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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

May 15, 2005

When to Contact Parents

Kids Parents are really important people. They are the prime source in initiating, coordinating and cementing our relationship with the children we teach. In addition, they pay for their children's tuition and often transport them to and from our school. Most parents have an innate belief in their children's ability, implying that they often see the good more than the bad.

We never contact a parent if and when a child is doing poorly. Instead, we speak directly to the child.

We teachers view the child from our own domain; thus, we may see the child differently than the parent does. The interchangeable variables existing in our classroom, such as school atmosphere, class enrollment, English as the language of communication, the student's ability to learn, take risks, recover from failure, and cooperate, to name just a few, influence the child's behavior.

The rule of thumb at our school is to contact parents when we have good news, like a student graduating, doing well in class, being very cooperative, showing improvement, or being courteous.

We never contact a parent if and when a child is doing poorly. Instead, we speak directly to the child. I would like to give an example and explain why. But first I would like to mention where this concept, on my part, originated.

When I was a junior high English teacher in New York, many of my fellow teachers sent their students with behavioral problems to the principal's office. This was a common practice in the States, but I never did it. I felt if I had done so, I would have been sending a message to the misbehaving student that we were incapable of working it out ourselves. I always believed that if there was a problem, my student and I owned it, not the principal, and we had to work out a solution together. After all, the classroom is the teacher's territory, and the variables in that classroom are for the teacher to coordinate and control. This strategy worked well for me. Therefore, I have been able to use it successfully teaching English to children in Japan.

I think it is really essential that the teacher and the student solve their problems themselves. I would like to give an example. Upon occasion, at Little America, we have a student who does not do his homework. At our school, students have to hand in their homework as soon as they enter the classroom. If they have not done their homework, then they have to go to the lobby and complete it before entering the classroom again.

When this happens twice, I usually have a talk with the student after class. I ask what the problem is. The excuse is usually the same. "No time."

I then give the student two choices. We can solve this problem ourselves or we can contact the parents and ask them to monitor the homework completion at home. The student always prefers to work it out with the teacher. I then give the student the choice of coming in five minutes early each week or staying late five minutes to complete the homework. The student decides which is better and is given a quiet place to complete this task.

I then compliment the student on taking responsibility for his problem and let him know that my staff and I will always give support when we can. But the key point for me is that the student has to be responsible for his actions at our school, not the parent. At the same time, I think it is important that the student can sense the teacher respects his situation and is giving him a chance to work things out on his own.

The above strategy has worked for me in countless situations, such as incomplete homework, speaking Japanese in class, disturbing other students, being rude, and showing disrespect to the teacher.

I am grateful to my New York junior high students for responding well to this strategy that has proven successful for my whole teaching career. Please consider this policy and use what you can for yourself and your own situation.

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