This article was originally published in the Peanut App. It was written to an audience of mothers, but the advice to true no matter how you identify.
There’s a relationship that is important to work on: it’s kind of professional and kind of personal, making the lines blurry at times…that’s your relationship with your child’s teacher.
It’s a vulnerable position to ask for something from the teacher. I often heard from parents that they were concerned about seeming like a helicopter parent. But I promise you’re not a helicopter:
Helicopters are loud and operate alone. They do not work on a team, in fact they have enormous spinning blades that actively repel anything from getting near it.
You may act that way in a crowd, but there’s no need to feel that way at your child’s school. You have a right and responsibility to advocate for your child. The great news is, you’re joining a fleet of educators that are ready to work on a team with you. Here are some tips to build a great relationship with your child’s teacher:
Parents and teachers are a team. Try to view your relationship as a partnership so you don’t feel intimidated. On occasion, reach out to share something your child loves from school. Then it will feel more natural to chat when something serious comes up. Teachers also appreciate a heads up if something at home may affect them in class.
When you reach out, be human: say hello and always ask how they are. Then get directly to the point. If you’re angry, give yourself time to cool off before you hit send. As they say: you get more bees with honey.
Unfortunately, you won’t always get a “yes” from your kid’s teacher or school. There are a lot of ways to solve problems, so be open to their professional opinion and (sigh) school protocol.
When it comes to this- pick your battles. Save reaching out to the principal for the issues that are very important to you. If you do escalate your issue, make sure you’ve attempted at least once to resolve the issue with the teacher.
If you’ve got a question, look back at other communication to see if they have shared the answer. Keep a folder with school information. This will help keep you organized, and can make your interactions more meaningful when you do need to reach out.
Give the teacher at least 24 hours to respond - and you may not get a response on weekends. Teachers have very little time to tend to their email, and aren’t paid overtime to respond to messages after school. If it’s been 3 days, you can follow up.
The transition to kindergarten can be hard for parents. There is far less communication than the standard daycare/preschool. You may only hear from the teacher a few times a month. Typically no news is good news.
It can be so hard to hear your kiddo is struggling. But if they reach out: listen to them. It may feel unbelievable that your child is disruptive in class, or failed a test. The hardest relationships I had were with parents that took their child’s performance personally. Teachers are not attacking you- they are problem solving and want you to be involved.
If you struggle with this, take time to explore trauma you may have experienced with school. It can be really triggering to hear your child is struggling. If an upcoming meeting is making you anxious, invite someone you trust to attend with you.
Sometimes the teacher will reach out to you and catch you off guard. If you’re not sure how to react, give yourself some space. Just say “thank you for telling me” or “we will work on that.” It shows that you listened but doesn’t commit you to anything. You can always reach out later to follow up.
If they put your child on the phone because they are in trouble you can encourage them to take some deep breaths, think about some good choices for the rest of their day and say “we will talk about this at home” (you decide on the tone for that one!).
If you think something more serious is going on- keep good records. Try to get things in writing (tip: you can download archived ClassDojo messages on their website). Here are a few things to keep around:
Clear, calm communication is the key to any functioning relationship. Over time you’ll find the school employees you really connect with and feel like you’re part of the community. You won’t feel like a hovering helicopter- you’ll be a part of the fleet.
Natalie Parmenter taught elementary school for 10 years. She is the founder of Primary Focus, where she publishes a newsletter, videos, & educational content to help parents of elementary school children.