Many parents will breathe a sigh of relief on Tuesday morning as they load their precious cargo onto the school bus. But a new year also means a new teacher, and thus a new partner in making sure your kid ends up happy, healthy and at least sort of normal. Here's how to establish a positive and effective parent/teacher relationship.
Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt
Be a pre-emptive parent and start the school year off right. "We want teachers to give our kids a clean slate, and it's important that we do the same for them," says former teacher, author and parenting guru Alyson Shafer. In other words, don't listen to wicked whispers about "the mean teacher," "the strict teacher," or "the teacher who gives too much homework." These people got into the profession because they care about kids, so consider yourselves allies in the attempt to raise a future common cold curer, a Nobel Peace prize winner or a multiplatinum pop star.
Put parenting on your to-do list
Woody Allen said 90 per cent of life is showing up, and the same can definitely be said for parenthood. Sure you're busy, but make keeping up with your child's school experience a priority by reading every single correspondence that comes home. "Remember that the teacher spent time putting the memo together," says Ms. Shafer. Be sure to attend parents night and make a note of relevant deadlines. ("You'd be amazed at how often a parent will say 'Well I didn't know about that,' meanwhile the teacher has sent home two letters on the subject," says Ms. Schafer.) This stuff is only optional in the sense that being an attentive, engaged parent is optional.
Your smart phone has a calendar – use it!
School-related gatherings are a great way to meet the person who is sculpting your youngster, but with dozens of other parents in the room, this is not the place to have that 10-minute convo on little Zoe's learning style. "If you want to get to know him or her, just schedule a meeting," says Ms. Schafer. Schedule being the key word: "What you don't want to do is be one of those parents who hijacks the teacher after school." You wouldn't show up at anyone else's workplace without making an appointment. (Or if you would, it might be time to start dealing with some boundary issues of your own.)
Provide an emotional dump zone
When little Gemma comes home complaining that her teacher was mean to her, parents tend to take one of two approaches: A) the old-school parent tells the child to brush it off (secretly or not-so-secretly assuming that the kid was in the wrong); or B) the protective parent assumes perfection on the kid's part and promptly gives the teacher a verbal lashing. Neither is the right response, and the latter will be detrimental to your parent/teacher relationship. "When your kid comes home upset about his or her teacher, the most important thing is to validate the feelings," Ms. Schafer says. If you can let them vent, 99 per cent of the problems will disappear.
Education is a team sport
You and the teacher should never feel like you're on opposing sides. Whether it's a complaint you have, or a phone call from Mrs. Simms about how your child is "the biter," it's key to approach the issue as a team. So in the homework scenario it's not: "You are giving too much," but "I'm finding the homework level a lot to handle. Do you have any suggestions?" At this point, you will probably learn that Madison does not, in fact, have three hours of math homework a night. Miscommunication is common – your messenger is a Wiggles obsessed 6-year-old. When the teacher is calling you, the most important thing to do is put the ego aside. Even if you're unsure about the accusation, phrases like "Well I'm sure we can both agree that neither of us wants Diego bullying his classmates," help re-enforce the team mentality.
And don't do this: Give a mug at the end of the year to show your appreciation. When in doubt, go with a gift certificate.