The Smart Way to Talk to Teachers

She may not have great news -- schoolwork struggles? behavior blunders? -- but we've got savvy strategies to fix the problem.

Schoolwork Struggles

Teacher at Desk

When your child's teacher calls you, chances are she's worried about your child's behavior or schoolwork, so it's tempting to panic, get defensive, or fly off the handle before you've even heard everything she has to say. How can you stay calm? The key is to ask the right questions so you and the teacher can create a plan to help your child. We asked teachers for the four most common reasons they call parents and the best way to handle each situation.

The teacher says: "Your child is having trouble with his schoolwork."

School struggles can be a symptom of a wide variety of issues. "Your child could be distracted by a family problem, or maybe he's just not getting enough sleep and can't pay attention," says Marian C. Fish, PhD, professor in the school-psychology program at Queens College, in Flushing, New York. "Or he missed learning something the previous year -- he was out sick when the teacher introduced subtraction -- and he's never gotten the hang of it."

The right response: Ask the teacher for specifics so you can judge what kind of help your child needs: Is he having trouble in every subject or just one? Did he score poorly on a couple of tests or many? Is he not doing the work, or is he frustrated and can't handle it?

Creating a plan: Always get your child's take on the problem. Say, "Your teacher is concerned that you're having a hard time with subtraction. What do you think?" Ask him how you can help, and brainstorm solutions with the teacher too. She may be able to recommend flash cards or work sheets your child can do at home, or maybe she can fit in extra-help sessions with him during lunch or free classroom time. You should check over his homework to discuss mistakes with him and work closely with the teacher to make sure he's improving.

Following up: Meet with the teacher for a progress report after your child has gotten a few weeks of extra help. If there's been little or no improvement, consider getting extra tutoring or consulting with a counselor or the school's psychologist to make sure he doesn't have a learning disability.

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