Given that our job is to educate their sons and daughters, it is hard to fathom that formal communication is kept to one (or at most two) parent-teacher meetings over the course of the year. This can’t be right. Early in the new year I gather the email addresses of at least one parent of each student and contact the parents with a general welcome message. Usually it is no more than an introduction and an open offer to parents to contact me by email or text if they have a question about anything to do with my class, but particularly if they have a concern about their child coping in my class.
Later I let them know what I expect from students in relation to behaviour and progress in class, homework policy etc. I also let them know where they can access class notes, what to do if they are missing class for any extended period (see previous post on using timelines), how best to revise, and occasionally give advance notice of upcoming class tests.
Getting feedback from parents who let you know that their child has a particular passion for Science coming in to the school does serve to make you conscious that you have a role to live up to here, but that can’t be any bad thing. I once had a parent ask me if I was likely to inspire her child. I was a little taken aback and the initial response was ‘how dare she?’, but on reflection I thought it was actually a wonderful question, so I answered her as honestly as I could. “I don’t know”, I said, “but I’ll certainly try my best”.
The usefulness of the emails can vary from class to class and year to year, but one thing which doesn’t change is the parents’ appreciation of personal contact. This is most notable with the parents of first-year students, for whom this may be their first experience of secondary education since leaving it themselves. It’s not unusual to get feedback from a parent who claims this is the only communication they have ever had of this kind over their child’s entire primary and secondary education. To be asked to give their own feedback is both a novelty and an affirming experience for these parents who can all often feel that they are outside the tent when it comes to their children’s education.
Now inviting feedback from parents (or from anyone else for that matter) can leave you a little exposed. I was recently taken to task by a parent for checking his daughter’s homework and, on noticing that she wasn’t able to do some questions, mentioned that I would do them on the board after I checked everybody else’s. By the time I got around to everybody else I had forgotten about this one girl’s issues and proceeded to begin the class proper. The dad informed me that both she and he had spent a large amount of time on these questions the previous night and he wasn’t too impressed that I never went back to explain them in detail. There were a number to points that I took from this.
- I probably do this more often than I realise.
- The daughter wasn’t surprised that I didn’t go back over the questions – she just assumed that if she couldn’t do the homework this was her problem. This just makes my behaviour so much more disappointing.
- While it wasn’t pleasant to hear this, it most definitely was something I needed to be pulled up on. The dad wasn’t being rude; I had told all parents that I welcomed their feedback and he was merely obliging.
- What was much more disquieting was the thought that I have probably been doing this for years and would never have changed if it wasn’t pointed out to me. I assume my homework is relatively straightforward but in hindsight this is very presumptuous of me and is something I need to be careful about in the future. While all the time keeping in mind that there is a large body of evidence out there which calls into question the effectiveness of any homework I set.
So for any teachers out there reading this who haven’t already done so, why not send out an email this week to the parents of just one of your classes, setting out to do no more than initiating contact and offering them your email address – what’s the worse that could possibly happen?