adult interference may complicate small problems, especially when it is between two children.”
Particular problems are something that you and child’s teacher need to collectively deal with. In such cases, it is crucial to follow this through systematically. This is how you could do this:
1. Identify the problem. Is he bored? Has recess been eliminated? Is too much of the instructional time desk work? Is he trying to get his classmates’ attention?
2. Gather information. Talk with your child and listen. Get his teacher’s thoughts, and ask other teachers if they have observed any issues. Conduct some research. Perhaps your son requires physical play to help stimulate his ability to learn and therefore runs around during lesson time, disrupting the class.
3. Develop a plan of action. Communicate in whatever way feels most comfortable (for example, meeting, phone call, or written communication). Clearly identify the problem. Share your findings. Then ask for some specific changes. For example, you may ask that your child not lose recess as a punishment. Perhaps the agreement is that he loses privileges at home if he doesn’t come home with a complimentary note at the end of the week. Or you may ask the teacher to switch his classroom management style to acknowledge your son for good behaviour rather than punishing him for bad behaviour.
4. Always follow up. Parents, teachers, and students need to know what works so that those strategies can be repeated in the future or modified, as needed. Recognise your son for helping to solve his own problems. Also, thank the teacher for his flexibility and willingness to make classroom changes.
“Since you two are on the same team in trying to ensure your child is successful in school, it’s important to know how to effectively communicate with your child’s teacher”
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
A major communication problem reported by both parents and teachers is not doing what was agreed upon. If you told your child’s teacher you would communicate in a certain way or do a specific school or homework related task, do your best to follow through with what you said you would do. For example, if you agreed that you would check your child’s homework and sign off on the assignment, be sure to do this consistently. Be sure to let the teacher know if you are unable to do what was agreed upon. Any learning in school will be futile if it is not practised at home. To sum it all up, Radha states, “A teacher might have taken months to teach a child not to lie. But one instance of any adult at home lying can undo the child’s learning. Similarly a child’s self esteem can totally be destroyed when his teacher fails to appreciate his humble efforts. Both ways, the child is the loser. To make learning complete the child’s holistic development should be the common goal for parents and teacher to work towards.” M&B