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Parents and Teachers Should Be on the Same Team

After working with more than 40 Jewish day schools, I have witnessed successful and unsuccessful strategies for parent-teacher communication
First grade students sit in a classroom on their first day of school at the Borohov school in Givatayim, September 1, 2017. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
First grade students sit in a classroom on their first day of school at the Borohov school in Givatayim, September 1, 2017. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

When interacting with our child’s teachers, there are different ways of getting our points across. After working with more than 40 Jewish day schools, I have witnessed first hand, the successful strategies for communicating, as well as the most unsuccessful approaches. Recently, one of our online students received a poor grade on her exam. As per the school’s protocol, the teacher sent the parents and email, explaining the issues and letting the parents know that it was still early in the year, which means that there are plenty of opportunities for the students to raise her grade. Generally, these types of emails are “courtesy” anyway, as all grades are posted online. Usually, responses to these types of emails include “thank you for letting me know” and “I will speak with my son/daughter.” In this case however, the response to the teacher’s email, was both surprising and alarming.

The parent wrote back placing the blame for the poor grade squarely on the teacher. The email contained phrases including, “My daughter is a perfect student, so the problem is obviously on your side” and “I expect you to give my daughter a chance to do a retest.” Whoa! What just happened? How did this nice and polite email from a teacher to a parent turn into an accusatory email full of unreasonable and unfair demands? Well, unfortunately these types of exchanges are not that uncommon in the educational setting. What type of message are these parents sending to their children? We know that this person’s daughter is going to come into the next class session feeling that she is actually perfect and that the teacher did something wrong.

Now that the school year has gotten under way, it is time for parents and teachers to realize that we are all on the same team. Is it really in your child’s best interest to antagonize her teacher in October? Let’s think about this objectively. There are 8+ months in the current school year. The teacher is most likely not going anywhere, as she has been assigned by the school to teach the class. The student is most likely not going to be put in another class, as there are no other sections for this subject. So, what options are left? Well, we must do what we can to work together, as the most important goal is the success of the students.

As we hopefully teach our children at a young age, there are ways to ask questions and to express concerns that are not accusatory in nature. Sometimes the tone in which we present our issues can make a huge difference. This sounds obvious, but it is amazing how often parents sometimes forget these important lessons. It is important to realize that teachers do sometimes make mistakes. They are after all, human beings just like the rest. It is entirely possible that the teacher did make an error in the grading, but there is a way to ask. Most importantly, what message will the child in the class take away when she sees these emails that her father is sending to her teacher? Sadly, the father’s attitude will often rub off on the child. This is what we as parents should want to avoid.

It is also important for the parents to remember the school’s “chain of command.” If there is a problem in the classroom, the first point of communication should be the teacher. Only if the issue is not resolved should the issue be escalated to the school’s administration. In today’s day and age there are several options for communicating, that should make it easy for parents to be in touch with a teacher. I have a good friend who is the principal of a large Jewish high school. He told me about one parent who feels that coming straight to the principal, will put his problems in “first position.” The problem is that while my friend is great at his job, a principal of an entire school does not know about every homework assignment and test being given in each class. So, every time this parent come with a problem, and he has to send it back to the classroom teacher, the parent often has to wait longer for a resolution. In addition, jumping straight to the top level does not create a good working relationship with the teacher. Most teachers actually want to help solve any problems that may arise. That is part of their job. Without that communication between the parents and the teacher, it makes it much more difficult for any changes to be implemented. Running to the principal every time there is a problem, is rarely the answer. Start with the person who can most affectively help you and your child solve the problem. That is usually going to be the teacher. If you are still not satisfied with the teacher’s response, then going to the administration can be an option.

Finally, many classes now use WhatsApp to communicate about every day matters such as supplies, homework, etc. My children are in two different schools and I have the “pleasure” of being in WhatsApp groups for both classes. At the beginning of the year, my wife and I found the posted messages to be helpful. We were able to know about schedule changes, events, and other information instantly, without having to go anywhere else. We were also able to ask questions if we did not understand something. These WhatsApp groups were a great resource. Then, as the year got under way, the messages started becoming a bit less focused. Parents started posting complaints about the amount of homework and about different aspects of classroom management. When I saw the first of these posts, I was appalled. A small group of parents were criticizing the teacher in a public forum. What was the teacher supposed to do now? I wanted to shout out to these parents to stop and to take their issues to the teacher, privately. Again, what kind of message are these kids receiving when their own parents are engaged in that type of behavior? Frankly, I rarely look at the group messages, as so much of what is posted is simply, unimportant.

We have a long year ahead of us, and as parents, it is really important that we establish a working relationship with our child’s teacher. We do not need to be best friends, but the way in which we communicate with them will affect our child’s progress and our ability to bring change when it is actually needed. Most importantly, we need to show our children how behaving in a polite and professional manner will go further than the antagonizing, accusatory tones will take us. Almost all of the teachers out there are good people. They are humans and yes, teachers can and do make mistakes. It is usually not intentional, and feedback is okay. At the end, we all want the students to be as successful as possible. So, let’s work together with the teachers and not on opposite sides.

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Bonim B'Yachad, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Bonim B'Yachad works with students all over the world.
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