If your child is having problems in school – academic, social or behavioural – one of the most important things you can do is to form a strong working alliance with your child’s teacher. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Let your child’s teachers know that you respect them as professionals who have your child’s best interests at heart.
- Even if you disagree with your child’s teacher, be sure not to criticize the teacher within earshot of your child.
- When you sit down with your child’s teacher to discuss a problem, it’s important to stay focused on your goal: finding a solution.
- Don’t get sidetracked by looking for someone to blame – the teacher, yourself, your child or another student.
- Try to understand the situation in as much detail as time permits.
- Ask, “What, exactly, is the problem?” For example, if the problem is talking out of turn, is your child talking with friends about the material being taught, chatting about things that are unrelated to the class, or inappropriately shouting out the answers? It’s hard to solve any problem until you have the details.
- Find out when the problem occurs – during group time, desk time, or transition time from one activity to another. Is the problem worse in the mornings, or after lunch? Timing can be an important clue. For example, academic problems in the afternoon might be a sign that children are overtired. Perhaps your child is staying up too late or he could be experiencing a sleep problem making sleep less restful than it should be. Perhaps your child is not eating her lunch and snacks.
- Ask what happens right before the problem occurs, and right after. An important pattern might emerge. For example, a child’s misbehaviour consistently results in the child being sent out of math class. Could the acting out be a way to avoid a subject that the child finds difficult or frustrating? For some children, this is a way of covering up a learning disability.
- Make a list of all the things that have been tried so far. Resist the temptation to say, “We’ve done everything! Nothing works!” Although it might feel that way, there are always other solutions to try.
- Agree on a plan, and write it down so that everyone is clear on their role. For example, your role as a parent might be to see that your child is in bed every night by 8 pm. The teacher’s role might be to spend a few extra minutes each day making sure that your child understands the homework. Your child’s role might be to check with the teacher to make sure all the homework assignments are written down correctly, then check with you to make sure the homework is done and in the schoolbag before your child starts playing.
- Be sure to plan when you and the teacher will meet again, how you’ll measure success and how you will keep in communication with each other.
- Don’t expect to fix a complex problem in one single step. Instead, look for any progress in the right direction. Agree ahead of time on a backup strategy if you get to the point where you have reached a dead end with a given approach. Coming up with a fresh strategy might involve calling in a school counsellor, the principal or a health professional.
- Don’t be afraid to go to the next level and involve the principal. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you and your child will hit an impasse with a particular teacher. Maybe there’s an incompatibility between the teaching style in the classroom and your child’s learning style. Or maybe you can’t figure out exactly what the problem is. You just know that things aren’t getting any better. In this case, you should feel free to ask for help beyond the classroom teacher. An experienced administrator can often help bring about some sort of beneficial resolution.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
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