Photo by: NCA

Parent-Teacher Communication: Easy If You Try

Photo by: NCA

Did you know that one of the most important indicators of a child’s success in school is how involved you are as a parent with the school and all it entails? That doesn’t mean that you have to be one of those parents who is constantly at the school as a room parent, office runner, writing lab typist, or LMC assistant—bless those people’s hearts because they’re doing great things—but it does mean that you are, at the very least, helping with homework, staying in the loop about what’s going on at school, and communicating with your child’s teacher. If you’ve got school-aged children, you may have had an issue or two with a teacher that you feel needs addressing. (If you haven’t, get ready for it, ‘cause it’s coming.)

As a parent, sometimes it can be intimidating to approach a teacher, even if your child is only in preschool, because you’re afraid of being judged. Get over it. Here’s a tip: get to know your children’s teachers at the beginning of each school year. Talk to them, e-mail them, whatever. If you already have a couple of positive conversations under your belt when something that needs addressing actually occurs, it’s going to be much, much easier for you to make that call.

When our older son was in second grade, his teacher was Mrs. J. She was (and still is!) a fantastic teacher. Her reputation around the school was that she was “the meanest teacher”, and although that was always reported in a joking manner because she was really not a meanie, this woman was a great classroom manager and didn’t take any nonsense from her kids. She was friendly as all get-out, and so very caring. I really enjoyed talking to her and even now, ten years later, I sometimes see her in public and she always stops to chat.

Back in the day, my older son came home with an assignment from Mrs. J that sent me through the roof. It was a worksheet with a note attached to it. The note said, “Dear Parents, Please help your student complete this assignment; it’s due tomorrow. Thank you!” The worksheet was just a sheet of blank lines (for writing on later) with the title “Why My Parents Are My Best Friends”.

Screeeeeeeeech! What? No, no, no.

First of all, before I go on, I have to rant about my feelings on this issue. I am a firm believer that not only are parents not intended to be their children’s best friends, but also that parents are not intended to be their children’s friends at all. Not their second-runner-up-best friend. Not even their fifteenth-runner-up-best friend. Period.

Labeling the relationship with your offspring as “friendship” and acting accordingly indicates that, at least in some ways/circumstances/situations, you are equals. You are NOT. I believe that although it is quite possible to have a great relationship with your kids (I do), and it’s possible that your kids feel comfortable talking to you about many things in a friendly way (mine do), it is a parent’s job to lead their children, at least until the age of eighteen.

If you are friends with your children, how are you going to assert yourself as the parent during the times when parental guidance is needed and expected? Your friend-child is more likely to take advantage of your “friendship”, and you, the friend-parent, are more likely to be lenient in a situation that calls for something more strict because you don’t want your friend-child to be upset with you.

Your credibility in both roles goes down the toilet. So, am I best friends with my kids? NO WAY*. So now you get where my head is at on that issue, and why my head nearly exploded when my son brought that assignment home. And now we were in a pickle, because this was an actual assignment. I had to make the phone call.

Luckily, this all went down immediately after school and I was able to call right away and catch her before she left for home. That was a total surprise, the stars aligning like that. I said, “Mrs. J, I’m sorry to keep you, but I just had to call you and discuss the homework assignment with you.” She said, “No problem! What about it?” I explained my distress about it, considering my position on the issue and I think it stunned her. She said, “Oh my goodness, you know, I’ve sent home that same assignment for the last ten years and you’re the first person to call me about it. I understand your position and I’m certainly not saying that you HAVE to be your child’s best friend; the assignment is really just meant to be a conversation starter so that you can encourage your child to come to you with any concerns or questions. You can just change the title to say something like ‘Why I Can Talk to My Parents About Anything’ or something like that.” And that’s all I remember about the conversation. We did the assignment with the altered title, and I’m sure he forgot about it within a day or two, but I never did.

In fact, I was waiting for it to come home in my younger son’s folder when he was in Mrs. J’s class three years later. But it never did. I felt a little bad about making the call that obliterated what obviously had been a successful assignment on the other 1,000 times she sent it home, but admittedly only for a second. I imagine that she felt a little bad about assuming that everyone wants to be their child’s best friend, but probably only for a second. In the end, none of that matters. It was all about how well we communicated. I think we both came out of the conversation maintaining the mutual respect we had originally developed, and we still carry it to this day. And that, my friends, is how a successful parent-teacher relationship should be.

*After they are eighteen and responsible for their own welfare, that’s a different story. I hope that, over the years, I have nurtured relationships with my kids to the point where they continue to enjoy spending time with me as adults…and more like equals. (but not Besties.) Until then, no. Got it?

Melisa Wells is a freelance writer and author. She can be found most often at her personal blog, Suburban Scrawl, but she really gets around, so you really never know when you’ll run into her. She is a wife and the mom of two teens.

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This is great stuff. And it is very important that parents speak up. She probably had been using the assignment for 10 years because she didn't have the feedback from parents like you that felt that same way but stewed over it at home rather than getting involved. I, for one, would have said the same thing to her. Your alternative question would have been a much better assignment.

I came over from your blog to support your guest posting efforts. You definitely cannot be best friends with your kids. As far as talking to the teachers, I think good open communication is the best policy for any relationship. I hope I can remember that when Braden starts to school.

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