Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Distress Call in June, A New Outlook for September

A phone conversation with a concerned parent on the last day of school prompted this New York middle school teacher to reflect on the importance of parent-teacher communication.  Her guest blog post below illustrates how parents and teachers can work together to bolster student achievement.

It’s June 25th.  The students are on summer vacation, and the teachers are packing up their classrooms.  I receive an e-mail from my principal asking me to contact a parent who called her to ask what I teach in math strategies, an extra help math class that complements the regular math course.  I call the father back.  He expresses his dissatisfaction with his daughter’s performance on the math final, and has a lot of questions about my teaching procedures in the regular math class and in math strategies.  I’m happy to answer his questions, but keep thinking, “Isn’t it a little late to be having this conversation?”  If he had contacted me earlier in the year, I could have addressed his concerns and enlisted his support in helping his daughter succeed in my class.  Math is not her strongest subject.  She had struggled in math in elementary school and continued to struggle this year in 6th grade.

As the conversation continues, I discover the numerous missed opportunities for us to work together to benefit this student throughout the year.  The father tells me he hired a math tutor to help prepare his daughter for the final exam.  If he had informed me, I could have communicated with the tutor to help the tutor better support the student.  The father tells me the tutor complained that my study guide for the final was not specific enough, didn’t offer any examples of problems, and contained only a list of concepts to study with the number of questions per skill.  But the study guide came with four packets that included the specifics and sample problems the tutor was looking for.  I ask the father whether his daughter showed him or the tutor the packets.  She didn’t.  I ask if he or the tutor visited my website, which contains additional study materials.  He replies, “How do you get to your website?”  I scan and upload to my website class assignments, worksheets and study guides throughout the year and refer my students to my website often.  If the father or tutor had e-mailed or called me to express their concerns, I could have referred them to the study packets and additional materials.

The father asks me about my homework grading policy.  I remind him that I discussed the policy at Back to School Night.  He explains that it was a long night, and he doesn’t remember what was discussed.  If a parent sees a grade on the parent portal that he or she does not understand at any point during the year, the parent is welcome to e-mail me and I’ll explain it.  The students are also aware of the grading policy.

After the conversation, I think about what I could have done to prevent it. I realize that I shouldn’t assume my students will relate information to their parents, that all parents are familiar with school websites, and that parents understand the importance of contacting the teacher as soon as a question or concern comes up.  I also acknowledge that parents are overwhelmed with the information they receive at the beginning of the year, and they may not remember everything they hear at Back to School Night.  Thanks to this concerned father, I revamp my initial letter that goes home to parents the first day of school to encourage their involvement throughout the year.  It now contains more detailed information about the 6th grade math syllabus, my website, my grading policy, and other important topics.  It prominently displays my contact information and urges parents to contact me with any questions or concerns that come up during the year.  It requests that they sign and return the bottom portion of the letter so I can be sure they have read it.  The letter is ready to go out to my new class in September.

Amanda Schwartz

Middle School Teacher

New York

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