How to master parent-teacher communication

We asked two pre-school teachers for their tips on how to avoid conflict and get the parent-teacher communication right. Here’s what they had to say.

Whether your little one is just beginning her school career at age 2 or is heading into grade 1 at age 6, one thing that remains constant is parent-teacher communication. In other words, how well you can navigate this often-complex relationship with your little one’s teacher.

Just recently, a parent wrote to us with the following parent-teacher question:

Q: Many parents in my circle agree that sometimes our children’s teacher seems highly frustrated and we wonder if she even likes the children she teaches. Her attitude puts us in an awkward position because we really want to address the situation, but have concerns on how to address it, as we believe she will take it personally and this might affect the children in the class. While the teacher may hold the right qualification for the job, we feel that she may lack the people skills or the right level of understanding for the age group she teaches. How do we address this?

Melissa Muller, Grade R teacher and Menal Pooran, grade 00 teacher and acting Head of Department (HOD), both from The Wold Preschool in Saxonwold give their input:  

In cases like these, it’s important to arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher along with the HOD of the school. This way, you’re not ignoring the teacher’s authority of the class, but you’ll have an objective third party to witness and advise on how to resolve the situation. Asking the HOD to be present at the meeting will also discourage the teacher from acting out on the children in the classroom, as he/she will know that a superior will be monitoring the situation more closely.

If your child starts to behave out of character, i.e. not wanting to go to school or becoming clingy at drop off, you should also discuss the classroom environment in the meeting and find out what might have changed, or what could be causing the anxiety. Thereafter, the HOD will more than likely have a one-on-one meeting with the teacher to discuss all your concerns.

Remember, if you feel like you can’t approach the teacher regarding your grievances, you have every right as a parent to speak with the HOD or the principal. Instances such as a divorce in the family or a death of an immediate family, should be taken up with the HOD directly so that they can assist you further. They will communicate only what is necessary to the teacher. Teachers, HOD’s and principals are there to help you and your child have the best schooling experience possible.

ALSO SEE: Moving from playschool to big school

Character traits of a good, caring teacher

Menal says that your child’s teacher should never act like teaching is just a job, or be frustrated and angry with the children every day. “When I hire teachers, I look for men and women who truly love what they do and are willing to go the extra mile for the benefit of the children and the school. Traits such as showing initiative and doing their best to provide a safe, fun and nurturing environment for the child, help children settle into new environments far easier. Qualities such as patience, understanding, kindness and an abundance of energy, go a long way in this profession. ‘Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life’ is a popular saying that applies to teaching. For most, teaching is a calling, not a job!”

How to manage conflict effectively  

Stay calm

When it comes to handling a particularly sensitive issue with your child’s teacher, author and master life coach Judy Klipin says, “It can be hard to stay calm and unemotional – especially where your child is concerned. But the most constructive and productive way to handle anything that has a potential for conflict is to be as calm and centred as possible. Try not to react emotionally and impulsively but give yourself time to think things through and calm down to the point that you can start proposing solutions to the problem.

Try these steps:

  1. Think through what the issue is behind the conflict
  2. Try to identify what is causing or contributing to it
  3. Think of some possible ways to address it – including your own role.

In all areas of difficulty, it’s best to approach them with the aim of being part of a solution rather than blaming or pointing fingers. A constructive, open-minded approach will always get you further – in all areas of life.”

Be honest

Both Melissa and Menal believe it’s important to be honest and forthcoming with your child’s teacher when problems arise, no matter how small they seem.

When you chat with your child’s teacher, be open, diplomatic and speak with a firm and caring tone. This will let the teacher know that you care about your little one, her education and her future. Most teachers are aware that helping a child learn and thrive at school starts at home and that both parents and teachers need to work together for the best outcome. Never underestimate the importance of continuous communication.

Give the teacher as much information as possible

The sooner you can tell your child’s teacher about her character traits, her challenges and struggles and her likes and dislikes, the better. Also, children change on a daily basis as they’re constantly learning and adapting and being exposed to new experiences. If something changes at home, it’s vital to communicate this with the teacher; whether it’s a death in the family, you’ve moved house or a relationship close to them has changed as these are factors that can affect your child in other parts of their lives.

How to help your child adjust to a new teacher and class

In some cases, your child’s teacher as well as the school might be the right fit for your child, but there’s always an adjustment period – especially when your child starts a new year or term. To help your child feel more secure in a new environment, Menal suggests preparing your child for what to expect in a positive way. This will encourage your little one to feel excited about her new class, teacher or school.

If your child is particularly resistant to change, feels nervous or overly anxious, chat to the teacher beforehand and every day for the first 3-6 weeks, so that you can work together to come up with strategies to help your little one adjust.

If your chosen school has orientation days, try not to miss them, as they will help paint a positive picture of the exciting things to come. Being prepared makes all the difference!

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