Talking to teachers

The school communication chain

Part 1    Parents talking to teachers

  1. Identify a pressing need to speak to a teacher.
  2. Find out name of relevant teacher from reluctant teenager.
  3. Weekday morning: write note and send it into school with relevant teenager.
  4. Weekend morning: find scrunched up note in pocket of trousers heading for washing machine.
  5. Next week:  phone school to speak to teacher.
  6. Teachers being teachers, they’re teaching (during school hours) or in meetings (after school hours), not speaking to parents on phone.
  7. Leave message for teacher.
  8. 2 or 3 days later, phone school again.
  9. Speak to receptionist, she of So I’m Supposed To Know Everything, Now? fame.  She insists that it’s not school policy to put parents through to teachers and you have to be routed via guidance. (See?  She does know everything.)  Leave message for Guidance teacher to pass to Class teacher.
  10. 2 or 3 days later…  Assuming you 1) still have the will to live, 2) can remember the original question (did you keep that note?) and 3) still want an answer, figure out Guidance teacher’s email address and email the question.
  11. 2 or 3 days later… Yes!  Result!  Receive response from Guidance teacher who has spoken to class teacher.
  12. But…  You need to reply to the teacher’s reply.  Email Guidance again.
  13. 2 or 3 days later…  receive a reply to the reply.
  14. It must be about week 4 by now.
  15. If you’re lucky, very lucky, the Class teacher may by this stage be prepared to email you directly.  But not until Guidance gets so fed up relaying messages backwards and forwards that they suggest to the Class teacher that they might like to speak to you directly.
  16. Hey Presto!  You have email contact with the class teacher.
  17. And now you’ve achieved nirvana, everything is going so swimmingly, with teenager doing its homework, revising for tests, getting good grades that there’s really no need to talk to the teacher.
  18. I wish.

Part 2    Teachers talking to parents

  1. Teenager neglects to hand in homework on time.
  2. The same afternoon parent receives a phonecall from the school office informing them about missing homework.
  3. You only learn which teacher it was for, not what the homework was.
  4. Angry parent confronts innocent teenager on return from school.
  5. “But I didn’t know about that homework” “I did it in class”  “She never told us” etc. etc.
  6. Shout at each other a bit in true grown up non-confrontational, cooperative fashion.
  7. Demand to see homework diary.  As always, it’s empty.
  8. Wonder why they have these diaries if they never write anything in them? 
  9. Wonder how you’re supposed to know what homework is due if a) they don’t write it in their diaries and b) they don’t tell you about it.  As if!
  10. Confiscate the X Box.  Again.
  11. Decide to speak to the teacher.  Loop back to Part 1, above.

Part 3  Sorting a problem at Primary School

Now let’s say a parent perceives a real problem at Primary School. 

  1. They can walk into the class at the start/end of the day and talk to the teacher directly.  But if there’s a real problem, it may well involve this teacher as primary classes are taught primarily by one teacher. 
  2. Make an appointment with the Head Teacher. 
  3. 2 weeks later, meet Head Teacher and agree course of action.
  4. Class Teacher agrees verbally but doesn’t agree.  After all, they have 25 children with a whole bunch of issues to deal with.  Why should they concern themselves with this one when they themselves don’t perceive an issue?
  5. Parent sits quietly waiting to see some progress.
  6. Next term:  parent realizes no progress has been made and makes an appointment with the Head Teacher.
  7. 2 weeks later….  .
  8. This time there’s a token gesture.
  9. End of year comes and one Head Teacher leaves, another is appointed.  Junior has a new class teacher.
  10. Same problem still exists.
  11. Everyone has forgotten last year’s discussions and has new problems to deal with.  Everyone except the parents, that is.
  12. Parents make an appointment with the Head teacher… 
  13. And so it goes on.

And, while I’m here, for those who think the teacher is always right, please could I refer you to this post from a mum in Hong Kong.  Perhaps all the teachers amongst you can suggest a course of action to her.   

So.  Numbers.  There are 190 days or 38 weeks in the school year.   Two school years or 76 weeks in the Standard Grade course.  The same or half in the Higher course (depends which school you’re in).   There are a couple of mini reports during the year and a big one at the end.  There’s one parents’ evening – 3 minutes per person for each subject.  Make the most of those 3 minutes; it might be the only chance you have to figure out what your child’s teachers look like.  Assuming you’re interested, that is. 

