A Parent's Guide To Handling High School Teachers

Developing good relations with high school teachers by staying informed and communicating often will help you make it through the school year stress-free.

Whether your child is an incoming freshman or in the midst of senioritis, developing good relations with high school teachers will help you make it through the school year stress-free.

After the first day of school, look over class handouts to get a general idea of teachers' expectations. Some teachers will ask students and parents to sign a form stating that they have read and understand the class rules and regulations. Even if doing so isn't "required," taking the time to review these important documents with your child will get you off to a good start and could prevent misunderstandings later in the year. Consider the following points:

-What are the teacher's rules?

-What are the discipline steps if a student breaks the rules?

-What is the grading scale in the class?

-What percentage of the grade comes from tests, homework, etc.?

-What is the teacher's policy on make-up work?

-What is the teacher's policy on late work?

-Is the teacher available for additional help? If so, when?

If you have questions, don't be shy about calling or e-mailing teachers. They would rather hear about your homework concern in September than in January when the semester's grades are on the report card. You can find teachers' contact information by calling the main office of the high school or checking out the school's website.

Depending on the school district, the high school website may also offer other ways to improve your understanding of your student's time at school. Check for teacher-created websites. Sometimes these are just online versions of the forms the teacher handed out on the first day of class and in other cases they are constantly updated with lesson plans, lecture notes, and homework assignments. It really depends on the teacher, and it's worth at least checking out. Some schools even have online gradebooks that parents can access with a password, so you can check on your child's progress at your leisure.

If you become concerned about your student's grades or other class issues, contact the teacher as soon as possible. The earlier you deal with a problem, the less likely it is to impact your child's overall success in the class. It is important to recognize that all high school teachers have a conference period. This will be the best time to try to contact them as most would prefer not to take a phone call in the middle of class, especially if it comes from a parent wishing to discuss a sensitive issue. Again, the high school office or school website can help you find out this information. Whether you discuss your concerns on the phone or in person, be courteous and avoid letting emotions overtake you. Respect the teacher as an educational professional and try to see the situation from his or her point of view. If it's appropriate, include your child in the conference so that you can all work on a plan of action together.

Simply walking into the school building will put you a step above a surprising number of high school parents. Come to any beginning of the year events your child's school provides. Whether it's a freshman orientation or an open house, you can make an initial contact with your child's teachers and also get a feel for the school. Attending parent-teacher conferences is also an important step. If your work schedule or other commitments make you unable to attend the scheduled conference times, call your child's teachers and ask if you can talk to them at another time. Many parents don't come to parent-teacher conferences unless they feel there's a problem, but teachers love to simply talk about a student's progress, and appreciate the chance to say good things to a parent. If your child is having a problem, follow the guidelines for any conference with a teacher, but be aware of the line behind you, and set up another time to continue the discussion if necessary.

The very idea of "handling" a high school teacher seems to imply that you will only deal with this person when a problem arises. That doesn't have to be the case. First, taking the proactive steps already mentioned will open the door to positive communication with teachers. While volunteering isn't as prevalent in high schools as in younger grades (and just might mortify your teenager), see if there's a way to spend some time at the school during the day so that you can see teachers in their own element. Perhaps you have a career or hobby you could share with a relevant class or you would like to volunteer to coordinate a class fundraiser. If you or your student feel especially appreciative of a particular teacher, a small gift at holiday time or the end of the year would be appropriate. Of course, gifts don't have to be monetary in nature; a simple thank-you note would also be appreciated. Then again, a communicative, well-informed parent is a gift in its own right, so you're already well on your way to making a teacher's day.

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