As the new school year rolls around, you and your child’s teacher have one big thing in common, even if you’ve never met before: the goal to make your child feel comfortable and ready to learn.
Ideally, you and the teacher will work together as a team to make sure your child is getting the most out of school. After all, with the typical teacher responsible for 20 to 30 students at a time, a little help from home is important. Those crucial “official” parent-teacher conferences, though, often don’t come around until weeks or months into the school year. So in the meantime, what can parents do to establish a rapport early with the teacher that will help their child succeed?
First, reflect on where things left off a few months back. The last day of school may seem like a million years ago, with vacations, sports, and long, hot days in between, but recall what your goals were going into the summer. If you talked with your child’s previous teacher on how to keep academic progress going throughout the summer, this is a good time to assess your efforts and where more help may be needed. For example, if your child completed a summer reading list, consider supplementing schoolwork this year with at-home reading challenges, using the types of books your child likes best.
As the new year begins, start off on a good path with your child’s teacher by including these questions in your early conversations:
1. Can We Set Up a Regular Check-in Schedule? What Are the Best Ways to Communicate with You?
This starts relationships with the teacher for both you and your child off on the right foot, because the teacher will be assured that you are involved and want to pay attention. Whether you’re checking in weekly or monthly, regular communication will keep you in the loop and allows teachers to feel like they have partners at home in education.
Of course, be mindful of the teacher’s schedule. He or she may not have time to chat during drop-off or pick-up, but if you can establish what time works best early on and stick to that, both sides can benefit greatly—and so will your child. You may even agree that email or phone check-ins work best, saving each of you time while still building a mutual understanding of your child’s progress. Whatever you decide, make sure to respect the teacher’s time when choosing your questions: There’s no reason to bombard with emails about what kind of glue stick to buy for the first day; save the communication for the important stuff.
2. What Should I Ask My Child at Home About Your Class?
This question does a couple of things: first, it helps give you a framework to establish communication with your child about school. There’s only so many times you can ask, “How was school today?” and simply get a shrug in response before you just stop asking. So instead of falling into that cycle, get the teacher’s thoughts on more specific aspects of how the classroom is run that can give you ideas for more productive questions.
Maybe the teacher uses a lot of groupwork in class, and you can ask about recent group projects and the role your child played. Or perhaps each day incorporates 20 minutes of “free reading” time—in that case, ask your child what he or she has been reading this week.
3. What Are Your Class Policies on Discipline? Are There Any Other Policies I Should Know About?
You’ll want to understand what the rules are from the beginning for a couple of reasons. First, you can help reinforce those expectations with your child at home by reminding him or her of potential consequences. Second, if a situation does occur that results in your child being disciplined, knowing the rules beforehand will help you determine whether the punishment was fair and according to policy.
Finally, don’t forget to give the teacher a simple “thank you” now and again. A little appreciation can go a long way in strengthening a relationship!
For a broader look at what you can do to help support your child’s success in school, browse through the U.S. Department of Education’s guide for parents on what questions to ask to help children succeed in school.
Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.