The first time a parent walked angrily out of a parent teacher conference because of some concerns I had about their child's reading level, I was taken aback and had no idea how to respond. The first time I needed to call home about a student I was sweating so much I could barely hold the phone steady. Speaking with parents, about concerns or positive anecdotes, can be nerve wracking.
Parent communication is undoubtedly important, but it can be a tenuous relationship if both parties don't really understand what the other is going through. Teachers can blame parents for behavior, homework not being done, missing appointments; while parents can blame teachers for recess scuffles, low grades, and homework not being done! It can turn into a vicious and unproductive cycle where the poor student is left in the middle to fend for themselves.
My first year of teaching I only called when I had a concern, and the only way for parents to reach me was through my classroom phone, which doesn't ring during school hours, so I had to remember to check my messages at the end of every day. Needless to say, building parent relationships my first and second years wasn't my forte.
Starting in my third year I made it a goal to improve on parent relationships. My theory was that if I knew about all my students; their backgrounds, what their parents did for a living, who was related to whom, what kind of food they liked, what they did on the weekends; and coupled that with frequent communications of pictures, updates, newsletters, and invitations to visit; that magically a bridge would be built.
It worked. My third year I felt 80% less anxiety about calling with concerns, because I felt like I already knew the family. They didn't feel like I was just calling with bad news all the time, that my concern was coming from a place of caring and compassion.
Here are some guidelines for building relationships with parents/families!
I've had many teachers ask me "What about the invisible parents?" That can be a tough nut to crack, but always approach with compassion and NEVER GIVE UP. I had a mom one year that I had deemed "invisible" because I had never met her and wasn't able to reach her on the phone. Nevertheless, I sent texts, pictures, invites, and newsletters. I always asked the student "Hey, how's your Mom been doing?" The student would tell me she was working a lot and tired. Made sense.
Then, at our end of school party, she showed up. She thanked me for all the things I had been sending home and texting that let her see into her child's world at school. She apologized that she didn't respond, she felt so bad. Turned out she was a single mom who worked graveyard! I had no idea! One year I had a mom that I never got to meet in person, but we talked on the phone all the time. She was another parent who thanked me for my constant updates and flexibility in not requiring face-to-face meetings.
We never know what our parents or guardians are going through. Some are sick, some are single parents, some work two or three jobs. But just because they are invisible doesn't mean they don't care and it doesn't mean they want out of the loop!
I hope you had a wonderful and restful Winter Break! The New Year is a great time to re-dedicate yourself to building parents relationships!
See you next week!
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I'm Mae and I am a Master Teacher who supports third through sixth grade in all subjects, Thinking Maps trained, with a Master's Degree in Elementary Education!