6 Ways to Communicate with Your Kid’s Teachers (and embarrass your kids forever)

It’s the time of year when I think of Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail get all creepy about smelling sharpened pencils when she talks about September and going back to school.

I taught English in a former life. Specifically, I taught 6th through 12th grade and then I taught at the university. I’ve seen panic on a wide scale both, from both a student and a parent. Teachers know that parents are both jubilant and worried about their kids being back in school. It’s strange for some parents to understand this, but a lot of teachers are actually parents too, so we get it. The feeling of happiness mixed with guilt? We totes understand.

Yet for some reason the school year begins and some parents either don’t know how to adequately communicate with the teacher or they don’t feel welcome in the school, especially when it’s a transition year between elementary and middle/junior high or junior and senior high. Let me help you with some tips on how to create a relationship with your child’s teacher so that you can communicate more effectively.

Transitioning from an elementary school to a middle/junior high school means going from one teacher to six or seven teachers who all have different email accounts, different prep periods, and different expectations. All of this can be overwhelming.  I have been on both sides of the desk and have found the following to be helpful:

  1. The Genius Scan App — I love this app (available for free both in the Apple App Store and Google Play). More than likely, your student will come home with disclosure documents the first few days of school requesting signatures from you and will then need to be returned. Using Genius Scan, I am able to scan all of these disclosure letters with all of their important information (i.e., late work  policies, absent work, grading scales, teacher contact, info) and can tag them. They’re all stored in Genius Scan but I can also upload them to mmunicate via emaily Google Drive or email them. If there’s ever a situation when my son is sick and can’t turn in “a really important assignment” I simply scan it on my phone and just email it to his teacher. No problem.
  2. A Group Email — Every year, I use the “groups” feature in my Gmail Contacts and create a group just for my son’s teachers and label it “Son’s Teachers” because I’m so creative. I do this so if I have to send an email because he is sick and I need his homework assignments, I’m only sending one email instead of seven. If I only have to select three of the teachers, for example, instead of all seven, I just need to click on the label in the “To” box and all of the group members are listed and all I need to do is delete those who don’t need to be included.
  3. Concept of Time — Not all teachers will read and/or answer their email in the same way. If it is easier for you to communicate via email, let teachers know that. However,  be aware that teachers can be rushed in the mornings and through the school day. Find out when your child’s teachers most often read and answer their email and be mindful of their time. If your question or concern is urgent, you might want to consider calling in the thirty minutes before school begins. If a teacher has no prep period, he or she may not even get to email until after school which means your email may not be answered until then.Some teachers will answer all their email in the morning or in the afternoon. You just never know because we like to keep things interesting. The best thing to do is to ask your child’s teacher when is the most convenient time for them to respond to email so that you know when to expect a timely response.
  4. The Rule of Scroll —  Remember the last email you received from an acquaintance that was several scrolls length that didn’t tell you what the point was until the last three sentences? That was an awesome way to spend your time and not at all frustrating! Now imagine receiving one of those from over 200 acquaintances who expect a reply 10 minutes upon opening and that would be a day in the life of a teacher’s inbox. I like to follow what I call The Rule of Scroll: If what I have to say to my son’s teacher has to be conveyed in more than one scroll length I will instead request a time when I come in and speak in person. I figure that it would be easier to talk one-on-one rather than try to articulate what’s going on in an email at that point. Teachers are processing information for more than a couple hundred students; effective communication should be clear, concise, and to the point. At best, I would have a few minutes to address email during a prep period or after school before yet another meeting. At worst, I’d have just a few seconds.
  5. Wielding the CC: — Sometimes parents and teachers won’t get along for any number of reasons. It usually starts with a parent thinking his or her child is innocent of something and the teacher knows the child is not. Many an impulsive email have been fired through the vindica-sphere for this reason and often the email has the CC filled in with the administrator’s email addy included. Parents think, “That will teach that teacher! He/she can’t treat my kid that way and get away with it. The principal will see what happened by reading what I wrote and will talk to the teacher!” There might be a “muah-ha-ha” involved in that inner-dialogue, I don’t know. I can tell you one of two things will happen in this case: either the principal will read it and delete it; or, the principal might glance at it and then delete it because it’s not an administrative issue. Like the exclamation point, the CC should be used sparingly and for good reason. If I need to CC someone, I explain to the person I’ve addressed in the email why I have CC’d out of professional courtesy.
  6. Consider Your Source, Then Consider Your Source’s Source — I once had to sit in on a meeting where parents were not taking the news of their son’s suspension for vandalizing the boys’ bathroom well. The 7th grader sulked in the corner of the principal’s office with his hands in his hoodie pockets. His parents were insistent he was not the one who had done it. They were convinced his English teacher (We always get blamed.) had it in for him and falsely accused him. My principal quietly listened to them. Once they finished, he turned to the boy and asked him take off his hoodie. I tried not to laugh when his parents’ faces paled once he pulled off his hoodie. There, all up and down his arms and stained on his fingertips was the same blue ink found on the bathroom brick walls. There could be no denying it; their son had, in fact, lied to them and had been the one who vandalized the bathroom.  I’ve often thought about this experience when I’ve listened to friends who complain about teachers hating their children. Are all teachers perfect? Oh heavens no. But to think a teacher hates a student enough to sabotage a child’s grade? Please. We barely have the energy to figure out a paper jam in the photocopier most days. There could very well be a misunderstand that results in your child’s hurt feelings. I have always held parents with a great deal of respect who came to me right away and told me that I did or said something that hurt their child so that I could set it straight. Likewise, I always appreciated parents who came straight to me and confronted me about something I supposedly did so that I could set it straight as well.This was always much easier to do if I had already established a good communicative relationship with parents from the start of the year.

The school year starting can be both exciting and stress-inducing, but the relationships between parents and teachers should always be an open exchange. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to be the first one to begin that relationship and approach any teacher to introduce themselves in order to set the expectation. These are, of course, just suggestions as parents know their children and their needs best. If a parent should, however, come across a teacher who is absolutely unwilling to communicate effectively or simply belligerent (yeah I said it) when it comes to accommodating reasonable requests (i.e, late work, explanation on an assignment, gathering work for an extended absence, etc.) then I would recommend speaking in person with the teacher and than following up with the counselor. (I would also recommend BCC yourself on all your email communications in case you need to show how many times you’ve requested information or work, etc.)

I hope for all the best this school year for you and your little scholars. Please remember to pull your car forward in the drop off lane. That drives me batshit crazy.