Practical advice for working with your child’s teacher.

Communicating with your child’s teacher is one way to help him succeed at school. But just how often should you contact the teacher, and what questions should you ask? And when do a parent’s questions or behavior tip from appropriate to meddlesome?

We asked Jerry L. Parks, a social studies teacher at Georgetown (Ky.) Middle School and a member of the 2007 USA Today All-USA Teacher Team, to share his thoughts. Parks keeps in touch with parents through email, class websites, and phone calls. He is the author of Help! My Child Is Starting Middle School! A Survival Handbook for Parents.

What differences do you notice in students with involved parents?

“Parents who take an active interest in their child’s work and school well-being are one of the biggest contributors to my students’ success,” Parks says. Children of involved parents typically have higher self-esteem and have fewer behavior problems in school. And students’ grades usually improve when their parents become involved.

How can parents stay informed about their child’s school performance?

If your school posts grades online, be sure to check them often. Emailing the teacher is also a good way to get a quick status report. “Email has been a godsend,” he says, because it is “less intrusive for the teacher and less threatening for the parent.”

What are some questions parents should ask about their children?

Ask the teacher whether she thinks your child is giving his best effort in class and whether she has noticed any significant changes in your child’s behavior or grades, Parks suggests. It’s also a good idea to find out whether the teacher has concerns about the friends your child has chosen. Make sure you understand the teacher’s policy for making up missed work, and don’t forget to ask about the best way to keep in touch throughout the year.

What should parents do if they feel the teacher assigns an excessive amount of homework?

First, try to find out whether the amount of work really is excessive. “Ten minutes per grade level each night is about right,” Parks says. If the level of homework does seem like too much, think about whether it happens often or only once in a while: “Some units and projects simply require more homework,” he says.

How should a parent approach the teacher about this?

Don’t go in with the attitude that the teacher is wrong. Instead, ask for advice on how you can help your child deal with the excessive homework. “Allowing the teacher to suggest solutions is far more effective than challenging their wisdom,” says Parks.

How should a parent address a grade that the student feels he or she did not deserve?

Instead of being confrontational, calmly explain that your child is upset or confused about the grade. Ask the teacher how your child’s grade compared with the rest of the class or the overall grade level. “This will give the parent the information they really want to know without making the teacher feel threatened,” Parks says. It may also help the teacher realize whether the assignment was too difficult for all students.

Some parents are just not comfortable approaching teachers. How should they get started?

Keep in mind that teachers may also be nervous about talking to parents, Parks says. Break the ice by sending the teacher an email or personal note at the start of the school year, and be sure to attend your school’s open house to meet the teacher. If the teacher has done something that made a difference for your child, schedule a meeting to thank him. Finally, Parks suggests, join the school PTO. “There is security in numbers!”

Top 5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Succeed in School

  1. Make sure your child is at school every day possible. “Missed work is generally more of a loss than made-up work is a gain,” Parks says. “There is no substitute for attendance.”

  2. Designate a time and place for your child to do homework. If he does not have homework, have him use the time to read. “Routine is the essence of a child’s life,” he says.

  3. Keep in touch with teachers, but don’t overdo it. “Most teachers appreciate parents caring enough to keep in touch a few times a term but do not appreciate parents expecting contact on a regular basis.”

  4. Teach your child character—it “will improve social and academic skills more than anything else,” Parks says. “Some things are simply wrong, and the world your child will grow up in will punish crimes, so give your child a head start.”

  5. Make time every day to talk with your child about the day’s activities. “Let them know you care, and really listen to what they have to say.”


