Effective Communication with School :: 5 Tips from a Former Teacher

Ahh, the fall season. The return of early mornings, homework, and yes, the dreaded flood of emails to your inbox from all your kiddos’ teachers. If you’re anything like me, nothing strikes fear in me quite like seeing my child’s teacher’s name as the sender with only my child’s name in the subject line. My palms start sweating and my heart rate increases as I open the message. Are they struggling academically? Hurt? Misbehaving? Surely they haven’t done something…gulp…GOOD? I’m on the defensive before I’ve even read the opening hello.

As a former teacher, I know statistically that far more emails are sent with negative information than positive. As an eighth grade teacher with over 150 students walking in and out of my classroom on any given day, I didn’t have time to send a lot of “your child is amazing” emails. I was swimming upstream most days, simply trying to send out the required information, and responding within the district-required time allotment while also…oh yes, teaching the children in front of me.

So what’s a former-teacher-turned-parent’s advice here? How do we best communicate with each other without fear and judgement? 

Clarity is Kindness

I remember getting an email late one afternoon from a parent that simply said, “Did anything happen today during second period I should know about?” Exhausted after a nine-hour work day, I couldn’t possibly remember what this father was referring to in second period. And I rightfully panicked, fearing I had made some huge blunder, though he was simply referring to a quiz his daughter had received a low score on earlier that morning.

Parents, if your child tells you something that needs clarification, please be clear in your communication. It would have been much more effective for this father to ask if his daughter could come in to tutorials to discuss her low quiz grade and possibly retake it.

Clarity is kindness. Be direct. Ask lots of clarifying questions. Stick to the facts. Our messages will be much more effective if we both do this!

Remember Everyone Makes Mistakes

I’m going to break your heart here—your child isn’t perfect. And neither is their teacher. Why? Because they’re HUMAN.

Listen, I know we all want to see our children as idyllic angels who would never possibly cheat or lie or do something that could harm another. And I know we all pray that our children are being taught at the feet of Mary Poppins. But here’s the truth: neither of these are true. 

Good kids sometimes make bad choices. And good teachers sometimes make mistakes. So, we need to widen the lens before jumping to conclusions. There may be more to a story than what your child is telling you during their after-school meltdown. Let’s remember to gather all the facts and sides of a story before we storm the school and demand someone be fired. (Yes, it happened. No, I wasn’t fired. But I digress.)

Tone is Lost Online

Let’s take it back to the top for a minute. Remember how I was defensive before even opening an email with my child’s name in the subject line? I opened an email last year that simply said, “I want to discuss some things I’ve noticed with your child. Please let me know a good time we could talk over the phone.”

Can you guess how I felt when I opened that email? DREAD. I just KNEW she was about to tell me my kid was failing or bullying or something worse, and I was ready to go full Mama Bear on her and assure her that everything she was saying was a lie.

Turns out? She wanted to praise something. Man, did I feel dumb. I realize that’s not always the case, but my point is that we have no idea what frame of mind the person on the other end of that email is in. When in doubt, pick up the phone or make an appointment to discuss things in person, especially if you aren’t satisfied with an email exchange. 

Be Patient

Let’s be real, teachers and parents both had their plates full pre-pandemic. But now? Most of us are beyond overwhelmed. Teachers feel the same. When I was teaching 150+ kids on a daily basis, I could easily get 10-15 emails during one 45-minute class period. Finding the time to use the restroom between classes was difficult enough…Emailing had to wait for my planning period or lunch, if I wasn’t on duty.

And now, as a parent, I can really only answer my emails when the toddler is napping. It’s happening on both sides of those screens. So let’s remember to give each other grace—if your email hasn’t been answered within an hour, I promise it’s okay. No one is ignoring you. If it’s an urgent matter, the option to call is always there. 

Make a Plan and Follow Up

Finally, if your child’s teacher is reaching out because your child really is struggling in some way, be proactive. You are the expert on your own child, so if there’s a behavior issue, offer some solutions that work at home. When discussing the issue, take notes on exactly what the teacher is seeing and discuss it with your child. Get their take on what’s triggering the misbehavior. If an improvement plan is put into place, ask for copies to keep at home.

And most importantly, follow up! Check back in with your child’s teacher every so often to see how things are improving. Ask your child how they feel about the changes. Do they need anything else? The goal is for all parties be on the same team, and that team should be solely focused on your child’s success.     

Allison Ezell
Allison and her husband, Blake, grew up in Dallas and made the move to the 'burbs in 2010 when she began teaching middle school in Frisco. After attending Texas A&M for her undergrad, Allison came back to Dallas to pursue her Master’s in Education from SMU. She has a huge love of writing and taught everything from preschool to eighth grade before obtaining her certification as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant. Today, McKinney is home for her circus which includes three children (four if you count her husband) and a troublemaking lab. Allison and her husband are both passionate about orphan care and adoption, a calling that led them to their adopted son from China and to pursue their foster care licensing during the pandemic. Keep up with all her shenanigans on Instagram!