Children feel safe when they see the important adults in their life working together. The start of a new school year brings with it a fresh opportunity to partner with these men and women to bring out the best in your child. Ciska Thurman finds out how
Your little learner will encounter many teachers during his or her academic endeavours. Some will create lasting impressions, others will happily be forgotten. Parents can be anxious about the hit-or-miss nature of such relationships. Managing these intersecting personalities requires a dual parental role: establishing open channels of communication with your child’s teacher, and equipping your child with the necessary emotional tools to navigate student-teacher relationships in a healthy manner.
Imagine these scenarios: your child is being repeatedly bullied; your child has realised she isn’t managing to keep up with the work in maths class; your child has been asked to play a lead role in the school play. In all these situations, you would want him or her to reach out to a teacher for encouragement as well as support. But you can’t expect your child to do so without him or her having a constructive connection to that teacher.
Teacher X should be the same person in your child’s classroom and in your child’s home. That starts and ends with you: how you talk to them, about them, and also with them. Your child needs to perceive a united front between teacher and parent in order to feel supported in both environments – and even more importantly, secure enough to approach either of you when faced with trouble or triumph.
Studies conducted by the American Psychological Association show that ‘positive teacher-student relationships will draw students into the process of learning and also promote their desire to learn… The student is likely to trust teachers more, behave much better in class, show a lot more engagement in learning, and achieve at higher levels academically.’ Parenting skills coach Angela Hutchison reiterates that ‘one of the cornerstones of resilience in children is knowing that someone is in their corner, supporting them no matter what’.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE ADVISED
Try to adopt a uniform – and largely practical – approach to all the teachers your children will encounter. Here are some easy-to-follow steps:
• Meet up Take the earliest opportunity possible to meet with the teacher and share important information about your child (special needs, hobbies/interests, relevant family dynamics). Tell them you want to work with them to bring out the best in your child. Ask what you can do at home to reinforce what’s happening in the classroom.
• Stay in touch Ask how the teacher wants to be reached (email, SMS or phone call), and at what time of day. Maintain regular contact throughout the year, but be very cautious about overstepping any personal boundaries – after-hours consultations and posts on Facebook are definite no-nos.
• Mind your language Avoid talking negatively about the teacher in front of your child. Losing your temper or venting your frustration could confuse them. Demonstrate respect for the teacher (even if you feel differently).
• Reach out Give back by showing you want to be part of the school community: volunteer to chaperone school excursions or offer to assist at functions. This is also a very good way to get to know your child’s teachers more informally.
• Say ‘thank you’ Often this gesture is left too late. Gratitude made known throughout the year will go a long way towards building positive relationships. Show appreciation even for little things.
Your child can also adopt and adapt the guidelines above (let your teacher know how you’re doing, show respect, be helpful and grateful). But, advises Angela, when it comes to interacting with teachers, ‘the most useful skill to teach children is this: don’t take things personally. Children intersect with lots of teachers, and teachers intersect with lots of different children. Some have natural connections and some do not. If we send children to school with the view that teachers have their own issues, their own framework and their own belief systems, then it is easier for the child to separate reactions and perceptions from themselves and to see them for what they really are.’
Angela suggests teaching this kind of ‘emotional language’ to your children from early on – identifying feelings by name, learning not to lash out, empathy and sympathy. Taking these lessons into the student-teacher relationship averts unnecessary confusion as well as conflict, and will prove invaluable for managing relationships successfully throughout their lives.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER
What can I do to support literacy at home?
What kinds of questions should I ask my child about your class?
How do you measure progress?
What are the most common barriers to progress?
What am I not asking, but should be?