Recently a parent of a Year 12 boy asked me for advice on how best to approach her son’s teacher to inquire about the low course average. She was unsure as to how to do this without putting the teacher offside. Parents definitely have a right to inquire about how things are going in the classroom and request more information about things like course averages and student results, but there are definitely some key do’s and don’ts, which if adhered to, can help you get the information that you need without creating an uncomfortable, confrontational situation. Here are some tips which I know as a teacher I appreciate and which have helped to maintain good working relationships between myself and the parents of my students.       

  • Before Contacting

Firstly, before contacting the teacher consider whether the information you require is needed now or whether it can wait until a parent teacher interview or other such occasion. As a general guide, if you can ask your child for the information, you don’t need to ask the teacher. Some examples would be questions about what homework is due, about what’s in the program, about when there’s a test and about what your child scored in a test. Some things which we encourage you to ask about include: how you can support learning at home, how to improve your child’s organisation or any other specific issue which you may want more information about. If there is an issue which you wish to discuss, make sure you’ve discussed any such issues thoroughly with your child to try and understand the situation clearly, without the emotion. Hearing a story from your child’s perspective may not always include all the facts or the relevant context. This can be difficult for parents, but try to keep an open mind and keep emotions out of it until you have heard from the teacher.

  • Approach the Teacher Directly First

Going directly to someone higher than the teacher, like the Head of Department or Head of Curriculum, can often immediately create a big issue and make the teacher feel as though they have done something wrong. Straight away the teacher will be on the defensive. So try to approach the teacher directly first and see what sort of response you get. If you don’t get the answers you need or feel unsatisfied or concerned with the answers you are given, only then go to someone higher up. In most cases there won’t be an issue, so why create one when it is not necessary?

  • Be Honest About Your Intentions

Tell the teacher you don’t want to put them on the spot but these are your concerns and you were hoping they could provide you with some information. Generally there will be an explanation so give the teacher a chance to explain before jumping to any conclusions.

  • Email First

It can be really helpful for teachers if you email first explaining what you would like to talk about and request a follow up in whatever manner you prefer, whether that be an email, phone call or face-to-face. Emailing first will give the teacher a chance to gather the information that you need and without putting them on the spot. Most high school teachers teach five classes which would usually be between 100 – 200 students, and being put on the spot by a parent can be unnecessarily unsettling for the teacher and can result in the parent not getting the answers that they needed. This can cause an issue where there may not have been need for one in the first place. Giving a teacher a chance to ‘prepare’ their response does not mean they are hiding anything, it is just a courtesy. It can also be less frustrating for you than chasing the teacher because often when you call or come by, the teacher will be either busy teaching a class or busy assisting students and be unable to attend to you at that time.

  • When to Expect a Response

      Unlike some professions, teaching does not allow for one to be in constant email or phone contact. Therefore it is not always reasonable to expect an immediate response to a phone call or an email. On a busy day, a teacher may not get a chance to check emails until the late afternoon, well after school has finished. With preparation for the next day as a priority, they may not be able to reply that day. Try to give the teacher at least two business days to respond to your query before attempting to make contact again.

Feeling comfortable to approach your child’s teacher is very important as a parent because you are a key part in their education. Most of the teachers I have worked with have been very good at maintaining open lines of communication with parents. If your child’s teacher does not do this well, then it is up to you to make it happen and it can be helpful to know how to do this without coming across as confrontational.

Photo credit: m_shipp22 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)