The parent/teacher partnership is one of the most vital elements of student success. Teachers are trained in the methods to teach students with different learning styles, how to differentiate, how to modify and adapt to aid student success. Parents, however, are often at a loss when their child comes home from school with a homework assignment they need help with, or grades which are anything less than satisfactory.
As the first 9-weeks of school reaches the mid-point, teachers across North Carolina are lining up parent conferences. They have student data, class work, and assessments at hand to discuss their concerns with parents. But what are our parents armed with? Do they know the right questions to ask?
Here are recommendations for 5 essential questions to ask your child’s teacher:
1. What skills does my child need to master this year? How do you measure mastery?
It is important that you are aware of what your child is expected to learn. Teachers know that students will strive to meet their expectations. Because of this, teachers often set the bar higher than the state standards. Your teacher may want a 5 paragraph essay, but if your child only needs to be able to write 3 to meet grade-level expectations you won’t need to panic when your child has only written 4. However, you will know your child needs extra assistance if he is only managing to write 2 paragraphs.
2. What does my child need to work on and how can I help him/her?
If a skill is new, developmentally difficult, or otherwise challenging, your child’s teacher will be able to tell you. They watch the work being done; they discuss the child’s thinking as he works through the problem. They know why they are getting the problems wrong. Ask your child’s teacher for ways to help. She may be able to offer suggestions for activities, games, websites, and other tools which can help your student. As adults, we often forget the rudimentary steps to solving math problems we can now do in our heads. Let their teacher show you what she is doing to help your child, so that you can use the same methods at home, reinforcing what she is trying to do.
3. How does my child behave in school? Is he kind and respectful to adults? Does he have friends? Does he seem happy to be in school?
Sometimes when children have problems, they don’t want to tell their parent. They could be coming home and telling you how great their day was so that you won’t worry about them, even though they are being teased or bullied. Get the teacher’s input. If you suspect something is going on that is disruptive for your child, see if the teacher has noticed a problem and share your concerns. These situations often occur in “unowned” areas of the school, such as restrooms or hallways so she may not even be aware.
4. How much time should my child be spending on homework? Do you grade it based on completion or accuracy?
If the teacher is giving what she feels is 15-20 minutes of homework a night, and your child is struggling with it for an hour, there is most likely a problem. The teacher needs to be made aware so that she can help your child. If she sees the homework come back and everything is accurate, she will get the impression that the child understands the work. If the child only has it right because you sat down and gave them the answers after 2 hours of frustrated whining, she needs to be told.
5. What is your preferred method of communication (email, phone, notes)?
Let’s face it, we want to stay on her good side. Teachers work long hours with their students, and then go home to families of their own, with lesson plans to write and stacks of papers to grade. Work with her on the communication, not against her.
In order to work together successfully, parents and teachers must leave the lines of communication open. If the student struggles in school, the parent needs to know. If the student struggles at home, the teacher needs to know. By reinforcing one another and sharing the same goals and expectations, your students can thrive.