Have a Concern about School? Tips for Talking to the Teacher
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By Angèle Sancho Passe
You have a concern about your child’s care and education, how do you handle it?
When Paul picks up Sofia (4 months), he’s surprised to see she’s sucking on a pacifier. He and his wife Molly had communicated to her teacher that they didn’t want Sofia to use pacifiers. Flustered, he takes the pacifier out of Sofia’s mouth and leaves without saying a word. At home, Paul and Molly discuss the situation. Did the staff give Sofia the pacifier because she was crying too much and that was the only way to console her? Did the teachers disregard their wishes? Or did they just forget?
Sandra is worried that Mason (3.5 years) does not want to go to preschool any more. He used to calmly say good bye, but now he protests loudly and cries. The teacher says he is fine, just a little “touchy”. Sandra is increasingly nervous. Is there something going on at school that she is not being told about?
These stories have a common theme. Parents have concerns and they don’t know how to talk with their child’s teachers without being emotional. They may feel anger towards the provider, guilt over wondering if they are leaving their child in a good place, embarrassment about confronting the expert teacher, and confusion about what to say and when. But often, not communicating leads to more negative emotions and concerns.
Here are some tips to address concerns with teachers. Unless it is an urgent safety issue, it is OK not to react immediately and take some time to collect your thoughts.
Before the meeting:
- Ask yourself the questions: “What do I want to see happen?” and “Why is it important for my child?” Write down your ideas if that helps you think them through.
- Arrange a time to talk face to face (or a phone call if in person isn’t possible.) Try not to use email to present your concerns. It’s best to have a conversation so you and the teacher can exchange your feelings and ideas at the same time.
During the conversation:
- State your feelings and ideas, using I statements: “Yesterday, when I picked up Sofia, she had a pacifier in her mouth. I’m concerned because we had written that we do not want her to have a pacifier. I’d like to talk about how it happened and find a solution with you”.
- Listen to the teacher’s response: “The teacher was a substitute.”
- Clarify your questions: “How are substitutes informed about parents’ wishes and children’s needs?”
- Discuss several options with the teacher stating her ideas too. “What solutions can we find together?”
- Agree on the solution that makes the most sense to you and the teacher.
- Plan a follow up meeting within a week to review the situation.
So how did it go for Sofia and Mason’s parents?
A few days later, Paul and Molly called the teacher and requested an appointment. During the meeting, they shared they felt strongly about not giving Sofia pacifiers. The teacher apologized and explained what happened: A new assistant teacher had given Sofia the pacifier without consulting Sofia’s chart. They all agreed that this was a mistake. Paul and Molly asked if there was a policy to avoid this kind of situation. The teacher offered to put in place a policy that all staff would review parents’ preferences weekly. Paul and Molly felt reassured but wanted some confirmation that the policy would be followed. They planned to talk again in two weeks to check in.
Sandra was a bit nervous, but she decided to ask for a formal meeting with the teacher. At the meeting she told the teacher that she didn’t understand the meaning of “touchy” and wanted to talk about it. The teacher apologized for using casual language. She explained why she was not worried: “It is common for preschoolers to go through a new phase of separation anxiety, even after they seem to have adjusted well. They still feel very dependent on their parents, and are learning about independence at the same time. They protest when parents leave, but recover quickly and play well the rest of the session. The important part is to notice Mason’s behavior at the end of the day: does he seem happy?” Sandra agreed that he was and she was reassured by the teacher’s knowledge of child development. They planned to continue to check in weekly to assess how Mason was progressing.
Quality child care centers follow NAEYC’s Code of Ethical Conduct which recognizes the primary importance of families in children’s development. Most of the time life goes along smoothly. Occasionally it takes extra effort to be on the same page. Parents have the right and responsibility to bring up their concerns. Children learn more and are happier when their families and teachers collaborate for their care and education.
Angèle Sancho Passe is the author of Is Everybody Ready for Kindergarten? and other titles. She is an education consultant and past member of the NAEYC governing board. She lives in Minneapolis. www.angelesanchopasse.com