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Contacting Your Child's School

Parents are sometimes uneasy about contacting their child's school because they think their questions are silly, or that they might be perceived as over anxious or overly protective. In reality, however, the "sooner the better" makes sense when we need information about our children.

So, after some deliberation, you decide to contact the school. Now what? What follows is a guide to help you communicate better with your school.

Homework: Whether you (or your child) think the homework is too easy, too hard, too much, or too little, your resource is the assigning teacher. As with most questions about your child and school, get on this one right away. Homework concerns can be the biggest bone of contention between family and school. Developing positive communication and ironing out misunderstandings about homework should start with the teacher or teachers who assign (or perhaps do not assign) the work.

Curriculum: You think the level of reading is too easy or the textbook is unclear. You have some concerns about why certain themes are being stressed in social studies. The "new math" leaves you in the dust. Any concern about what is being taught, or how material is being presented, should start with the teacher. If the concern is beyond the ken of the classroom, you may be referred to a curriculum leader, department head, or even an assistant superintendent. Keep at it until your questions have been answered. (You may not always like the answer you receive, but at least you will be informed and develop an understanding about the school's rationale.)

Behavior: Your child seems to be turning into an unrecognizable being, right before your eyes. Attitudes, language, sleeping or eating habits, and friendships are changing faster than you can handle. Contact the teacher first to see if your child's behavior at school has changed. Teachers can be valuable resources in discussing what is reasonable or "normal" in the developmental spectrum. You and the teacher may decide that the counselor should be contacted for a meeting, either with you alone, or with your child. The key here is to get help in determining whether the behaviors are transitory (and therefore require only monitoring) or whether they require some explicit intervention.

Testing: How is your child doing on standardized tests? What are the school's policies with regard to testing? How are tests chosen? Which tests are required by state mandate? Why doesn't your child do well on tests? Are tests an accurate barometer for what your child is learning? Is it possible for your child to be given untimed tests? If the classroom teacher is not able to answer your testing questions, check with the principal (about the sequence of tests in your school), or with the special education teacher about alternative testing and any particular problems your child has with tests.

Teachers: This is the tough one. Your child and the teacher appear to have a "personality conflict". Or you too frequently hear "my teacher doesn't like me" or "it's not fair when...". Perhaps you did not get good vibes when you met the teacher and are not surprised about your child's negative comments. Maybe you do not feel your child is learning under this teacher's methods, as compared with the pedagogy in another classroom. Did you secretly hope your child would get a different teacher with a better reputation? As uncomfortable as it may be (and it surely is uncomfortable), it is vital to bring your concerns directly to the teacher. Sitting down and discussing your child's feelings with the person at school who is the most involved with the education of your child is the only way to sort out these issues.

You may learn a lot about a situation you have only perceived through your own perspective. After all, all of us are hurt when our child is hurt, disappointed and frustrated along with our children and angry at the person alleged to have caused the damage. Sorting out your child's impressions from the teacher's understanding is the first step in dealing with their relationship. While children are not always accurate reporters, their feeling are important. And the teacher may be totally in the dark about those feelings. Tempting as it is to discuss the teacher with someone else, resist. It may be more comfortable to deal with the principal or the counselor, but it is the communication between your child and the teacher that requires understanding. And it is only the teacher who, with your important input, can develop the strategies necessary to make that relationship positive.

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