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Ask an Expert: How do I confront my child’s teacher?

EdNews Parent expert Karla Scornavacco responds:

Q. What do I do if I have a problem with my child’s teacher but am afraid to confront her?

A. Cool down with some help from friends or just your own parenting journal. I don’t know what your particular situation is, but sometimes a problem in your child’s class can trigger all sorts of memories and feelings of inadequacy or pain. Having other adults to speak to can help you sort through what is really bothering you. Most of all, you can gain clarity about your child’s situation with you as a bystander and supporter. This way, when you talk to your child’s teacher the focus can be on your child, not on you. Here are some other tips:

  • Decide on your timing. Does this problem absolutely, positively, without question have to be solved this instant? Realistically, will it be? You likely do not want it to fester, so consider setting a time to talk to the teacher. Just be respectful of the teacher’s time. Asking about best times to meet might look something like this: “Any chance you have 15 minutes to speak with me after school today about Sally?”; “I’m hoping to set up a time to talk to you about Sally. I’m thinking we’ll need 30 or even 60 minutes. Do you have time this week?”
  • Decide on your medium (e.g. e-mail, phone, in person). Here again is an example of something you may want to find out within the first couple weeks of school. Ask about his or her preferred mode of communication.
  • Give the teacher a ‘head’s up’ about what you think the issue is – what you want to talk about. Say, perhaps, “I’m worried about her mood when she comes home from school” or “I have some questions about her recent grades.” Since you truly are worried about “confronting her,” you could also defuse the situation in an honest way by saying something such as, “this is really hard for me to talk about with you, but I think it’s important. I appreciate your time – thanks.”
  • Use I-statements. “I’m worried about…” “I’ve noticed that….” “I’m hoping that…” This way, you’re taking responsibility for your own thoughts rather than blaming the teacher for something she may (or may not) be doing. This can also promote cooperation instead of fostering resentment. Using I-statements can reduce the likelihood that the teacher spends time defending herself, instead of being open to making changes in the way she goes about teaching your child.
  • Gather data from the teacher in a way that assumes best intent. What is she noticing? Why is she doing what she’s doing? Very few, if any, teachers entered the profession to hurt your child. Please keep this in mind. Also, there is no possible way you have all the information about what is happening with your child in class. You need this teacher’s eyes and ears to get a fuller picture of your child’s experiences at school.
  • On the flipside, be prepared to share what you are noticing at home, in the car. You may also want to share your ideas for what has been working for you solve whatever problem it is that you are worried about in the class. Ask the teacher if she’d be willing try it out for four to six weeks. If not, then you have some information to help you keep your expectations in check…and, if the situation truly warrants it, information to bring to the principal at a later date in case you need a third person to mediate.

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