How Effective Is Your Child's Teacher?

Not sure if your child's teacher is doing her job? Here are some things to check for in and out of the classroom.

Your nine-year-old comes home after school and complains about his teacher:

"She never calls on me when I raise my hand."

"She won't explain math so I can understand it."

"She says I'm a terrible writer."

All of these can be explained as the perceptions of a disgruntled student. But could there be merit behind this kind of criticism? Here are some ways to find out:

1. Visit your child's classroom unannounced. On a day when he forgets his homework, drop it off mid-morning and observe classroom dynamics. Does the teacher appear to be in control? (Or does she seem distracted?) Do the kids listen and look like they are learning? (Or are they whispering and laughing among themselves?) Is the class engaged in a meaningful activity? (Or is there no clear sense of purpose in the room?) If you are concerned by what you see, make an appointment to come back and monitor the class as a guest by asking to visit for an hour or two. If the same thing happens, you may want to talk to the teacher about lesson plans, student attention, and teaching style.

2. Talk to the teacher about your child. Schedule an appointment to discuss your son's or daughter's educational progress. Note the teacher's attitude. Does she seem calm? Intelligent? Focused? Knowledgeable? Caring? Or does she come across as uncertain, contradictory, uncaring, overly critical, or unfocused? If the latter, ask about her teaching philosophy, and how students respond to it. See if she knows much about your child's learning style, and whether she offers suggestions for helping him become a strong student with top grades.

3. Check your child's progress. Is he advancing in the class? Does he seem to be mastering concepts? When you ask about lessons or homework, does he understand how to do it or where to get help? Do the homework assignments make sense to you? When your child brings home graded work, are the teacher's written comments clear and fair?

4. Determine if your child gets needed help. If your son or daughter is weak in a subject area, does the teacher provide one-on-one help or suggest tutoring services? Does she explain where and how your child might improve? Does she send home extra practices or instructions to help your child master a weak area?

5. Note your child's general attitude toward the teacher. While many school children may resent teachers at some point for the homework they receive or the way their work is graded, if your son or daughter expresses repeated frustration, anxiety, nervousness, apathy, dejection, or anger, go to the school and talk with the teacher. If the negative feelings are incidental, you will be able to find that out during a meeting. But if the teacher seems to "have it in for" your child, that may come through, too. Find out what's causing the negative feelings on either side and help to address them.

Most school systems have competent processes for evaluating teacher performance. But do not hesitate to talk with the teacher or the principal if you have concerns about your child's classroom teaching performance.

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