Communication advice for parents and teachers

Get involved is a two-word mantra heard by nearly every parent when they send their children off to school.

Students do best, we’re told, when their parents or guardians work hand-in-hand with the teachers to help them get the most out of their education.

However, just like everything else, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

Teachers these days often have to deal with two extremes in parenting: parents who seem to have no interest in what goes on at the school, and those who become almost too involved.

Non-involved parents drive teachers up walls when they don’t show up for scheduled conferences, refuse to return papers that need to be signed on time, or don’t send their kids to school with adequate supplies.

The second group, termed “helicopter parents” by the popular media, want to have a hand in every aspect of their child’s lives and make sure they succeed at nearly all costs.

They might drop by the school unannounced and want to come into the classroom, and may even go as far as completing homework assignments for their child and getting overly upset with “unfair” grades or when their child does not make a team.

Helicoptering is hard for teachers to deal with and, in many cases, is bad for students who need to learn accountability for their own actions.

“Try to teach your child responsibility for his or her own education,” said Cheryl Sedota, librarian and assistant principal at St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach. “Teachers want parents to be involved and ask questions, but I think the world has shifted somewhat in that we tend to place the blame on the teacher and the institution before we look to see if the child is responsible. Parents should look at what the problem might be with their own kid, and let them accept the responsibility if the fault is theirs.”

Parents should be concerned about their child’s grades, and promptly email or call a teacher if any concerns come up. Any interaction with the teacher, however, should be respectful and not confrontational, and discussions should include a chance for both sides to air concerns.

“One thing parents need to do is stop making excuses for their child,” said Laura Webster, assistant principal and junior high literature and English teacher at St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken. “Parents want teachers to not make excuses, and they should come to a conference in the same frame of mind, to let their child have some accountability. Also, during meetings, let the teacher talk too. We know parents have a lot to say, but we’ve worked hard to get to the point where we are and we have something to offer.”

Communication is vital for the parent-teacher relationship to work, and it must be a two-way street, said Beverly Toth, assistant principal and social studies teacher at St. Francis by the Sea School in Hilton Head. “We need to encourage a dialogue between teachers and parents because parents appreciate it when they realize the teacher is approachable,” she said. “The parents should always feel comfortable enough to call or email, but when they do they need to give the  teacher the opportunity to explain why a grade was given or why an incident occurred.”

There are many very simple things parents can do to prepare their kids to be the best students they can be, which in turn can make the relationship between teacher and parent work more smoothly. Faculty at St. Andrew School brainstormed a short list of suggestions. Some of these might seem basic, Sedota said, but they can make all the difference in a student’s attitude:

Pray together. Just because parents might send their children to a Catholic school or to religious education at their church, they are still the basis of a child’s religious and spiritual formation.

Be on time consistently, whether it’s leaving the house in the morning, picking kids up from school or activities, or arriving at Mass on time. This teaches your child the message that timeliness is important and considerate to others.

Feed your child a good breakfast before school in the morning.

Make sure they have adequate time to go out and play and are encouraged to do so.

Realize your child is part of a class. All the students in the class deserve as much attention as your child does.

Learn that it is perfectly OK to say ‘no’ to your child, because they will hear that word at school and need to learn the boundaries of what they can and can’t do.

Try not to overreact to school situations, or a bad grade that your child brings home. Get the facts from your child and the teacher, then act, talk to the teacher, and find out how to fix the situation.