Thursday, 5 September 2013

7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask - Part II

----Thanks for sticking with me!  Here are the remaining four essential questions that will go a long way in establishing great communication between home and school.  ----

 4. What are your discipline procedures? At what point will I be contacted should things go wrong?  Do you have my contact info? 

Schools will have varying degrees of continuity between classrooms when it comes to discipline.  One school may enforce a common "three strikes your out" rule and each teacher follows it to the tee.  This method is usually easier to apply in a school with minimal grade levels (ie. K-3 or a traditional high school)  Rural schools or smaller private schools offering grades K-6, K-9 or K-12 will usually have less consistency among classrooms because of obvious age differences among students.  (Thinking chairs don't work particularly well for 16 year olds and a lunch time detention to some 6 year olds would actually be very enticing) In addition, every teacher is human (yes, we really are!) and so have much different tolerance levels to noise, sarcasm and “extraneous distractions” (my term for chewing gum, drinks, snacks and even the existence of cell phones in the classroom)
Also, different subjects allow for different working conditions – a quiet individual reading period is quite different than a lively social studies class debating political sides or economic philosophies.   

Nonetheless, the three above factors, when taken too far, will inevitably kick-start some class management strategies and possibly disciplinary procedures.  I don’t suggest you need to know about every single glance, verbal warning or seat move, but it is useful to clarify their consequences just so everyone is on the same page.  As a side note, it might be worth asking what the teacher’s view of noise and aforementioned extraneous distractions are, again, just so you’re on the same wavelength. 

5. How would you prefer to be contacted if I have any questions or if my child is absent?

Some teachers will prefer to deal with any issue right away so a phone call is best but you might want to check on their available times.  If they are the type to put in their extra hours before school, they may be happy to receive a call at 7:45am (after all they’ve already been working for an hour!)  Others will work until 6 every night so after school is best.  Alternatively, they may prefer to deal with things during their lunch time so double check the lunch break times. I may catch some flack for this, but I find the preference between phone and email has some to do with a teachers age or experience with technology.  I would never assume this, as I know some young teachers that hate emailing and quite a few with 30+ years experience that email/blog/text/tweet and Facebook on a regular basis.  I'm just suggesting you ask because what may come natural to you may not be the easiest method for them to respond to.

Additionally, although the school will most definitely have your contact info, the individual teacher may not.  In this digital age, it is probably floating close by in cyberspace but it still might be worth jotting down a preferred number (or email if you prefer), and giving it directly to them.  Records in the office can sometimes get dated, may not have your cell or work extension if you prefer to be reached there, may only have one spouse’s number, and can be surprisingly difficult to find at a moment’s notice. 

6. What is new for you this year?

Even though that Gr. 5 teacher seems like they’ve been there since the dinosaurs or maybe they taught you and now they’re teaching your child, I challenge you to still ask this question.  Inevitably, the teacher’s responsibilities will change from year to year.  They may be implementing a new curriculum (governments like to change these every 10 years or so, just, perhaps they’re dealing with a split grade classroom (In Alberta, for example, there has been a shift towards having two gr. 1/2 classes instead of a single gr. 1 and a single gr. 2 class, depending on class sizes), or they might be teaching an altogether new subject.  You might be surprised at what you find out and it might explain a few things in coming weeks. 

For example, when I taught tenth grade science for the first time – and please remember I’m a French major - it was all I could do to stay one lesson ahead of my students.  Every night I would go home with at least an hour of homework and there was many a quiz made at midnight that had spelling mistakes.  For the record, no one ever gave me a hard time about them, and I'm thankful for that and all the other mistakes I probably made that year, but most parents knew that I was a "newbie" and I can't help but think that gave me some leeway. I think it's fair to say most of us feel much more sympathetic to people tackling a new challenge than the seasoned pros and teachers are no different.

7. What “special days” are planned already or may be planned?  May I be of assistance?

School wide events will be listed on some handout that would have come home or the website, but in a one-on-one conversation a teacher might release some other, smaller, more class specific events that they have planned or are in the works.  Even with older students, I feel this question is of use even though there is less hands-on “field trips” and more in-class study.  A high school science teacher may appreciate an extra hand setting up experiments or a junior high English teacher may welcome an extra supervisor when they watch the movie version of their latest novel study (or allow you to bring in snacks at least – everyone seems to love food!)  You may also have to check with the office about being “a stranger” in the school, but certainly it’s common-place in most kindergarten rooms so shouldn’t be a big deal  in later years either (as long as your child will have you!) If you are willing to help out during the day it is always nice to relay that information, in case something does come up where assistance is needed.  It will save the teacher the steps of writing and copying out a newsletter home asking for help, waiting for said letter to return, and then, when only half of them come back,  phoning around asking for help. 

Lastly, There are a million curriculum related questions that you could ask but those are very specific to your province/state, child’s grade and school.  You will most likely be given some info relating to concepts covered anyway, but if you aren’t, you should certainly ask!

On a final note, by no means is this list exhaustive and if nothing else, I believe if you ask just one of these questions  it will show that you have taken the initiative to foster healthy dialogue between you and your child’s teacher.   

In case you missed the link in the previous post, here's how to get a free, editable list of questions and a few other handy dandy things that are helpful for Meet the Teacher night (word doc).  Parents, I'd recommend taking your own copy but this is also helpful for teachers to hand out in advance of the evening (you could fill in a younger child's schedule already and put your own contact info in) so parents come equipped with some good conversation starters. 7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask

Teachers, what questions do you think parents should ask?  Or shouldn’t ?
Parents, what questions do you find most useful to ask?

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