What Not To Say To Your Child's Teacher

Apart from their parents, teachers are among the most influential adults in a child's life. For six or more hours a day, kids spend time with educators learning the academic and social skills they'll need to succeed in life. Teachers are patient, devoted, and, as we learned in recent years, remarkably flexible too. 


When the COVID-19 virus became a worldwide pandemic, educators at all grade levels had to become instant experts in online learning; creating videos, conducting classes, administering tests, and even putting together school concerts via Zoom. To ensure your child's success in school, it's important to keep the lines of communication open with their teacher or teachers. 

But, consciously or not, parents sometimes say things to teachers that are either inappropriate or downright disrespectful. Just as you wouldn't say to a new college grad "Time to get a job!" these are the phrases to avoid when you're sitting down for parent-teacher conferences or simply chatting casually at dismissal. 

Don't blame the teacher for your child's behavior

No parent wants to hear from a teacher that their child is disrupting a lesson, teasing classmates, or being aggressive. It's embarrassing and often baffling if the behavior seems totally out of character for them. But think before you say, "It must be something going on at school — she never acts that way at home." Kids can — and do — behave differently around their parents than they do in the classroom, but it's not always because the teacher is doing something wrong. 


As the Indiana University School of Medicine explains, some children have trouble adjusting to the sensory input and schedule of the school environment. Others may be subconsciously reacting to a change or a stressful situation at home. Further, many kids want to test their boundaries to see what the teacher finds acceptable. Instead of arguing, work with your child's teacher to get to the bottom of the problem. 

Is the behavior constant, or does it happen only during certain times of the day? Is your child trying to avoid something, like a reading period or a deadline project? If your kid is a preschooler, hunger or fatigue can often lead to acting out. Figuring out what's behind the challenging behavior can go a long way toward helping both you and the teacher nip it in the bud sooner rather than later. 


Don't tell a teacher their job is easy

If you want to see a teacher grit their teeth, just tell them, "Boy, I wish I could leave work at 3:00 p.m. and have my summers off!" Teachers know the truth: The students may go home early, but they still have to prepare lessons, grade papers, schedule conferences, and attend staff meetings — some also run school sports teams and other extracurriculars, too. Others even attend college at night to earn advanced degrees or additional certifications. 


They act as therapists, cheerleaders, and referees to their students (and sometimes their parents, as well), and often spend their own money on materials when their underfunded schools run short. Hardly your average 9 to 5 job. Plus, those "free" summer months aren't so free. Most teachers are paid only during the 10 months of the school year, per Wealthy Nickel

As a result, they either have to make their paycheck stretch across the summer or pick up a second job for those eight weeks. Instead of relaxing at the beach with a good book, you're more likely to see a teacher counseling at a day camp or filling a macchiato order at Starbucks. 

Always show respect for preschool teachers

Similarly, preschool teachers are tired of hearing, "Your job must be so much fun — all you do is play all day!" As Little Things clarifies, teaching at this level is just as demanding a career as lecturing on college physics. If anything, early childhood educators have an even bigger responsibility: They help children develop their first social, literacy, early math, and social studies skills. 


Because playing is the way young children learn, they're tasked with creating a classroom environment that invites free exploration and creative expression. As these teachers interact with their students, they assess their development and ask questions to encourage higher-level thinking. Add to that the daily assortment of paint and food spills, tantrums, runny noses, scraped knees, and toilet accidents, and you'll understand why preschool teachers despise being called "glorified babysitters."

To that end, you can show your appreciation for preschool teachers by respecting their job. Bring your child to school on time and keep a consistent bedtime so they're not too tired in the mornings. Make sure they have a complete set of extra clothes and underwear. At home, have your child practice the skills they've learned in the classroom, such as cleaning up toys, putting on a coat, and carefully cutting with scissors. 


Avoid threats and accusations

If your child is falling behind or getting poor grades, a parent-teacher conference is crucial. However, you won't get anywhere by going on the offensive. Saying "You just don't know how to teach" is dismissive and hurtful — would you want someone coming to your workplace just to criticize your job performance? Instead, calmly express your specific concerns and invite the teacher's input, as The Guardian recommends. For instance, "I've noticed Grayson is falling behind in math this semester because he seems to have trouble converting fractions. What method do you use in class?" 


If the situation doesn't improve even after speaking with the teacher, you could consider having your child transferred to another class. You may not have a high opinion of your kid's teacher, but avoid making threats like "My taxes pay your salary" or "I'm going to have you fired for incompetence." If you genuinely have reason to believe their conduct is unethical or criminal, find out what the recommended course of action is in your school district. Some districts may require parents to file a complaint with the school principal, while others may recommend going to the school board. 

Work with your child's teacher

Children learn best when their teachers and parents work together to help them reach their goals. Starting at the beginning of the year, attend open houses and meet-the-teacher nights to get fully acquainted with the staff. Make sure the teacher has your current email address to send notices or newsletters. If they use an app like ClassDojo, join the account. 


And, if there's anything going on at home that might affect your child's mood or schoolwork — a move, a death in the family — let the teacher know. Scholastic suggests a teamwork approach: Ask what you can do at home to extend the learning in the classroom and bring up any concerns about your child as soon as possible in a private meeting. 

At the same time, respect your teacher's privacy by not calling after office hours or on weekends. The best thing to say to a teacher, of course, is: "Thank you for all you've done for my child." You don't necessarily have to add to those thanks with a teacher gift, but if you're so inclined, here's a hint: Skip the coffee mug and go with a gift card or a set of hand creams.