Your child’s teacher is, for that year, the most important person in the education of your child beyond yourself. So building a good relationship is with them essential for your confidence as well as your child’s.
Like any relationship, there are few hard and fast rules. It is difficult to pin down how to do it: there are a few things to look out for, though.
Firstly, try not to march in on or near the first day of term demanding to speak to the teacher, and then laying out how special, full of undiagnosed problems your child is or how last year’s teacher treated them terribly. Teachers know that children are special. If a teacher senses that a parent is starting out the year by making excuses, or being aggressively defensive of their child, their alarm bells will ring and dealing with them directly will become harder. It won’t affect how they teach your child, but it will mean that their opinion of you, and therefore, how they deal with you will change. If you have legitimate concerns about your child’s progress then lay them out carefully and as dispassionately as possible, so that the topic can be discussed on a professional level.
Parents sometimes forget that the relationship is built on different foundations: the parent takes an emotive view of their child, the teacher a professional one. Dealing with a professional, therefore, requires more than the emotive outpourings we are all subject to when we talk about people we love.
This is not meant to be patronising. It simply means, that just as teachers need to understand – and they generally do, for they are often parents themselves – what it means to have and love a child, parents need to realise that teachers will approach any problem or incipient issue with a determination to discover the nature of it first, then to consider resolutions.
Secondly, when a genuine problem does arise during the term, parents should be aware of the best ways of resolving it. If you feel, as sometimes parents do, that your child’s teacher is not approaching your child in the right way, it is better to go to them than straight to the head. That will ensure your relationship with the teacher is destroyed. Any professional educator will talk to you calmly about your concerns first and will respect you for it. If you are still not happy, then the head is there for you to see.
Consider the nature of the problem you face. Is it that the spellings are too hard? Is it that your child now hates math? Is it bullying? It is important for parents to deal with issues like these with a sense of perspective. In a case of bullying, demanding a meeting immediately might well be an appropriate response, but if it is some tricky spellings, well (this has happened to me by the way)…
Sometimes of course, a teacher’s own defensiveness can make these meetings impossible. And some teachers can be aggressive and intimidating. It is still essential to see the teacher first and to do your best to resolve the issue there and then, taking your own notes if necessary. A possible alternative is to seek an informal meeting with the Head, asking them how to approach the teacher. This should not be necessary but a good Head would suggest ways of talking to them and would also have a quiet word – without mentioning that they have spoken with you.
Outside of problems, a relationship with a teacher needs to stay professional. In some schools, especially private schools or small community schools, the temptation is to draw closer to school staff than is healthy. Often you are involved on long trips together or organising fund-raising events together, or simply chatting at the school gate. However friendly the teacher seems, try not to make remarks that could jeopardise your dealings with the school (such as about other staff, the Head, other children or other parents). Sometimes teachers are invited to parties by parents. This is up to you. As a teacher, I always refuse such invitations because there is the possibility of creating conflicts of interest.
Much the same could be said for end of year gifts. Keep them small and tokenistic! In fact, I enjoy a handwritten card or note more than any other gift.
With the stresses and strains which can build up if a child is not achieving highly, and even if they are, maintaining this relationship is not easy. It requires work on both sides. Teachers should always make an effort to say little, positive things about children to their parents and they appreciate the same in return (“Oh, Johnny loved his history lesson yesterday…”). Teachers should also be honest with you and approach you as soon as possible if there is a problem. The quicker things are faced, the quicker they are dealt with.
It is a myth that teachers don’t like “pushy” parents. They don’t like aggressive, selfish or overly demanding parents. They do respect parents who care fiercely about their child’s education, so they will respect you for raising issues. If they don’t, they should not be teaching.