As both a teacher and a parent, I know we both want the best for kids. As a teacher I know that having a solid parent-teacher conference is one of the best ways to do that. As a parent, I know that sometimes sitting at the kidney table isn’t the most stress-free part of my day. Communicating effectively with your child’s teacher is in your best interest, and perhaps now more than ever. Recently a friend asked me about the types of things I avoid saying at a parent teacher conference. This is my list, and why I don’t say them.
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10. “He told me he doesn’t have homework.”
Here’s why this isn’t something I ever say to a teacher: The fact that a child can convince an adult into thinking they don’t have homework when they do cements parental status as less than ideal. When a teacher hears this, it sounds no different than when our student says, “I never got a paper.”
9. “You can keep him in at recess.”
Listen, teachers do not take breaks during their normal day. Personally, I don’t even eat lunch because I like to chew and that requires more time than I often get. Recess is usually spent running something to the office, or preparing a lesson or serving duty on the playground. But when we do have a moment to ourselves, I like to do little things like actually use the restroom. So you can imagine that when a teacher hears this, they usually don’t particularly care for it, whether they are willing to do it or not.
8. “There’s nothing else I can do.”
Think about it. This almost sounds too much like, “I am not going to help you at all. He’s all yours! Good luck!”
7. “I always believe my child.”
To a teacher’s ear, this really sounds like code for, “I don’t believe you over my child.” Now I find it important, especially in this day and age, to keep open lines of communication between our child and ourselves as parents. I myself have seen the news reports about some of the perverts that escape the safety grid, teachers included. But verbalizing it doesn’t seem to do a parent any favors. What teachers are really interested in is helping you with the little white lies kids tell us — about having homework, when a project is due, and whether or not they’ve finished their snack you packed them. Kids tell little white lies, just like adults do. They feel embarrassed and don’t want to hurt their mothers and fathers. When the teacher lets you know that little Johnny hasn’t been completely forthcoming about the work he’s missing, it seems like a terrible idea to tell us, “I believe everything my child tells me!” Doesn’t it?
6. “He never acts this way at home.”
When I hear this, I often think that it can’t just be the smell of crayons and the sound of a Macintosh computer firing up that gets a kid all riled up! Our children may not behave that way at home while they are getting to play video games and choosing which dinosaur nuggets they like, but at school it’s different. We learn there. It’s fun and it’s rewarding sometimes, and other times it feels more like work. I avoid this whenever possible because to me it sounds a bit like, “My child gets what he wants at home,” and a little of “I set little to no expectations at home for my child.”
5. “All you have to do is just call me.”
Calling every parent every time their child misbehaves isn’t something I want to do in my evenings after grading papers aside, I’ve discovered after many years it rarely works. Why? Think about it from the perspective of the child. When little Johny fears a phone call, he’s not behaving in my classroom because he respects his teacher. He’s really only concerned about you now. This message essentially warns the child that the teacher will tattle on them to the person they do respect, which could be both of us instead of just the parent.
4. “He doesn’t do well with a _____ teacher.”
As a man, I’ve on occasion heard this about a student who had a female teacher the year prior. Let’s reverse this for the sake of argument. How would you enjoy hearing a teacher say that they do not do well with your child because of their gender? Or heaven forbid, other factors? Understand that we realize that some kids simply bond with certain teachers. Teachers get that, and I for one am all about the diversification of teachers in our classrooms. Nevertheless, shouldn’t kids, like their teachers, do their best for anyone?
3. “He doesn’t like school.”
I honestly can’t think of a single reason to say this to a teacher, yet I hear it every so often. We might be tempted to think a teacher will sympathize. For me, the problem with this phrase is it’s all inclusive. You wouldn’t want your teacher to give up on your child’s education, so it seems best not to let them think you have either.
2. “I have to help him with everything.”
Imagine the other side of the kidney table for a moment. What do you tell a parent who is now communicating this? To me, it feels like a non-starter, and I try my best to avoid saying anything like it.
1. “We don’t read at home.”
There is a big difference between telling a teacher that reading difficulty runs in the family, or that math was hard for us as a child. Those are understandable, and they give teachers important information. But let’s keep in mind that the number one activity in schools is reading.
Do we tell a police officer that you don’t like to follow rules?
Tell our dentist we rarely brush?
Seems logical not to tell a teacher that we prefer just about anything to what they are teaching our child most hours of the day.
Whether your child is the top of the class, or this is the year that improvements can be made, I truly believe that teachers, like parents, want to help students succeed. Let your words reflect your interest in a successful year, and the teacher will know they have a worthy ally in the quest for good grades and steady progress.
Thomas Courtney is a fifth grade teacher in San Diego. His daughter, Onora, is a fifth grader in his colleague’s classroom.