In my first two years of teaching, I think I e-mailed three parents. Total. Now, e-mailing three parents a day sometimes feels like a communication drought.
I have received e-mails that I can’t wait to print and put in my “Feel Good” file (a paper folder of my favorite cards, letters, etc. ). I forward these e-mails to my principal as evidence that I’m sometimes getting it right and I try to humble brag about them to my sister.
Then there are emails that leave me physically shaken. These are the kinds of missives that make even a veteran teacher stumble through her well-planned lesson and are discussed tearfully in the staff lounge. It takes a team of educators to craft a response.
As both a parent and a teacher, I’ve thought of some reasonable guidelines for crafting the kind of e-mail teachers crave (even when it’s not good news).
Crafting the E-mail a Teacher Craves
Start with what’s going right, because inevitably something is.
We’ve all heard the advice to sandwich bad news between compliments. As a mama bear, I understand the knee jerk desire to go for the throat when you feel your child has been wronged. However, remember your goal is to facilitate a positive relationship with a pivotal person in your child’s life.
Offer solutions without creating mandates.
The purpose of the e-mail is not to vent (at least, I hope it isn’t). Instead, it’s likely being sent to address a concern and arrive at a solution. Remember that most teachers already work well beyond their contracted hours and offer pro bono extras to their students. Make sure that the solutions you are offering don’t force the teacher to make exceptions to reasonable policies or do something that would be impossible to offer to all students (e.g. after school homework help every day).
Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that every story has more than one side.
Relate the information as you’ve heard it, trying to stick to facts rather than feelings. Invite the teacher to share his/her perspective in a genuine way. Offer your phone number if you think a call might serve the situation better.
Begin your communication with the teacher, and if possible, end it there too.
Often times, if a parent contacts the principal or superintendent first, those people must refer back to the teacher to understand the context of the situation. The teacher, for his or her part, feels undermined and defensive. By all means, reach out to school administration if you and the teacher can’t arrive at an acceptable solution, but do the teacher the courtesy of checking in with him/her first.
Keep your tone civil. Creating tension with your child’s teacher will prevent you from working together on future issues and may even make it awkward for your child to be in that teacher’s class. You may also establish a reputation with other teachers, creating repercussions in other subjects and future school years.
During the school day, the teacher is teaching. Allow at least 24 hours for a reply. Don’t send additional e-mails while waiting for a response to your first.
Finally, don’t be afraid to write a positive e-mail first, especially if you have concerns about the teacher going into the school year. Start by saying how excited you are to work with him or her and how confident you are that your child will really grow in his or her classroom. Maybe it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and even if it doesn’t, at least your communication kicked off on a happy, encouraging note.
Share what you love about your child, perhaps even emphasizing the strengths behind their idiosyncrasies. If you preemptively frame your child’s attributes as strengths, then the teacher will likely see them as such.
I hope these tips help you start the year off right with the teachers in your children’s lives. What else do you do to manage the relationship between home and school?