If it’s primary you’re dealing with, there’ll be the same distribution of days more or less.  You might get two parents’ evenings but probably only one report.  There’s a good chance though that there’s only one main teacher to deal with and you may even have spotted her (for it’s almost always a her) in the playground.  You can probably even walk into the classroom and speak to her if you want. 

Trying to talk to a teacher in between reports can be mildly frustrating.  Just think, if it takes 4 weeks to get through to a teacher, that’s 10% of the school year.  10% of a 1 year Higher course.  5% of the Standard Grade course.   And of course, if an end of year report which only comes out 3 weeks before the end of term raises major issues, and it takes 4 weeks to get through to the teacher who is busy fielding enquiries from lots of parents…  Well, you get to the end of the year, as we did last June, and the teacher says “I’m sorry, it’s the end of term.  I can’t do anything now until next year.”  And all you can do is shout at the silent phone.  If parents gang up, then the one who succeeds in making that contact before time runs out can pass on messages for others – “Such & Such’s parents are trying to get hold of you.  This is their number please can you phone them”.  Not terribly satisfactory but it has been known to work.  

I haven’t invented any of this, I promise.    And just think:  a term is almost 5% (in Scotland) of a child’s time at Primary School, more at High School.  A primary school year is almost 15%.   While the school is dealing with broader issues on a longer time scale, an individual child’s time can be zipping past unnoticed.   The parents definitely notice.  A child only gets one chance at school. 

And so

I seem to remember reading a comment from a teacher to one of Don’s posts something along the lines of “We shouldn’t let parents have our email addresses/phone numbers in case they contact us directly.  We might be swamped and there isn’t time to deal with individuals like this”.    This is a dimly remembered paraphrase which I squirrelled away in my brain, so apologies if it’s a long way off the mark.  However, the remembered sentiment is most definitely accurate.   Are teachers really that scared of parents?

I have found that being able to communicate directly with certain teachers has made an enormous difference to my eldest’s performance at school.  E mail is wonderful for this.  You don’t have to disturb a teacher at an awkward moment.  They can read and reply when they have time, and swear at you and your offspring without you hearing.  It generally only needs a moment or two of their time to bash out a message.  And once a few issues had been sorted, I really haven’t had much need to speak to them.  One or two teachers give out their email addresses at parents’ evenings saying “contact me”!  Sadly, one of these, with whom I’ve communicated pretty successfully over the past year, is leaving so I may have to start again.  Oh well. 

 Oh, and that picture – it’s from one of GP1’s Primary School jotters.  Ouch!

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4 thoughts on “Talking to teachers

  1. Happy New Year, Don! Thanks for dropping in – I’m always slightly nervous writing these things, in case they’re taken the wrong way, but it’s good to know there’s someone reading!

  2. This is an interesting post for those of us involved with schools ICT, especially Glow, the Scotland-wide schools network, as one of its design aims is to offer new channels of communication between staff and parents.

    There’s a 5-minute guide on edubuzz in the form of a screencast.

    One of its core components, for example, are Glow Groups which provide shared virtual spaces to support collaboration. They’re similar to web sites, but each one is accessible only to registered Glow users who have been given appropriate permissions. Within a Glow Group, for example, a class could share information with parents that might not be suitable for publication on the public web, such as who’s going where for work experience.

    These Groups can also host private discussion forums, so potentially could provide a channel for communications that is more efficient than email, in that it would be possible for a parent to review previous discussions to see if the question was answered before, or even answer another parent’s question.

    We are now at the stage in East Lothian of making Glow available to staff in schools, and it is currently being used by some staff in over 20 schools.

    Clearly having more tools doesn’t mean they’ll provide a feasible answer, especially in the current time-poor environment, but I’d be quite interested in meeting up sometime, perhaps with any other interested parents, to show you it and see whether, and in what ways, you think Glow might help improve communications between East Lothian parents and schools.

  3. Hi DAvid. I’d be very happy to see how all this works at some point. Do you think that one of the stumbling blocks might be that group of teachers who don’t really want to engage in the IT side of things, for whatever reason? I suspect the ones who are happy with the internet are already happy to talk to parents by email. But anything that makes communication easier and more accessible has to be a good thing!

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