Source: Spencer Russell
Teachers and parents have several things in common—including how difficult their jobs can be. But as a former educator, I can tell you it’s not primarily the kids who can make teachers’ work challenging. It’s the other grown-ups in the mix: administrators, board members, politicians. And, sometimes, parents.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to guilt parents into quitting their 9-to-5 and taking up permanent residence in the classroom. However, we know students do better academically and interpersonally when parents and teachers work together. I’ve put together my top tips on what that looks like.
As a teacher, I knew I couldn’t be solely responsible for all my students' learning. I needed help, and I needed it from my students’ parents.
I started by spending time with my students and their parents so they would better understand what was happening in the classroom and how they could support their kids at home. I learned what parents were doing well and encouraged them to share those tips with other families. I even had families volunteer to lead small group math and reading lessons for children who needed additional support.
I’m not saying you must volunteer to be a room parent, spend your weekends cutting out bulletin board decorations, or raise your hand to run the book fair. Instead, here’s what embracing your role as your child’s primary teacher looks like in practice:
Talking with your child’s teacher about educational goals shows you’re invested in your child’s success—and their teacher will love you for it. So, ask specific questions about goals related to:
You may also find grade level expectations online by searching your school district’s website or your state department of education’s website.
Although you might be worried about bothering them, your child’s teacher wants you to check-in. There’s a good chance they’re even more nervous about contacting you because they don’t know how you will respond to them. When you make the first move, you show them you’re on the same team.
Teachers need to know what’s going on at home that may impact students in the classroom. They also need you to be open to hearing things like “Your child is having a tough time with reading,” so you can help get them back on track. And if your child’s not having any issues in class, their teacher will be thrilled to tell you that, too.
So yes, twice-a-year parent-teacher conferences are an excellent time to check-in, but there are also loads of other opportunities throughout the year.
Especially if your child is struggling, it’s easy to forget that their teacher isn’t just a teacher. They’re a human being in need of encouragement and support (as we all are). So, one of the most meaningful ways to build a supportive relationship with your child’s teacher is to express appreciation.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend money on an extravagant gift. Hundreds of teachers told me their favorite gift was a handwritten thank-you note. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher what will make them feel genuinely appreciated.
Whatever you choose to do, involve your child in the process. When your child sees you care about their teacher, they’re more likely to care about them, too. As trust builds, so will their classroom effort.
Finally, just as checking in shouldn’t happen only at prescribed parent-teacher conferences, showing appreciation to teachers shouldn’t occur only at holidays.
Teaching is hard. Educators are told what they can and can’t do and are often under multiple magnifying glasses. And if they get feedback, it’s often in the form of a complaint about their skill, their work ethic, or, these days, their humanity. Remember to be kind to your child’s teacher.
For every piece of constructive feedback you have to offer, layer on at least three genuinely gracious comments. Start every conversation by sharing something positive about your child that their teacher has fostered—however small. And if you’re not happy with something happening in the classroom, ask questions out of curiosity rather than jumping straight to judgment.
Cultivating a good relationship with your child’s teacher is good for everyone. You’ll know how to be the teacher’s ally in your child’s education, they’ll feel supported and trusted, and most importantly, your child will reap the benefits of a parent and teacher advocating for their success.
Spencer Russell is the Founder of Toddlers CAN Read. He is a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher who was recognized as one of the best teachers in his city, state, and national charter network. After winning four different teaching awards, Spencer left the classroom to spend more time at home with his son.
As a dad, he learned that the same strategies that worked to teach older students to read also worked with his son at 18 months. So after teaching his son to read by two years old, Spencer organized everything he knew into three online courses (the Toddlers CAN Read program) in order to help parents and caregivers across the world teach their little ones how to read, too. He has since gained over 2.5 million followers across social media and aims to empower every parent to be an incredible teacher for their kids.
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