How Much Should You Tell the New Teacher?

The following post is from Jennifer Burke, a lifelong educator:

Children
source: USAG-Humphreys

With a new school year about to begin, some parents find themselves asking “How much should I tell the new teacher about my child?” For some, it’s easy; your child’s education has been smooth sailing.

For parents who have weathered a few storms, though, the answer is not so simple.  Your child may have a short history of challenges. For example, last year was suddenly tough because your child had a hard time dealing with the death of a grandparent. Or, your child has had a rough time every year and you’re already steeling yourself for the difficulties of another one.

Two Points of View

One parent said, “Let my child have a fresh start. If there’s a problem, it will show up eventually. Then, I’ll talk to their teacher.”

A second parent said, “I’m going to make sure the teacher knows about every struggle and all of the ways teachers have tried to help in the past.” As a teacher, I prefer to be somewhere in the middle.

Remember the Big Picture

It’s true that every child deserves a fresh start. Educators realize that children grow, mature, learn and change. Just because a child didn’t have a great experience last year, it doesn’t mean that this year will be a repeat. The differences in the new teacher’s personality and style can change any student’s performance. Even the dynamics of how a particular group of children work together can make for a better year.

I believe, though, that not telling the teacher about significant issues is a disservice to your child.  Waiting until the first report card comes to see how the child is doing could mean that they will be even further behind than when the year started.  When teachers are informed about a student’s on-going issues, such as behavior problems, struggles with a particular subject, or difficulty making friends, they put strategies and plans in place to decrease the likelihood of those issues resurfacing.  It also reassures the teacher that you are both on the same team.

Ways the Teacher Can Help

If your child has difficulties making friends, the teacher can integrate work in small groups that will help your child build social bridges. Encouraging connections between students with similar interests will help a child who feels awkward in social situations.

If your child is challenged by a certain academic subject, the teacher can support them with mini-lessons and individualized instruction right from the start.  Because a teacher has to assess the levels of 25 or 30 children in every subject, it can be a couple of weeks before they become aware of individual issues.  A teacher who is aware ahead of time can help fill in the gaps, as well as provide homework that targets the problem.

How to Communicate with the Teacher

If your school has a Meet & Greet, remember that this time is for teachers to meet all of their new students, not a time for conferences.  Request a short meeting during the first week of school instead. 

Try to paint an objective picture of your child’s past.  Give specifics, such as “The recess supervisor reported that Henry always kept to himself outside.” Keep the conversation focused on your child’s learning style and challenges, not problems you had with previous teachers.

Let the teacher know what has helped your child succeed in the past.  “Mary’s attention span lasts about 5 minutes.  After that, she needed someone to say her name or tap on her desk.”

Let the teacher know that you will support your child by working with them at home.

Check in by e-mail once a week – it’s a good way to get a quick update without monopolizing a teacher’s limited time.

What do you like to talk to your child’s new teacher about?

Jennifer is passionate about children and education. She homeschooled her two sons for five years, established and directed a Christian school in Maryland for 20 years, and currently teaches in a public school in a Chicago suburb. She loves investing in relationships and delights in every moment that she spends with her family.
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