It is a common story that a concerned parent will approach the teacher to discuss their child’s academic progress only to be told that the child is doing fine and at this stage there is no need to be worried.
The parent goes away and is still concerned.
What is going on here?
Is this a case of ……
- an over-concerned parent?
- a parent who is hoping for greater achievement for their child than the standard?
- a disengaged teacher?
- a teacher who is not sure where the child stands in comparison with his peers?
or none of the above!
Let’s unpack the questions and see how a better outcome could be achieved.
When teachers tell you your child is ‘doing fine’, they usually really know your child and you should take heart from this appraisal of his academic achievement.
For any class group there is a standard of academic achievement which is well documented and known by the teacher.
Children are assessed often during the year to see where they fit around this standard. Most class groups will have a large number of children at that standard but some children will be working six months to a year below and some, six months to a year above.
There will often be a couple of children who will be working either below that ‘one year below’ mark or beyond the ‘one year above’ mark. These children should have been identified and parents will have been informed about special programs or activities which have been put in place to meet their needs. Most of these children will have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) including some specific goals.
It is the parents of those children who are working just below standard that are often the most concerned. They know their child has the ability to learn.
On gentle inquiring, their child may express that they are having problems with their work at school or indicate a lack of confidence or confusion. Parents may also notice their child will do anything to get out of homework, leading to family fights.
Many children try to hide the fact they do not understand their work by disruptive behaviour in the classroom as well as dodging homework by any means. Children hate to be embarrassed and not knowing something is a great trigger.
Parents who are concerned usually have a gut feeling something is not quite right and should feel confident in their knowledge of their child to delve deeper into exactly what is happening in their learning.
Make a time to speak with the classroom teacher
Be confident in approaching the teacher.
Parents are a vital part of ensuring each child reaches their potential. Teachers want the best for each child and work extremely hard at school and long hours out of school to ensure their teaching is appropriate for every student in their class.
Teachers know, that having interested parents involved in their child’s learning and in genuine partnership with them, this will ensure that their students do well. So it is important that parents approach the teacher with a genuine feeling of good will and with an attitude of working together in the child’s education.
So to ensure a great teacher/parent relationship and a good understanding of your child’s progress:-
- Make an appointment which gives you plenty of time to talk with the teacher such as after school. Don’t railroad the teacher before school as they have their duties and preparation and you will not have a successful outcome from your meeting.
- Alert the teacher to what you want to ask them – Thank you for our last meeting but I still have some queries about David’s progress and would like you to talk me through some of the assessment you have undertaken with him. I still feel unsure as to where he is working when compared with the standard for his year level. This gives the teacher time to take all your child’s assessment from his file or from her records to discuss with you.
- Take some notes with you and refer to them to ensure that all your queries are covered. There is absolutely no shame in doing this. It shows good organisation, that you have thought about what you want to know and that you are serious in bringing your concerns to the teacher.
- Hopefully, the teacher will have the assessment in front of her to discuss with you. You are not expected to understand what the data says so you will need to continue to ask questions or clarification if necessary.
Teachers, and I mean all of us, tend to talk in educational jargon which means a lot to those in education, but can be difficult to interpret to those outside. So make sure you ask plenty of questions to clarify what is said. Saying – I don’t understand can you tell me again? is just fine as you are not a teacher.
- Ask what assessment has been undertaken on your child and take note of the names. This assessment will mainly be in literacy and numeracy, which are the core subjects. See Common Assessments in primary school (link)
If the teacher tells you your child is not up to standard or expectation in any particular area, you need to ask –
- What is the teacher doing to ‘fill the gaps’ or move the child on in their learning in this area.
- How will they monitor the child’s progress in this area.
- How will they know they have been successful i.e. when will they assess the student again.
- How can you, as parent, support the teacher at home? For example, could you concentrate on particular targeted learning instead of the usual classroom homework or could you do a little extra to reinforce what is being taught at school. This should be negotiated to suit the child’s needs and not overload them. This would also result in your fully understanding the type of work your child needs and is being taught.
- Organise regular communication with the teacher so, as the parent, you have a verbal report (not necessarily a written one) on how well the strategies the teacher is using are working. Perhaps organise a meeting or a phone call mid-term and end of term.
Most important is to keep your child’s self-esteem and confidence in their ability to learn strong. Children who believe their parents, and teachers, think they not learning well or even worse are ‘dumb’ are likely to give up. In education it is called a self-fulfilling prophecy See Self-fulfilling prophecy – keeping your child buoyant (link). If a child thinks they cannot learn, they often don’t.
This means parents need to be discrete in talking to the teacher while ensuring the student knows that the teacher and parents are working in partnership.
It is a delicate balance. Parents need to stay positive and upbeat even when a tired child bucks the homework – this is a long journey not a quick fix.
Providing other avenues where the child can feel some success will take the pressure off school as being the only measure of their worth.
If the teacher is unable to provide you with answers to your queries you may need to decide whether to have another meeting where you strongly request to have the assessment available for discussion or to speak with someone else.
Each school has a different structure of leadership which deals with a student’s learning. You might choose to approach the literacy or numeracy coordinator, curriculum coordinator or even the principal.
However, meeting with the classroom teacher using the suggestions for setting the meeting etc outlined above, should still apply for the best outcomes. Keep going as you need to have answers which will set your mind to rest!