How to best raise concerns with your child's teacher
It’s inevitable. At least once during your child’s academic career, you will encounter a teacher who just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ your child, or whose professional judgment you seriously question.
Before you go marching into the classroom or the principal’s office, think carefully. You will be much more likely to get the outcome you want if you advocate for – rather than protect – your child.
Why? An advocate advances a cause, speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves, and focusses on achieving an appropriate outcome. A protector attacks or fends off an enemy or a threat.
In all but the most serious cases, the idea of needing to ‘protect’ our children from their teachers needs to be rejected in favour of advocacy, which occurs in a climate of dignity and mutual respect.
Do's & Don'ts for raising an issue with your child’s teacher
By making your child’s teacher a negotiating partner, not an adversary, you will make it more likely your child’s needs will be met – and you will model effective communication and negotiation strategies for your child. That way, your kid will learn to step up and become his or her own advocate. What better outcome could you hope for?
1. Build a positive relationship from the beginning. Be friendly, be polite, and show appreciation.
2. Communicate. If your child has special needs, be open and honest. The teacher is not a mind-reader.
3. Be realistic. Try to see your child objectively, not through rose-coloured glasses. Your child’s challenges are nothing to be defensive about, nor a reflection of your parenting.
4. Be clear on the goal, which should be to help your child reach his or her full potential this year – not to get him or her into medical school ‘some day’.
5. Separate the person from the problem. Wrong: “You don’t care about my child.” Right: “What can be done to ensure Jimmy feels safe at school?”
6. Understand the difference between positions and interests. Position: “I’ll sue you unless you suspend Eric for bullying my son!” Interest: “I need to know your plan for keeping my son safe.
7. Frame the issue as a mutual problem to be solved. “What specific steps can we take to ensure my child feels safe at school and is free from bullying?”
8. Share your own research, knowledge and expectations in a non-threatening, collaborative way. Remember that you and the teacher are a team. She or he will welcome your insight if it’s presented respectfully.
9. Refrain from losing your cool. Yelling, screaming and insulting the teacher will only undermine your credibility, and it will not help your child.
1. Jump to conclusions. Ask the teacher for her point of view before taking your child’s statements at face value.
2. Freely criticize the teacher at home. Modelling disrespect is never a good idea, and your words will likely get back to the teacher.
3. Write angry emails or confront the teacher. If you have an issue to discuss, make an appointment for a phone call or meeting.
4. Go over the teacher’s head right off the bat. This is humiliating, infuriating, and a good way to destroy the relationship.
5. Angrily second-guess teachers’ professional decisions, such as your child not making a team or not being chosen to receive an award. It’s better to teach your kids that ‘you can’t win them all’.
6. Treat the teacher as hired help. If your kids are in private school, it’s offensive to use the tuition you’re paying as ‘leverage’ to get what you want.
7. Tell the teacher how to discipline other children. Your job is to advocate for your child, not to weigh in on how to deal with other students.
8. Demand special accommodations for your child. This is not appropriate unless you have a formal IEP and/or psycho-educational assessment to back up your demands.
9. Neglect to build a relationship with your child’s teacher. It’s unhelpful to limit your communications to complaints and criticisms, and thoughtless never to thank the teacher for his or her hard work.
Rosanna Breitman is a Toronto-based mediator and conflict resolution specialist who trains parents and educators on advocacy, negotiation and conflict resolution skills.