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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ask a Teacher - Parental Involvement

In this month's edition of Ask a Teacher, Emilie Blanton, who blogs over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes, answers the question: How much parental involvement do schools want to see? 

Parental involvement is a complicated subject surrounded by tiny landmines. Is there such a thing as too much involvement? Ideally, no. However, there can be a wrong way to be involved.

Positive, proactive parental involvement is, with very few exceptions, always a good thing. Working together with educators to ensure the success of your student is best for all parties involved. So what does positive, proactive involvement look like? There isn't a set guideline for how often your can call or email, nor should there be. You and your child are individuals, so trying to fit your family's needs into a prescribed schedule isn't the best idea.

How often to contact a teacher depends on a number of factors, such as your child's age, services needed, and behavior/performance in a given class. An elementary homeroom teacher will have less than forty students and can speak with you more frequently without taking time away from other students' parents. An elementary elective teacher will likely be working with several grade levels and classes in each grade. An high school teacher can have nearly 150 students in a given day. A student with an A, while wonderful to talk about, may not need a weekly parent check up, barring other issues such as evaluating a student for giftedness.

I've found the best course of action for parents who contact me is to do so through email. I'm already awkward on the phone anyway, but email is optimal for me for a number of other reasons. First, we're not tied to a set schedule. You may have work while I'm on planning period and I'm not at school into the evening for later phone conversations. By dropping me an email, I can get back to you as soon as I receive the email and we're not left playing phone tag for the next several days. Next, both of us now have an easy to access record of the communication. You can show your child exactly what the teacher has said. Unfortunately, there are some not so great teachers out there. These emails can provide the evidence you need to bring to the administration.

There's nothing wrong with contacting a teacher for good things. In fact, the best thing for both of us is for or first interaction to be a good one. This is what I mean when I say positive and proactive. I want to hear from you before Little Johnny is failing my class. If we're already acquainted, it makes those troublesome communications go much smoother. It lets me know you're an ally and that you will be a team player in the success of your child.

But can you really contact me too much? Honestly, yes, BUT, and this is a huge but, if you're contacting me too much, odds are it's the wrong kind of contact. Here are a few things to keep in mind to keep your communication positive:

  • Get the teacher's side of the story before making judgments based on something your child told you happened. I'm not saying Little Susie is a liar. I'm saying think about how Little Susie might describe some "negative" interactions with you to someone she wants to get on her side. There may be added context needed to understand the full story. 
  • Don't start by going over the teacher's head. If you have a problem, speak with the teacher first. It's awkward for everyone involved if you first call an administrator or counselor and the teacher is blindsided by the issue. If the teacher isn't resolving the issue or you have a personality conflict, that's when it's time to involve a third party.
  • If you're calling, be aware that it may take more than 24 hours for a teacher to get back to you. We can only call during the school day while we are on planning period. Sometimes these periods are eaten up by meetings and we are not able to call you back right away. We are not avoiding you, we're just busy. This is why email is optimal for me and a number of teachers. 
  • Be cognizant of the fact that your child is not our only student. If you ask me about a grade, I have to actually pull out my gradebook to look it up so that I can give you the most accurate information. This doesn't mean that I don't care about your child. This means I have over a hundred students and I don't have all of their grades memorized every single day.
  • If your district has an online gradebook option, try to utilize that instead of calling or emailing for a daily or weekly grade check. I don't mind answering grade check questions, but if that's all you want, most districts offer a way for you to check all of your child's grades at once. If the gradebook is not updated at least once a week, checking in on the teacher is a good idea. We are human and sometimes we fall behind. I personally keep a written gradebook that I update daily and update my online one once a week. Sometimes updating the online gradebook gets put on the backburner in favor of grading more assignments and passing them back to students in a timely manner.
When it comes to parental involvement, it's best to err on the side of offering too much. I'd rather deal with overinvolved parents than the opposite. Remember that your child will make mistakes. No one is perfect and it's okay for them to have shortcomings. Teachers are not out to get your child anymore than parents are out to get their own child. I can't stress enough that it's not about how often, but how you approach the involvement that is the key to the success of your child. We're a team when it comes to the education of your child. You want your child to succeed and I do, too. It's best if we work together to achieve this goal.


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