You don’t have to be a brown-noser to give your kid a leg up in class this year. But alienate your child’s instructor, and it’ll be harder to communicate about his progress and problems. Luckily, there is a happy middle ground. Here are twenty-eight tips from teachers around the country on how to make yourself an A-plus academic advocate. Surprise: an apple on her desk is nowhere on the list.
1. Make attending parent-teacher conferences a priority
It’s one of the few opportunities to really learn about your child’s progress.
2. Make the first move
Try early on to have a short word with your child’s teacher at orientation or after school. This will open up an avenue of communication well before your scheduled teacher-parent conference.
3. Skip the chitchat
She really doesn’t want to know that you’re thinking about changing the color of your hair from caramel to copper. Save chitchat for your gal pals, husband, or therapist. If a teacher sees you as someone who “dumps” stress on them, they may avoid you — and that’s not a good thing for your kid.
4. Keep it short
There are other parents waiting to talk to the teacher — and he/she might want to get home to their own kids, trivia night at the local bar, Pay-per-View, whatever. A quick hello is plenty.
5. Don’t judge a book by its cover
Think a new teacher looks too young, or too old, or the wrong gender? Great teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages — just like parents.
6. Don’t cancel last minute
Just like with a date, a last-minute cancellation or being a no-show gives the impression that you don’t care — in this case, about your child.
7. Be nice
Obviously, if the teacher has good will towards you, it may carry over to your child. But don’t obsess. Being courteous and following the Golden Rule is good enough.
8. Don’t be shy
Being open and honest is not only good for your marriage. The teacher can’t help you or your child if he or she doesn’t know there is an issue.
9. Share background information
Not only will the teacher be more sympathetic to your child, but she’ll also feel like you recognize that she has an important role in your kid’s life.
10. Honor thy classroom supply sheet
Assume there’s a good reason for using two- instead of three-hole punch binders, and the teacher’s not just out to make supply shopping into a time-consuming scavenger hunt.
11. Speak up
Also, if you have something similar to a requested item, ask the teacher before substituting.
12. Help with homework
If you can get them over a hump and up to speed with the lesson, this prevents the teacher from having to privately tutor your child in a full classroom.
13. But don’t do homework
You are only hurting them. Not only will they learn less, but they won’t think they can do it on their own (and they might be right). Seriously, if you’re not planning on going off with them to college, don’t start now.
14. Don’t bring kids to a parent-teacher conference
You’ll be distracted, the teacher will be irritated, and the children will be bored. Hire a sitter, or leave your spouse at home with the kids and report back.
15. Supply your school
Particularly with ongoing budget costs, many teachers spend their own money to supplement classroom supplies. Beginning-of-the-year donations or holiday gifts of supplies will not only help the teacher, but also your child.
16. Give your time
Volunteer in the classroom, be a lunchroom monitor, work at the school store, or chaperone a field trip or dance.
17. Listen to both sides
Of course you want to believe your kid if he’s complaining about school — that’s natural. But get a clear picture of a situation before you react.
18. Give thanks
A simple and sincere “thank you” is always appropriate. Presents are nice but not needed. If you do give a gift, food is usually an inoffensive option. Everyone’s got to eat.
19. Give the teacher some space
And don’t be upset if the teacher does not respond immediately to a note, email or phone call. With cutbacks and growing class sizes, teachers are overwhelmed. If you get no response, write again or follow up with a phone call — but be polite.
20. Keep in touch the teacher’s way
Email is often preferred because you won’t catch him or her at a bad time or get involved in a frustrating game of phone tag.
21. Know when to call instead of email
It tends to dampen or heighten emotions like anger and frustration. Plus, if a legal situation arises you might have to make your correspondence public.
22. Speak to the teacher first
If nothing gets resolved, then go to the principal or headmaster.
23. Don’t be a “helicopter parent”
Let your child represent himself with his or her teacher, particularly in high school. Dealing with teachers when they need to get extra help or to discuss other problems will prepare them for interacting with professors at college — when, presumably, you won’t be there as an advocate.
24. Don’t tell a teacher how to grade
If you’re confused or think it’s unfair, ask for an explanation of the criteria or for the teacher to defend a grade.
25. Keep your kid organized
While it might seem outdated, having a tidy book bag and passing “binder tests” is important. Kids get embarrassed and teachers get annoyed when lessons are brought to a halt by missing materials.
26. Make copies of report cards and tests
It’s up to you to keep track of this stuff. You may have a few children to keep track of, while the teacher may have over a hundred.
27. Follow school food rules
While your child’s favorite birthday treat may be peanut butter bars, there are a lot of allergic kids out there. Many schools have outlawed treats like baked goods, especially anything containing nuts.
28. Work as a team
There are probably a few reasons why you’re not homeschooling your kid. One? Teaching is hard. If you can work together with your child’s teacher, both of you will have an easier time of things.