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6 Big Communication Mistakes Parents Make That Drive Teachers Crazy

iPad, Shot in school classroom
Photograph by Getty Images

It’s that time of year again—time for new backpacks, folders, pencils and the return of our sanity as school begins. Though many parents are overjoyed to send their kids back to school for another year of learning, challenges and fun, some may feel apprehension about developing a good relationship with their child’s teacher.

As an educator starting her eleventh year teaching, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to parent-teacher communication. Here are some ways to avoid communication breakdowns between you and the person responsible for your child’s education.

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Mistake 1: You’re Unreachable

Before school starts, call the secretary or stop into the office and make sure your contact information is up to date in the school’s computer system. I can’t tell you how many parent emails I’ve sent that have bounced back from deleted accounts or have gone unanswered. Then I try the phone number only to find it’s been disconnected because the parent has gotten a new number.

Mistake 2: Going Straight to the Top

If you have a problem with your child’s teacher (you think their grading practices are unfair, or your child should get an extension on an assignment due to an excused absence, etc.) don’t pick up the phone and call the principal first. Your initial complaint should go to the teacher before his or her boss. You don’t want to be that parent that hasn’t gotten the memo about how things work.

Mistake 3: Not Utilizing Web Tools

Almost all schools now have some kind of online grading system that allows parents to track their students' grades online. You should be provided with a username and password and instructions on how to use the system. If you’re not sure, contact the secretary for this information. Some systems will email you whenever your student has a missing or late assignment, or if their grade drops below a certain level. Check it often, and investigate not just the total grade, but the assignment/test breakdown as well. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten where a parent will log in and just see the grade, and then email me “why is my child getting a D?” Well, if they’d bothered to click on the grade breakdown, they could see all the missing assignments and failed tests. After that, feel free to email the teacher and inquire about what the student can do to raise their scores. Better yet, send your student to investigate this!

Also, many teachers have online blogs, websites or other tools to announce assignments or send out reminders for tests. You can answer a lot of your own questions by investigating your school’s web-based grading system and the teacher’s website instead of peppering their inbox with emails. We love to hear from you, but we’re busy!

Mistake 4: Discussing School Issues in the Community

If you see your child’s teacher out in the community, at the grocery store or the local bar, please do not approach them to talk about school. If you need to speak to the teacher face-to-face, make an appointment and meet at the school. Besides, your student’s grades are confidential information, and who knows who’s listening to you in the produce aisle?

Mistake 5: Making Contact Only When Something Bad Happens

Consider your relationship with your child’s teacher like a bank account. You need to fill it with positive interactions in case you need to“withdraw” or lodge a complaint or problem with their teaching. Your personal interactions with teachers will be so much less stressful if you’ve gone out of your way to be nice to them at some point. So, maybe drop them an email on the second day of school saying something like, “Hi, I just wanted to let you know my son Jeremy is very excited about the first unit of the year. Sounds fun! Have a great week!” Then, when you need to contact them for something negative, you’ve built up the positive relationship already.

Mistake 6: Believing Your Kid No Matter What

If your child comes to you with a complaint about the teacher, step back a moment before making that call or firing off that email. Of course we don’t want to believe our kids would lie, but children are still developing, and their perceptions of what really happened in a situation are not always correct. An email that reads, “why did you yell at my son yesterday?” is not going to go over well. Instead, keep the tone neutral, and try something like, “I heard from my son that there was a behavior incident yesterday, and I was wondering if you could tell me what happened.” I love kids, and love working with them, but they aren’t always 100 percent honest. Get everyone’s side of the story first and try to resolve the conflict before flying off the handle.

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Good luck this year, and remember to keep those lines of communication open. It is your right to contact your child’s teacher regarding his or her education, and, though it may not seem like it, teachers want parents involved in their kids’ education! It’s all about good communication skills. We’re all on the same team here!

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