Nothing changes you like perspective. As young teachers, we often do so many things wrong. As parents, we also do things wrong. Each has a different perspective and a different role to play. In the end nothing beats how parents and teachers can unite to solve problems and face issues together. What are the most crucial parent teacher discussions that must take place?
Let’s Talk for a Minute
- Are we talking about private parent teacher discussions? Handbook material? A PTA meeting? Ongoing day-to-day communications?
- Let’s imagine a conduit between teacher and parent that flows in relation to a child in their care. These are understandings that must be addressed and internalized to meet the needs of the unique learner on a daily basis.
- Since we’re talking any student, let’s include those with special needs, those at risk, and those in the margins. We’ll focus in this way and then leave it to you to adapt which questions fir your situation.
- What experience do I have in this subject?
As a music teacher in middle school of over ten years, I began teaching as a single person. I didn’t have a spouse. I didn’t have any children of my own. I began teaching in 1999. And I’ve made my share of blunders and “wish i could do over” moments.
I am currently not teaching, but I have 3 kids ages 11, 9, and 4. The oldest has Aspergers syndrome and so requires special services, accommodations, and understandings. The challenges that my own child faces today in the classroom are the same that a few of my students faced back in the day. I wish I could say that I handled those challenges well, but I can’t. Nor can I say that I know how those students turned out. For the most part, I lost contact with them after they graduated.
Today I struggle to find the balance. It’s between my son’s challenges and the difficulties that he and the teachers face in helping him navigate a path to independence and interdependence. I come from the unique perspective of knowing what his teachers are going through. I’ve had similar students in my own classes in the past. It was vitally important for me, as a former teacher, to define my role as caretaker of my special son. I intended not to focus on trying to teach the young teachers how to teach.
What to Talk About
Here’s what I would consider the most important parent teacher discussions to have:
1. Discipline philosophy
How do they view challenging behavior and how do they address it? As a child who lives with Asperger’s symptoms, my son will be sure to display behavior that could be construed as anti-social. Will he be labelled as a troublemaker, or be recognized for his strengths and beauty? Do they see challenging behavior as problems that have solutions, or reasons for exclusion?
2. Discipline procedures
If my child does have issues, what are the appropriate actions that need to be taken to redirect and refocus? What is the suspension/expulsion rate of the school? A high rate signifies a fundamental lack of understanding of how to engage students in meaningful life improvement. A punitive school bent on cleansing the population of wrongdoers is not in the mindset of improving children’s lives, but rather on their own outward appearance. They have not taken the proper steps to develop their staff in the art of collaborative problem solving.
3. Communication style
How approachable is the teacher/counselor/admin? Is there a welcoming open-door policy? Are we able to connect through digital means, cell phones, or handwritten notes? Am I welcome to observe classes?
4. Communication methods
Some schools put restrictions on the ability of parents to simply visit classes. As a safety concern, certainly you will not be allowed to appear at your teacher’s door unannounced or set foot in the corridors without a visitor’s pass. However, you’ll need to feel welcome to communicate as needed. How will the school calendar be posted? How will I be notified in an emergency?
5. Who is the go-to person for first line communications?
Guidance? Principal? Homeroom teacher? Secretary?
6. Class size, student-teacher, student-aide ratios, campus size, student population
This is so important to ensure that my child with special needs will not be forgotten in the midst of so many others needing their fair share of attention. Large crowds can be a source of concern for someone dealing with sensory and accessibility issues that hamper their ability to adapt in challenging situations.
7. Priorities of instruction
Behaviour vs. academics? Social needs and integration? Developing independence? What is the overarching focus for my or any other student with special needs?
8. Peer interaction (specifically special needs)
How will my child interact with his peers and will there be an opportunity to make friends?
9. Track record of success with students with special needs
Seek out former students who have made it through the class and get to know them as allies.
10. What accommodations are available for my son’s special needs?
11. What is the classroom atmosphere and learning environment
Is the classroom set up for my child’s disabilities—low sensory, minimal distractions, and low stimulus?
12. What are the teacher’s motivation strategies?
Veteran teachers who have really honed their ability to motivate even the least responsive teachers are the ideal.
13. Transportation options and special needs-accessible
The transition from home to school is so important and often overlooked as a factor in my child’s success that day.