Monday, October 26, 2009

New Teacher Tip #5

Continued from "Things I wish someone had told me before I started teaching (or maybe they did and I just didn't listen)"

5. Reach out to parents early and often. One of the biggest variables that can impact your success as a teacher is your relationship with parents. I de-prioritized this too much during my first year, and I later learned what an asset parent support can be. You have the ability to set the tone for what kind of partnership you'll have with parents by initiating positive interactions before any other issues arise. During my third year teaching, I sent postcards to the families of my students welcoming them to my class as soon as I got my class list. I made magnets and business cards with all of my contact information and gave them to parents on or before the first day of school. I called parents during the first week to touch base with them and say something positive about their child. I also maintained a website and sent home weekly or bi-weekly newsletters. Most parents appreciated all of the effort and information, and those that didn't care or stay involved lost a lot of their credibility when complaining about anything. When a child got a bad grade on a test, I could hold parents accountable for helping their child prepare for the test because they knew about it in advance. If a parent had a complaint and talked to one of my administrators, I could rely on my principal to say, "Your child's teacher has made all of these efforts to reach out to you. What have you done to help your child or communicate with your child's teacher?" You'll soon discover that there's a lot of bureaucracy in public schools, but the regular documented correspondence with parents is one paper trail that will pay dividends. I had one family appreciate it so much that during the second semester, they delivered custom-ordered Starbucks coffee to me once a week. What could be better than that?

As a side note, I made all of my magnets, business cards, and postcards rather inexpensively at the website "VistaPrint." I also made specialty postcards for conference reminders and other regular correspondence so I could just fill in the blanks as needed. They looked professional and created the impression that I was far more organized than I felt, and the parents really took that seriously. When you're starting out as a teacher and the parents don't know much about you, all of those intangibles matter.

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