Parent-Teacher Cooperation

How Parents Can Build Better Relationships With Teachers

Teachers are an important factor in determining your child’s academic success. So what can parents do to help teachers help their children?

Science teacher by chalkboard

A couple of weeks back I was in Texas, enjoying some outstanding BBQ prepared by the football coach of a school I was visiting, when a few teachers and I had an illuminating chat. It was clear to me from the conversation that the teachers sitting at my table licking Sweet Baby Ray’s from their fingers were looking forward to another opportunity to mold and educate the young minds that would soon fill their classrooms. Always curious, I asked, “What are some challenges you as teachers will have to face in the coming months?”

I thought for sure I was going to hear those four letters — ADHD, as in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the condition I was diagnosed with as an adult but have lived with all my life — seeing that ADHD can be such a challenge in the classroom. However the condition never came up. It was uncanny that collectively all the teachers agreed that their greatest challenge would not be the students but the parents. Each teacher had a couple of “nightmare parent” stories. Disrespectful ones. Ones with unrealistic expectations for their children and the school. Parents that were too busy to be truly involved in their children’s lives, expecting the teacher not only to educate but also to mold their child into a model citizen. Parents with agendas for their children’s futures, regardless of whether their sons or daughters had any inclination or talent at all to pursue the path their parents had envisioned for them. And last, but not least, parents who were convinced that all teachers are evil and are out to destroy their child.

Why can’t we just all get along? I wondered.

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special Ed Law?]

After this conversation, I realized if a child struggles in school, regardless of whether they have a learning disability, ADHD, OCD, or some other special need, a collaborative relationship between the parents and teachers is key. If a student’s teachers and parents see eye to eye and the efforts of both parties work in tandem, success for the student will surely follow.

But like all worthwhile relationships, the one between parent and educator takes effort, time, and patience. So before you head out to that next parent-teacher conference, take a look at these six keys to building a good relationship with your child’s teacher.

1. Respect your child’s teachers. Undoubtedly, your child will have teachers whose competence you will question. Maybe it’s because they look like they just graduated from high school, employ nontraditional teaching strategies, or there is just something else about them that rubs you the wrong way. Nonetheless, realize that being rude or unfriendly will not make the situation better. There is no faster way to sabotage any chance of a helpful collaboration on behalf of your child than to disrespect the teacher. It’s very hard to be objective when it comes to the well-being of our children, but when it comes to this, we must, must let our brain lead our hearts and not the other way around. Get emotional and things can become unproductive very quickly.

Bad teachers are unquestionably a minority, so please don’t jump to any conclusions before exhausting all opportunities and options to find a common language.

[Free Worksheet: “What I Wish My Teachers Knew”]

2. Be a good listener. Yes, of course you know your child better than anyone. But (and this should come as no surprise) away from you and the family environment, kids may very well act differently. They might be more shy or more outgoing, more talkative or less, cooperative or ornery. The point is don’t dismiss the teacher’s observations and assessment of your child’s behavior in the classroom. Just for a moment, if the feedback is not glowing, don’t immediately rush to your child’s defense but listen with an open mind. The opposite is true too. Is there something the teacher is doing in class to bring your child out of their shell, to help them be more creative, to try new things? Ask lots and lots of questions and listen. Take notes if you have to. Give yourself time to process the information. Keep the knee-jerk reactions to a minimum.

3. Be realistic. Unless your child is in a private or specialty school, odds are there are anywhere from 26 to 30 other students competing for any one teacher’s attention. If your child has special needs, then she obviously requires more of the teacher’s attention than the other kids. Keep in mind, however, teachers are human too. They have their limits and there will be times when it will be impossible to give your child the attention she needs. Imagine if there are four or five special-needs students in your child’s class. Are you experiencing any pangs of sympathy yet? I know I am. A teacher is not a miracle worker. And more than that, teachers are often constrained by the system — there are quotas to be met, percentages to be achieved, milestones to be reached. Unfortunately, sacrificing many for the sake of one is really not an option when it comes to education. So what then?

4. Be proactive. Essentially, it will be up to you to help the teacher help your child. You must do as much as possible outside of the classroom to help your child’s time in the classroom be as successful as possible. Asking, “Why isn’t that teacher doing everything he can for my child?” is counter-productive. Instead ask, “What can I do for my child and the teacher?” The most successful students with ADHD are going to be the ones that have parents who are actively engaged in their academic life. Aside from taking charge of 504 plans or IEPs and making sure that your child is getting all the available accommodations, ask how you can get involved in the day-to-day life of the school. I’m not saying become the president of your school’s parent organization or anything, but if your school allows parents to volunteer during classroom time, do that! A visit once or twice a month can make a big difference in the relationship you have with your child’s teacher and give you both an opportunity to fine-tune strategies and techniques to help your child succeed that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

5. Come to school meetings prepared. Always come to the meeting armed with ideas and information. If the teacher has special-education training or is very familiar with ADHD, bonus! But if you’re really going to help your child, you will need to know as much about ADHD, if not more, than anyone around you, including the teachers. Most of the teachers you encounter will know very little about ADHD except for the typical stereotypes. Why? Because most of them are given minimal information about the subject in their schooling. Bring books (highlight the most useful chapters or passages), magazine and newspaper clippings, printouts of your online research about teaching methods that benefit students with ADHD, and personal observations of what works for your child and what doesn’t. Be tasteful with the way you share the information and I guarantee the teachers will appreciate it.

[United We Learn: 11 Rules for a Better Parent-Teacher Partnership]

Also, if your child has special needs and is either new to the school or to the teacher, be sure to share this same information! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking New school, new teacher … maybe my daughter will act like everyone else here. Disclosing your child’s issues and needs before the new school year is in full swing will give a teacher a chance to prepare and strategize. The fewer surprises for the teacher the better for your child.

6. Watch your tone. Choose your words and tone wisely. Remember that your child’s teacher plays an important part in molding your child’s young mind. Remember that their time is as precious as yours. Think through what you want to go over with your child’s teacher before you actually meet. Guard your heart and be prepared to talk about those things that might be uncomfortable and cause a more impulsive, unproductive response. Be open and honest. If you’ve just recently discovered that your child might have ADHD and are still trying to educate yourself on the subject, I recommend reading The ADD/ADHD Checklist by Sandra Rief. It is comprehensive but easy to read and is great for both parents and teachers.

Up next: For teachers, six tips to building a good relationship with your students’ parents.