What to Ask Your Child’s Teacher

As school gets started again, many of my friends turn to me, a former school teacher, to guide them on what they should ask their children’s teachers to help their children succeed in school.

Of course, what you will ask will vary depending on your child and his or her situation; however, I have compiled a list of questions that every parent can use as a starting point for talking to teachers about your children.

1. What their strengths are. Often, parents go to a teacher and ask what the child needs to improve. Teachers are also guilty of focusing on what the child lacks; however, what they have is just as important as what they lack. Is your child a born leader? Or very artistic? Or good with asking questions? Teachers notice things you may have missed, which can help you boost your child’s self-esteem and build on their successes. Start every parent-teacher conversation looking for at least one thing that your child does well.

2. What they need. For my first few years teaching, I would tell parents what their child was lacking. I would, for example, say, “Johnny can’t read very well.” After a few years, I had a light bulb moment when a parent asked me, “Yes, I know, but what does he need to be able to read?” Knowing their weaknesses won’t help you help your child; knowing what they need to succeed will. If a teacher tells you that your child is bad at something, ask them for what they need to succeed.

3. What you can do. This is a follow-up question to what your child needs. A teacher may tell you that your child needs to be able to multiply in order to succeed at the algebraic equations they are seeing in class. Ask the teacher what you can do to support that skill. It might be as simple as doing flashcards with him/her at night, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.

4. What their classroom persona is. Sure, you can ask whether little Susie is behaving or not, but that’s a very general question. If she is, the teacher may just answer with a “yes.” However, by asking what your child’s persona is, you can get a wealth of information. Is s/he the class clown? Then you know that there is probably some moderate behavior problems-talking out of turn, etc-and you also know that your child likes to be the “life of the party.” Does the teacher say that your child is a wallflower? Then you’ve gained an insight into his/her insecurities. Knowing how they are in class also lets you compare their home behavior with their school behavior, which can alert you to any problems in school.

5. How they are graded. Some teachers give many small assignments and average them out for a grade. Others offer only a few projects and use those grades as a guide. Find out how your child is graded so that you and your child are informed.

6. What’s coming up. Get an idea of any special projects or events coming up at school. Don’t count on your child to tell you-children are notorious for selectively forgetting to give their parents messages from the teacher. Keep abreast of important upcoming items of notice. This is especially important for busy parents who only see their child’s teacher at parent-teacher night a few times a year.

7. How to be a good partner. Teachers welcome parents who want to help. Ask your child’s teacher how you can be a good partner in education for your child. Offer to bring in cupcakes for your child’s birthday, or to read each night to your child, or anything else that is possible for you and helpful for the teacher. Remember: they get overwhelmed with work. Thank them with your willingness to help them help your child.

By knowing what to ask, you can get the best possible information from your children’s teachers, and with that information, you can make success an everyday occurrence for your child.

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