Navigating the school system can be difficult, but don't fret: Sarah Brown Wessling is here to help. Each month Sarah will offer insight into the classroom and share tips on how to help your child flourish in school.
Sometimes it comes from a neighbor, a friend, or someone I run into at the grocery store. At first there’s hesitancy, then an acute attention to my reaction. I know they’re trying it out, testing whether it meets at the corner of inquiry and concern, and avoiding the intersection of overbearing and offensive. It always starts the same: “I have a question I want to ask my child’s teacher. What do you think about it?”
I know that I’m not the only one fielding these, so I asked my network of teachers around the country the most common questions they receive from parents. What I heard resonated for me as both a teacher and a parent. So here they are, the 10 questions that I think speak to the complexity and importance of school and home communication.
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10. How do I help my child with technology (when I don’t know anything about it)?
This isn’t an uncommon concern at all. Largely, there’s a gap between what our children know about technology and what most adults know. Most importantly, remember that technology is a tool. You can still ask the same kinds of great questions about the work: What are you learning? What are the challenges of this assignment? What are you trying to accomplish?
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9. How is my child graded? What penalties are there? How can my child be successful?
In other words, how do we play the game? And, yes, I’m calling it out. A lot of school has become an elaborate game of point accumulation that doesn’t always translate to purposeful practice. But, truthfully, most teachers care far more about the learning than they do about the grades students receive (which aren’t always commensurate with each other). However, having a clear plan and knowing where the teacher’s flexibility lies can relieve a lot of stress (and even meltdowns) at home.
(Photo: Getty Images)
8. We’re leaving for a 5-Day trip tomorrow. Can I have all the homework?
Yes, you heard that right. We appreciate the nod to being responsible and caught up when students have to be gone. But if a student must miss an entire week of school, then realize that you’re going to need to give a teacher a significant chunk of time to accumulate materials (collecting work for a student for an entire week has often taken me an hour or more). Moreover, please realize that teachers often modify plans based on learning progressions throughout the week, so there will most likely be things to catch up on upon return. Most importantly, remember it’s largely impossible to have the same school experience when the child is absent. This isn’t to say that the time away from school isn’t valuable or educational, but just know that generally saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another.
Photo: Justin Ornellas/Creative Commons via Flickr
7. Is my child turning everything in on time?
A great question! This one can offer important insights into whether or not students are bringing work home, if they’re maintaining independent responsibility, or if more support is needed.
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6. How Can My Child Get Her Grade Up?
This can be a question with a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can lead to a problem-solving conversation. On the other hand, the question is more about the grade than the learning. If this question were posed to me by a friend looking for feedback, I’d suggest re-framing the question to ask about the child’s learning instead of just the grade. The teacher will be refreshed by the perspective and you’ll get better insights too.
5. Does my child have friends?
What an important question to ask. In fact, I had to ask this once myself and the teacher did a fabulous job of telling me that she wanted to observe my child in a variety of settings before getting back to me. We had a wonderful conversation and pinpointed the places in the day that were more difficult, which helped me to be much more proactive and positive at home.
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4. Is my child behaving?
Many of the teachers in my network said this was a question they were asked frequently. Several even talked about the importance of this question culturally, noting that parents in some cultures would not ask questions about curriculum or assignments, believing to do so would be disrespectful. In these cases, checking on a child’s behavior is acknowledging the partnership between school and home.
Conversely, when I read this question, I also have my friend Margaret’s voice in the back of my head: “Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.” Sometimes as teachers we have to report the tough details. Please remember that we’re reporting, not judging. As a parent, I know that I want the truth, even when it’s tough to illuminate.
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3. What is the purpose of this assignment?
I think this question often occurs after a frustrating night or weekend of homework. You know those nights where your child is trying to do his best, but isn’t quite sure how to proceed and frustration sets in? These are tough parent moments and I can assure you that teachers feel just as badly as you do when homework becomes painful. So, this is a valid question where the tone and delivery make all the difference when you ask it. Couching the question in how you’re trying to help your child learn makes this an inquiry rather than an accusation.
(Photo: Getty Images)
2. What Can I Do to Support You?
A colleague offered this one with a great deal of gratitude attached to the sharing of it. We know this work is a partnership and nothing honors that reciprocity more than asking your child’s teacher how to support any aspect of the learning environment.
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1. Do you remember me?
OK, so this one wasn’t a question from a parent, but from a former student, and it was just too poignant to pass up. It’s that moment when you see a former student and she asks, “Do you remember me?” And really, I think this says it all: In order to do all that our job entails, we have to know our students first.
Demand World-Class Standards For All U.S. Students
What kids are taught in one state is different from what kids are taught in another, better preparing some students for college and the job market than their peers. Stand For Children wants all U.S. governors to commit to implement the Common Core Standards so that all high school graduates will be ready to compete in the global marketplace.
Sarah Brown Wessling is an English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. In 2010 she was selected as the National Teacher of the Year and spent the year traveling the world as an ambassador for education. She is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel and a mother of three. She continues to write, speak, and teach throughout the country, but always relishes her role as “mom.”