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How Can I Talk To My Child's Teacher?
 Sam Horn, Tongue Fu! at School

Lisa, a mother of eight year old twins, told me, “I’ve seen all the studies that report how important is to be involved in your children’s education.  But every time I try to talk to their teachers, I get the impression I’m bothering them.  Any suggestions?”

“Perhaps it’s the way you’re talking to them,” I gently suggested.  “Teachers today are over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated.  A friend who’s an elementary school teacher told me, ‘I try to do the best I can for each student, but it’s hard when there are 30 kids in every class. The other day, a parent called to complain that her son didn’t understand how to do his homework and she wanted me to spend extra time with him in class. I tried to tell her I don’t have an aide and I’m doing the best I can, but she wouldn’t even listen to me. She ended up accusing me of ‘not caring.’  It’s so unfair.’”

Would you like to know how to approach teachers sensitively so they’re receptive to your requests?  Here are 3 common scenario’s with suggestions that could increase the likelihood they’ll hear you out – and choose to cooperate.

Your Child Receives a Bad Grade

Harmful Approach   Helpful Approach
"Clarissa always gets A's.  There must be a mistake."   "Can we talk about Clarissa's grade?  This is out of the ordinary for her."
"You should have contacted us when she failed those tests so we knew she was flunking."   "In the future, if Clarissa gets a poor grade on a test, could you please notify us so we can catch it early?"
Notice: The harmful approach assumes there was an error and uses extreme words ("always, must") which produce extreme reactions. The word "should" criticizes the teacher for something that has already happened which serves no good purpose - because no one can undo the past. As the saying goes, "We can't motivate people to do better by making them feel bad." The word "should" makes people feel bad and doesn't suggest how this situation could be handled better. 

Try This Instead: Use the words "Can we talk" to open the conversation without blaming. Use the words "In the future" so you're politely suggesting how this could be handled differently from now on. The words "In the future," "From now on" and "next time" are ways of coaching mistakes instead of criticizing them.

Your Child Has Been Out Sick and Missed a Lot of School

Harmful Approach   Helpful Approach
"You need to send her assignments home with her friend so she can get caught up."   "Could you please send her assignments home with Molly so she can get caught up?"
"You'll just have to be patient.  It's not her fault she got the flu."   "Please understand that she feels bad about missing class and is going to do her best to get caught up."
Notice: The words "You'll have to" and "You need to" are orders. Do you know anyone who likes to be ordered around? Those words often cause knee-jerk negative reactions because they make people feel verbally pushed around.

Try This Instead: As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Life is not so short but that there's always time for courtesy." Instead of telling people what they have or need to do (which usually produces resentment), turn those orders into courteous requests. Asking "Could you please" gives people incentive to respond in kind because they're being treated with the respect they want, need, and deserve.

Your Child Has Been Bullied on the Bus

Harmful Approach   Helpful Approach
"I have a problem with the way you handled this."   "What else can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
"I know he's been suspended, but that's not good enough."   "I realize he's been suspended, and what assurances do we have that he's learned his lesson?"
Notice: The Harmful Approach uses the word "problem" which is a "fighting phrase" that accuses people and puts them on the defensive. The word "you" makes this statement come across as an attack. Plus, the word "but" pits people as adversaries. (Just look at these phrases . . ."I hear what you're saying, but . . ." 
"I know I agreed to do that, but . . . " I'm sorry that happened, but . . . ") Simply said, people who use the word "but" will end up arguing because they're re-butting each other's points of view.

Try This Instead: Use the word "we" which puts people on the same side instead of side against side. Replace the phrase "I have a problem" which focuses on fault --with "What else can we do" which focuses on solutions. Use the word "and" which acknowledges what's being said instead of arguing with it. And, when dealing with troublesome situations, ask how this could be improved instead of giving an ultimatum. Asking questions gives the other person autonomy and they're more likely to suggest a solution because we're sharing control instead of asserting it.

Do you have other challenging situations with your child's teacher, and you'd like to learn how to handle them constructively vs. destructively? 

Get a copy of Tongue Fu! at School: 30 Ways to Get Along with Teachers, Principals, Students, and Parents (Taylor Trade Publishing,). It is packed with suggestions that provide you with, as Don Cameron, former Executive Director of National Education Association said, "a specific road map for cooperation and conflict resolution."