Sneakers are tied, cowlicks are tamed, and a morning snack is tucked safely inside the backpack. Your smiling, well-scrubbed child seems happy, poised, and ready to meet his teacher. The question is, are you? Should you mention that patch of poison ivy creeping up his elbow? What about those medical forms - admit that you lost them? And what if your boss calls while you're powwowing - should you take the call? It's no wonder you're nervous: Your kid's teacher is the one person who spends almost as much time with your child as you do, so you want to make a positive connection. Apples, shmapples - there are five core values that will make or break your bond with your kid's teacher. Here's how to understand and maximize them.
It may sound obvious, but participating in your kid's education, even minimally, can do wonders. "Children whose parents are involved with their education generally tend to be less disruptive in class," says Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association. Your involvement also shows the teacher that you support her role in educating your child.
How engaged should you be? First and foremost, be sure that your child makes homework a daily priority - over sports and clubs. "Teachers see the completion of homework as the number one factor in making a child's academic life easier from kindergarten through college," says Marcia Maloni, Ph.D., a psychologist in Pittsburgh who specializes in parent/teacher relations. Also, don't skip the school's open house, even if it's your kid's third or fourth year there. "Parents probably think these events are boring," says Maloni, "but you'll learn what's required of your child, what the school's resources are, and what opportunities are available." Another great way to make an impact is to attend a few PTA meetings. "I work with our PTA to plan programs and to see what teachers' needs are," says mom Leigh Casarotti, 36, of Richmond, VA. "I'm participating in my daughter's education in a positive way, and I think that her teachers feel like I'm on their side." Too busy for the PTA? "Even a small contribution to the classroom goes a long way," says Molly Baker, an elementary school teacher in York, SC. Ask the teacher if there's something she can use, such as tissues, pencils, erasers, or crayons.
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Teachers have a deep appreciation for parents who really listen to their opinions and consider their expertise, especially when it comes to bad news. You don't want to believe that your child would ever push another child on purpose, but that might be exactly what happened. "Teachers witness behavior and social interactions that parents often don't see," says Nancy Martin, a preschool teacher in San Mateo, CA.
If the teacher's telling you something about your kid that's upsetting, keep your cool. "A lot of parents' knee-jerk reaction to negative news about their kid is to call the principal or show up at the school angry, but that's the wrong thing to do," says Edward Reid, an elementary school counselor in Worcester County, MD. "Most teachers want to work with you, but calling the principal - their boss - first sends the message that you don't really trust them." In fact, Kennon McDonough, a school consultant to San Francisco Bay Area preschools, recommends actually thanking the teacher for sharing upsetting news. "While it's hard to take, it is additional information that may help your kid in the long run," she says. And even if you don't ultimately agree with the teacher's opinion, you'll have increased her trust in you simply by listening and considering what she's shared with you.
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You may think it's enough to just sign off on permission slips and report cards, but communication about your kid's health, happiness, and progress needs to flow both ways. Most teachers are shocked at how little parents share about what's happening at home. "If there's an illness or a crisis going on, your child's teacher needs to know about it because it may explain why your child isn't behaving well or performing academically," says McDonough. But don't wait for a crisis to connect with your kid's teacher; you can share the positive developments, too, such as how well he's doing with his piano lessons or how he's taken to reading the Harry Potter series. "The more you can paint a true and full picture of who your child is, the more it helps the teacher," McDonough says. And keeping connected doesn't mean you have to schedule a conference or a special phone call. "I really love e-mail. It's a great way to bridge home and school," says Martin. "I'll regularly e-mail parents just to share some of our classroom experiences."
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"Kids can't show gratitude toward their teacher every day, so it's important for parents to do it," McDonough says. "Teaching is a very high-energy job, and it's not given as much value in society as it deserves." But that doesn't mean you have to buy extravagant gifts. "Whether a parent leaves a muffin, a flower, or a note on my desk, it makes my day," says Martin. At the end of every school year, Merritt Rowe, 39, a Nashville mother of three, writes a long note thanking her kids' teachers for all they did. "I know it means a lot to the teacher," she says. "And I want them to know how thankful I am for what they did with my child all year."
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Teachers' number one request of 21st-century parents: Get off your cell phone to say hello to the teacher when you pick up your kid. "Take 30 seconds and give full attention to the person who spends eight hours a day with your kid," says Maloni. "Otherwise, you're dissing the teacher!" Another frequent parental faux pas? Dropping your kid off at school late. "You need to get your child to school on time," says Jo Ann Brooks, a preschool teacher in Richmond, VA. "Getting to school late just throws off the morning activities." You don't want your kid and her tardiness to be the reason why everyone else is running behind. Likewise, be sure to return forms like permission slips within 24 to 48 hours of receiving them; your child may forget about them, so check her backpack daily.
If you do make a mistake and forget to sign off on that report card, don't pile on the justifications or fibs, says McDonough. Just apologize and move on. "Teachers hear excuses from kids all day long," she says. "They don't need to hear them from parents, too."
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How do you develop a positive relationship with your child's teacher? Teachers - what else do you wish parents knew?
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