Have you, as a parent, ever tried to have a conversation with a teacher only to feel more frustrated when it ended? Have you ever felt like the teacher you’re talking to doesn’t understand your perspective, or your student’s needs? Believe it or not, this happens frequently. Yet, to give up would be futile. Your student’s success and future are dependent on getting their needs met.
It’s not at all uncommon for parents of students to approach teachers with concerns or questions. In fact, I would encourage ALL parents to have conversations with their child’s teachers. It shows you care and are interested in your child’s education.
Parents of students with special needs are especially put in the position of needing to advocate for their child. (When I refer to special needs children, I’m referring to any child that needs accommodations to their education.)
Students with disabilities are frequently misunderstood by teachers and schools. This isn’t due to a lack of concern for their education, but rather a lack of resources and understanding. Yet, it’s vital that these students have whatever accommodations they need to be successful.
If you as a parent feel that your child needs special considerations, it’s important to speak up. It’s within your kid’s best interest that you share with their teachers concerns and advice as to how to help your kid.
I’ll be honest. Some teachers are more willing to listen to parental concerns than others. There are teachers that may feel attacked if a parent approaches them with advice. (How many people want to get advice about doing their job anyway?) Most teachers I’ve worked with are adaptable. But you have to communicate with them in the right way.
I believe that there are strategies that parents can employ to engage the teacher’s interest and understanding. This comes after years of practice and learning what works (and doesn’t work) in a transaction of ideas. Below are 6 rules to keep in mind when talking with a teacher.
- Assume positive intentions
Most teachers want to feel helpful. Many teachers enter the profession because they want to help kids. Realize that most likely you and the teacher share the same goals, the success of the student.
- Don’t get defensive.
Speak calmly and empathetically, and avoid using a harsh tone of voice. Avoid feeling defensive in the conversation. When we feel defensive, our tone of voice becomes harsh and patronizing. The people around us then feel on high alert and are thrown into what is known as survival mode.
- Be empathetic to their situation.
Realize where they’re coming from. Understand that the teacher may feel busy or overwhelmed or stressed out. Teachers have demanding jobs (grading, too many students, behavior issues, meetings, forms, etc.). Remember, your student is not the only kid in the class. A single teacher can have up to 200 students they see throughout the day.
- Be clear with your concerns and expectations.
You may have to explain the reasoning behind your request for your student. Teachers are not experts in everything. Their degree is in a specific subject. Many teachers actually feel at a loss for dealing with students who require extra support. There is very little instruction (if any at all) about special needs students in college education programs. Unless the teacher has studied special education, they may not know a whole lot about learning disorders.
- Understand their perspective.
Use the same language as they do, even if the language contradicts your beliefs. Using the same language as other people makes them feel heard and understood. When someone feels understood, they are more likely to want to work with you and be on your team.
- Put yourself on their team.
When people share a common goal, they want to work together, most likely. Set goals with the teacher. Ask them what they’ve seen work. Ask them about specific behavior that they’ve seen in your student, and what they are observing in your student. Tell them your goals and concerns. Ask them about their concerns and goals for the student. Ask them if they have any ideas as to how to help your student. Create a plan of how to get your student to the goals.
These are some strategies that you can use next time you need to address an issue with a teacher. When put into use, they can hopefully make the conversation easier. It’s important that your kid receive the necessary adaptations to their education. It’s also equally important that the teachers feel respected. Teachers are more likely to want to work with you if they feel like you’re on their team and share the same goals.