How to email your child’s teacher

It’s 8:15 on Sunday night and your kid sidles up to you and requests a “quick trip to Target to grab a few things for that project.”

What project? You ask.

Oh, you know. That big science project. The one they failed to tell you about. The one that’s apparently due tomorrow. The one that’s worth 30% of their grade.

And, wow, would you ever like to call their science teacher and ask them a million questions!

Most of us have lived through something like this. We want to help our kids, we want to talk to the teacher, we’re pretty sure calling the teacher’s personal number on a Sunday evening is not the way to go.

What to do?

But let’s focus on what we as parents can do to set a positive tone and foster a good parent-teacher relationship – especially as we head into a new school year!

Begin with empathy

Your child’s teacher has a difficult job, especially after the last few years. Teaching is intense. There’s new educational technology, new standards, new testing—all of which take time for your child’s teacher to learn and integrate.

Teach kids thoughtful boundaries (and model them yourself)

If your child is old enough to email the teacher herself, then the child should also be aware and respectful of these boundaries and expectations. Just because you and your child can email the teacher, doesn’t always mean it is a good idea.

Before you (or your child) emails the teacher, check that the question can’t be resolved another way. If your tween didn’t write down the homework assignment, is it available from a classmate or the learning management system?

Kids should not make a habit of emailing the teacher instead of writing things down or knowing how to look things up.

Do reach out, politely

On the other hand, do encourage your child to email the teacher if he’s struggling, needs to meet with her, or has a question that only she can answer. By middle school, the communication is best from the student, when possible. You can still reach out about bigger struggles, but if your tween or teen needs to change their research topic or to set up a meeting with a teacher, they should initiate contact. If your child is new to email, you can offer to read those first student to teacher emails, checking for salutation, tone, etc.
don’t need to be super formal, but they do need salutations and at least one full sentence or question:

Hi Mr. Foremost,

Would it be OK to bring the class outside for our presentation on Tuesday?
We want to demonstrate centripetal force in an outdoor setting.

Thanks for considering, Gryphon S.

Hot tip: I hear some teachers don’t love the salutation, “hey.”

Let the teacher choose the mode of communication, if possible

Communication will be much more free-flowing if you make it as easy as possible for the teacher. Respect her communication preferences. If she prefers email to phone, then email it is! Of course, there are times when only face-to-face will do, but try not to pressure your child’s teacher about the way things “should” be done. If she wants your student to contact her through the learning management system (like Power school, etc.) then he needs to learn to do it. If that system isn’t working for you, there may be someone in the school or district who can walk you through and troubleshoot. I’ve been there, as a parent, and yes, it is a pain in the neck, but as much as possible, try to use what they want you to. That also may come from the top, as in your teacher may have been instructed by the principal that they need to keep all communication inside that system.

Model Patience 

Don’t expect an immediate response. If you write to a teacher at night, they may talk to your child the next day.

We can also teach kids not to expect an immediate response from friends! 

When I taught at the college level, I sometimes had students writing to me at 2am and 3am and then getting irate when I hadn’t responded at 4am. Teachers are people. They often can’t look at email during the school day, and late at night is also not a fair expectation. Expect _at least_ a 24-48 hour turnaround time and more on the weekend.

Don’t Over Check School Apps

Too much information is not always great for your relationship with your child or their teachers. Lots of schools now let you check your child’s grades on quizzes and tests as they are posted. Unless you are managing a particular struggle, constant updates may cause more stress than they are worth! I interviewed teachers and families about this issue for my forthcoming book, Growing Up in Public, and many teachers told me that students and parents will email with concerns before they have had a chance to update grade books online. Students shared that they feel mistrusted and frustrated when their parents text during the school day about grades. Try not to check. If you or student is the over-checker, encourage them to take the app off their phone.

Even with a student who is struggling, checking once a week may make more sense than once a day.

Always assuming good intention whenever possible will go a long way towards positive communication. Giving others (teachers, colleagues and friends) the benefit of the doubt when communication gets tough goes a long way towards positive relationships. We’ve all been through a stressful few years. Let’s model patience for our kids. It is a gift that will keep on giving !

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