The relationship between a parent and their child's teachers is important for that child's development and fostering a life-long love of learning. It helps children relax when they know the various people they spend all day with are on the same page. Also, you don't want to be known as a rude, absent or obnoxious parent!
Having been a high-school teacher for ten years before becoming a psychotherapist, I witnessed parent-teacher relationships go well, but also very, very badly.
As in any relationship, some effort, openness, and conflict skills help get communication underway and flowing. Here are seven tips to starting a great relationship with your child's teachers:
1) Introduce yourself and your child in the first week of school or at the orientation if there is one. Don't forget nice eye-contact and a handshake.
2) Try very hard to get to the open house/meet-the-teacher event. This is a great time to have informal chats about strategies that have worked for your child in the past, and learn more about the teacher. Remember, this is meet the teacher, not meet the parent—don't hijack the conversation and talk about yourself.
3) Remember that first impressions have more weight than we probably would like. Don't be late and don't tornado into the classroom with a sleepy and disheveled child. Also, take a moment to wipe the toddler-snot off your shoulder and leave the grey sweat-pants and flip-flops at home. First impressions also apply to the children. It has been said a teacher will grade a child over the whole year based on the very first mark they issue at the beginning. Talk to you children about this, and about how they can start off doing their very best.
4) Be Helpful. If you have the time, ask the teacher about when he/she needs volunteers to help, and signup. Also, ask what materials are needed and see if you can either purchase these or find ways to locate these needed items (ask around/look online).
5) Be prompt with paperwork. There are usually a large number of forms that need to be filled out right away. Look through your child's backpack each night and make sure you get everything complete and back in the pack.
6) Try to avoid getting into a power struggle with your child's teacher. Just like when you leave your child with a babysitter, other parent or grandparent; it takes time and some trial-and-error for that new relationship to form. Don't hover, or be quick to comment if there is tension. Let the teacher have time to get to know your child without swooping in to tell him or her what to do.
7) Early on, find a way to regularly communicate to the teacher that they are valued and capable. This is called "encouragement!" Starting off sentences with, "My son loved when you..." or "Hey, my daughter really smiles when she talks about you..." goes a long way to building a strong relationship. The teacher may actually change his or her behaviour to try and get more comments like that from you! The one that warms my heart the most is, "I'm so grateful for how much care you give to my son — I can really see that he likes you."
*If the first few weeks aren't going well, ask the teacher if he or she has five minutes to chat. Do not wait until the problems are overwhelming.
When parents and teachers work together, a child can stop focusing on how to manage or figure out adult behaviour, and just be kids. I post more free parenting help on my Facebook page, where you are welcome to ask questions, too.
Photo: flickr creative commons Office of Governor Patrick