#21 Shamil 2015-11-03 04:01
While all this sounds great, I must say that it really depends on whether the teacher is willing to cooperate. I have encountered teachers who simply lack time or desire to provide extra attention to each kid. I use a private Tutor. Tried a bunch but prefer these guys. Tutorbright Vancouver
#20 darlington saro 2015-10-17 19:19
i also think parents can help by allowing children o choose their own career, my father forced me to become a doctor but today am a computer scientist and i enjoy doing what i do
#19 Serge Duval 2015-05-21 19:51
It's true that having involved parents helps out a lot. When I was growing up, my parents let school stay at school and didn't ask me much about it when I got home. As a result, I started to get a bit lackadaisical. I didn't make good homework habits, and later on, high school was a lot harder because of it. This is some great information, thanks for sharing!
#18 Sagarika Sahana 2014-10-14 06:59
Parents-teacher s meeting hence would weigh a lot when it comes to evaluating our child’s progress, all the way through the classroom (and socially too). Being the only point of contact (out of classroom), the parents are the powerful sources for teachers to understand something in children that they might not have come across to know about them – will certainly help them nurture the classroom teaching with the most effective ways of learning.
How your child is performing, how actively you are getting apprised of, what learning discrepancies (your child or a teacher may face) and what solutions you may seek supporting the teachers – would be a big achievement for your child, making them progress just the way expected by you all!
#17 Paula Throop 2014-06-06 19:15
This article bothered me. As a mother of a middle school student who has an SEP with accommodations, it's important that I have regular contact with my child's teacher. "A few times a term" as they suggest in this article feels like a slap in the face. As parent, it is my RIGHT to know what goes on in the classroom at all times. If teachers were to make it their responsibility to send the parents a weekly mass email to keep us informed as to what is being covered, then certainly they might not hear from us as often. Some teachers do this, but they seem to be the minority. You would not believe how many parents I have talked to this year who said, "I can't wait until this year is over. I never know what is going on in my child's class!" In reference to the comment below from "A Middle School Teacher", perhaps if you took the small effort to keep the parents informed regularly, in the form of a mass email even, you wouldn't be hearing from parents as often. And like it or not, there are some kids who do require some individual attention and they have as much right to a public education as everyone else. There will always be the "easy" kids who will learn no matter where you throw them. Yes, it would make the teacher's life much easier if all students were like that, but news flash: A cookie cutter system doesn't work because many of these kids learn differently, and to be an effective teacher, you have to teach the way they learn.
#16 Hollie Rae McLean 2014-06-06 01:04
As a parent, I’ve received several pieces of advice from the school teachers of my kids. The most beneficial was when my kid’s Math teacher told me to considering paying for a private Vancouver tutoring service and work with the tutor as much as possible. I did, and my son's scores are dramatically improved. I was fortunate enough to select a great agency (www.mygradebooster.com) and now my son loves math!
#15 Tara 2014-02-21 21:31
These are really great tips, I try to stay involved in my kids school but sometimes it's good to give them space too. We always have them come home and get a snack and do their homework right after school, and then they are free to play for the rest of the day! It works because they know that's the schedule and they like having time to play.

Tara | http://www.dearcroft.com/Our_Programs.html
#14 Mom of special needs kid! 2013-09-11 22:01
I loved this article. I realize by the comments, it's an older article, but great nonetheless less. I a very involved in my daughters school. I volunteer there weekly, sometimes I end up being there daily. I'm on parent council. I speak about different concerns at school assemblies both as a parent and on behalf of parent council. I do all I can to be involved in my daughters education, while caring about the school & other students.

As the mom of a multi diagnosed special needs child, I find that I have no choice but to have daily contact with my daughters teacher. Any concerns other teachers that teach a specific subject have, go to her main teacher. We chat after school or through her agenda DAILY! I was worried about being a harassing parent, but when the teacher approached me about touching base daily, to make sure my daughters needs are being met, I was thrilled!

This article, however, I would love to show at the next parent council meeting. I think it would be a great opener to discussing ways to encourage parents to be a part of their kids education without harassing the teacher!

Thanks for the awesome article!
#13 ddr 2010-09-15 16:59
It is apparent that teachers and parents will always have differing views when it comes to "their" children. It's unfortunate, but there doesn't always seem to be a "best" way to always handle things. Going into a situation with a clear head and understanding and respect for the teacher is a priority. However, teachers are only regular people like the rest of us. Granted, they had to go through many years of learning to become experts; however, if they always knew how to handle every situation, there would no longer be the need for school psychologists like myself. The dynamic between the teacher and parent is a precarious one no doubt. The best that you can do is to try to work together to come up with an viable intervention. Sometimes, a third party really is needed.
#12 A Middle School teacher 2010-01-09 15:41
In reference to the parent that left the comment about not being worried about offending a teacher: You need to realize that by hounding a teacher with questions about your particular child, you are doing more harm than good. Realistically, your child's teacher has between 80 and 120 students to try and educated each day. To assume that that teacher should have to give you and your child more attention just because you are constantly e-mailing her than that student who's parent isn't constantly e-mailing is absurd. Do the math! Every e-mail sent to a teacher can require anywhere from 1 to 30 minutes to answer. If every parent sent e-mails just once or twice a week, when is the teacher going to have the time to really develop quality lessons and teach those lessons to the students. Parents need to realize that more often or not, it is the parents, not the students who can create the burn out. I'm not saying that parents should not stay in touch with their child's teacher, but if it's individual attention that you require on a daily or weekly basis, maybe the classroom setting is not the right place for your child to get their education.

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