8 Tips For Working With Your Child’s Educator

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Photo: Forty Two.

It’s already August, which means back to school is coming soon! This fall will mark my 11th year as an educator. I have held the role of high school teacher, guidance counselor, and dean. Over my 11 years, I have dealt with all kinds of parents and students from the extremely kind and polite to downright nasty. Here are a few tips to help make the most of the complicated relationship with your child’s teachers, administrators and school staff.

1. Be nice, be kind, be polite, be patient, always!

You may think, sure I am nice, I am always nice to my child’s educators, I say thank you, I say please, etc. Still, be kind, be polite, be patient. There are some days where I get at least 100 emails and 8 – 10 voicemail messages. I promise your issue is important to me, but you have to leave it to me as the professional to decide which issue I deal with first. So, while it might seem like a catastrophe that your child was placed in on-level English rather than Honors English, I can tell you that the kid who was beat by her mom with a belt last night comes first… except I can’t actually tell you that, so just trust me.

2.Email me first!

This is crucial! While I can email you back in 30 seconds (not WITHIN 30 seconds), if I call you we will be on the phone for at least 10 minutes. I can email you during a meeting or where I am otherwise somewhat pre-occupied. I can also cut and past from a previous email message voicing the same question. I can’t call you in the same way. Plus, I work with children, so I am rarely sitting at my desk. This is especially true for teachers who might only get 40 minutes of prep a day including lunch. Oftentimes, teachers don’t even have a quiet, private place to call back. I never mind when a parent emails me to tell me that they would like me to call them. I can then reply quickly and set up a phone conference rather than playing phone tag all day.

 3. We have heard of Jews!

This just might be one of my favorite parental interactions, ever. I received the following email from a parent:

Dear Ms. Palmer,

Next week the Jewish people of Minneapolis (and the whole world) will be celebrating a holiday called Rosh Hashanah. This is holiest days for the Jewish people, and thus Sasha will not be in school. She will be celebrating the multigenerational history of her ancestors. Rosh Hashanah is like your New Year [as if Jews don’t celebrate the lunar New Year]. If you would like to learn more about Rosh Hashanah, please visit this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_hashanah

Because of our religious beliefs, Sasha will not be in school. She should not be marked as an unexcused absence, and all of her teachers should give her extra time for her homework. If you have any questions, you can call Rabbi Smith at Temple Beth Jews. His number is below.


Lorna Shapiro

I replied:

Dear Mrs. Shapiro,

Thank you for your email. I will see to it that Sasha has ample time to make up her work. The school will mark her absence as excused.

L’Shana Tova,

Carrie Rabinowitz Palmer

One, you never know the religion of your kid’s teachers. Two, all teachers have a college degree and are licensed by the State to teach your children. We go through many courses on school law and student rights. Trust me, your kids’ teachers, especially in the Cities, know what Rosh Hashanah is. It is great to let us know that your child will be absent, but give us the benefit of the doubt.

4. Give gift cards. Always!

Okay, so gifts are NOT expected. They are welcomed, but we get that it is not possible to buy for every teacher. The best gift teachers receive is a heartfelt, handwritten thank you note from you and your child.

But, if you decide you want to give a gift, give a gift card. Always. I repeat, give a gift card. Always. It doesn’t have to be for much. Some of my favorite gift cards are $5 to Starbucks. Just enough to get myself a tasty treat. Trust me, the elaborate chocolate covered pretzel spread put into the fancy box goes right in the garbage. How nice that you made that at home! I have seen your child wipe his nose with his hand. I don’t want to eat anything from your house. And, who knows how long this has been sitting at the bottom of you kid’s backpack before he gave it to me. Save yourself time, energy, and money. Gift card, always. If you can’t trust your kid to hand it to me, leave it with the front desk receptionist for me or put in the mail!

 5. When you see me in public…

Say hi! It’s fine. But, don’t assume that I am ready to discuss your child and all of his or her school needs. More likely than not, I am out to eat with my family, running an errand, or doing something non-school related. I don’t want to talk about your child. While your child may be the center of your universe, she is not the center or mine. I work with 600 kids and none of them are the center of my universe.

6. If you’re upset…

If you are upset with me, a grade that your child earned, something another teacher did, or a school policy, please breathe and center yourself before you call me. I will be much more likely to want to help you and work with you when you are calm and polite (see number 1). Don’t threaten me (“If I don’t hear back from you in 3 hours, I am calling the School Board” [also see number 2]. Don’t call me names (I had a parent tell me that I was like Hitler because I issued her son a consequence before consulting her. Guess how I handled the rest of that call? I hung up, and she was told by our principal that if she ever spoke to any member of our staff like that again we would file hate crime charges). And, again, give me some time to respond.

If, after really talking to me, you don’t get the response that you’d like, work your way up. Don’t start with the School Board or Superintendent, they will bounce it back to the person that the issue really belongs to; it’s just a waste of your time. Call the assistant principal or principal, and be sure to tell them what we already discussed and the measures that you have already explored. If you are upset with me and haven’t talked to me yet, the principal is going to tell you to start by talking to me.

 7. Your kid might act differently in school.

We see your child in a way that you don’t. He is likely to act differently at school. So, while I might call you and the reported behavior might seem out of character, please trust that I am telling you the truth. I don’t have time to make up stuff about students. Yes, your kid is really talking over me when I try to give a lesson. Yes, your kid really doesn’t listen to me when I ask him to stop. Yes, I sent your kid to the office. I want to involve you so we can come up with a solution together. I am on your side trying to help your child navigate the rocky terrain of childhood/adolescence. I am not out to get your kid.

8. Thank us!

Thank us. A lot. We don’t hear it enough. I am much more likely to return calls and emails quicker for a parent who is pleasant, kind, and thanks me for my hard work.

I hope that you and your child have a great school year!!