Originally appeared on Scooter Traffic in 2013

It’s a fine line between advocating for your child and being an obnoxious parent. As a former special education teacher in nursery schools (and founder of Team Esteem), Jamie Levine, M.S. Ed, spends a lot of time managing relationships between parents and teachers. Here are her do’s and don’ts for successfully navigating the tricky parent-teacher dynamic.

StrollerTraffic: What questions should parents always ask the preschool teacher?
Jamie Levine: “How can I support my child’s learning at home?,” “How can I support the school curriculum at home?,” and “How can I help create more independence for my child?” are all great questions. The answers will help you reinforce what’s being learned at school and will also boost your child’s confidence. “Which children are appropriate matches for play dates?” is also a valid question—it helps avoid any awkward or negative situations for your child.

ST: What should we never ask?
JL: If a teacher describes a negative interaction with your child and another child in school, don’t ask who the other kid is—keep the focus on your own child. Often, parents get emotional and create a non-constructive issue outside the classroom (which can also infiltrate the classroom and sustain the problem). Trust that the teacher has also approached the other parent.

ST: What are some of the biggest mistakes parents make when communicating with the preschool teacher?
JL: Many parents can get defensive—some feel judged or insecure—and others can be overly concerned with how their child measures up to his or her peers. The right approach is with an open mind and keeping the focus on your own child.

ST: What if your child comes home with a concerning story about school or the teacher? 
JL: Approach the teacher in a helpful manner by asking questions and calmly voicing concern. Do not approach the teacher when you are angry or emotional. Repeat the exact language your child used to describe the situation. You can suggest to the teacher what works at home but keep in mind that school is a different environment.

ST: What crosses the line between being an advocate and being pushy?
JL: An advocate asks what can be done to support or help both the child and the teacher. Pushy is telling the teacher what to do and thinking you know better.

ST: Should you proactively lay out your concerns and your child’s “weaknesses” at the start of the year?
JL: If you feel that it can help the teacher to better connect and build a rapport with your child, then addressing your concerns in advance doesn’t hurt. Don’t be afraid that you are setting a precedent.


ST: If you have a child who does not offer details about what goes on at school, is it fair to ask the teacher for frequent updates?
JL: Not really. Read the school newsletters, teacher handouts, and curriculum as soon as you get them; this way you will be informed and also have something to talk about with your child when he comes home from school. Parents need to do their homework, too. It simply isn’t fair to constantly ask the teacher for a report on your child; trust that anything you need to know will be brought to your attention at the appropriate time, such as the parent-teacher conference or with a note or phone call.

ST: Fair enough. Thanks for the inside scoop.