7 Ways to NOT be a Helicopter Parent When Approaching Teachers

Bringing a concern to a teacher or coach respectfully and responsibly

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’ve been told by my daughter that I used to be a “helicopter parent” but that now I’m much better. I’m happy about that! I was wondering though, if I do have a question of concern for my child’s instructor and my daughter wants me to talk to him, what’s the “right way” to do it so that I’m not coming off like one of those crazed “Mama Bears” who’s just trying to cause trouble?                                                                          –Karin T, Austin, TX

Hi Karin,

Thanks for writing in. This is a great question and I imagine we can all benefit from starting this conversation. I’d like to offer some possible solutions, but I’d also like for other parents and educators to chime in and offer how they like these situations to be handled as well. So please comment below if you have an idea or question about approaching teachers, coaches, or instructors with problems or concerns.

(1) Ask yourself; can my child cope with this on his or her own? We all want our children to become more self reliant and feel confident dealing with a wide array of problems and questions as they develop. Talking with teachers and expressing concerns is something that builds courage and character. Often, the best way that you can help your child is by role-playing with them and helping them come up with how to best approach the teacher or coach about something which upsets them, scares them or confuses them. There are countless rewards for children who learn that they can do it by themselves! Let them use those Powerful Words!

(2) Talk to a trusted adult who has perspective: If you’re unsure if your concern warrants a meeting with the teacher or coach, run it past someone you trust who is uninvolved emotionally, can think clearly, and can offer you some perspective. A success coach or more experienced friend, who does not know the teacher, would be a good choice. Whomever you speak to, ask for an honest, non-emotionally charged opinion and be sure to ask for complete confidentiality. You want to be able to approach a teacher or coach if and when you’re ready not when s/he hears it from someone else.

(3) Discuss conflict out of earshot of children and other families: If you are certain that this concern should be brought to the teacher’s attention, and that it should be done by you rather than your child, it’s vital that you discuss the concern with the teacher in private. While it might be quicker to discuss your child whenever and wherever you can find the time, it’s inappropriate to talk to teachers about your concerns when in public. You must agree on confidentiality for the good of the child and the fairness of everyone. Just as parents need to know that teachers won’t embarrass them or their children in front of other people, you, in turn, need to be respectful by refraining from broaching concerns in public places as well.

(4) Know the facts: Step back. Take a breath. Don’t accuse a teacher or coach of lack of judgment or poor choices when you don’t know all the facts. While it might seem apparent that something questionable has happened, there are always several sides to one story. Especially when events are emotionally charged and your child isn’t happy with a teacher’s choice, you might be only getting half the facts.

(5) Speak directly to the teacher: While it might seem easier to simply “send someone” to talk to the teacher—whether it’s the Nanny, the grandparents, or other guardians, it’s important to speak directly with the teacher. Otherwise, you might be unaware of any difficulties that are occurring with your children—and you may just get the “cliff notes.” Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that must be cleared—and sometimes, frankly, it’s nobody’s business but that of the parent and teacher. It’s important to request direct contact with the teacher so that you can define the problem and solution together as a team.

(6) Avoid criticizing teachers in front of their children: Criticizing the teachers in front of the children is not helpful and is often confusing to the child. Children are very perceptive and pick up on anger and frustration. Since the teacher and the parent are very important people in the lives of the child, they do not know where to assign their loyalties and may even cause them to question authority. Therefore, it’s vital that you refrain from talking negatively about a teacher to another person in public (even if you think nobody’s listening) or showing anger towards a teacher in front of your children. Adult matters should stay adult matters.

(7) Choose a mutually agreed-upon time and place to discuss the conflict: Speaking when tempers are hot or time is limited is not likely the best time to discuss a disagreement. Is the best time in the morning? Afternoon? After a certain class? Remember—you’re thinking about the welfare of your specific child—the teachers, instructors, and coaches must think of the whole class (or multiple classes) and what is fair and safe for all of them. That means that what’s convenient for you might not be the best time for the teacher and the rest of the class. Just as important, if you know the time, you can ensure that you can secure child care for your child so that you can speak freely with the teacher or coach without distraction.

Always remember that you are guiding and modeling the ways to resolve conflict respectfully and responsibly when dealing with concerns or problems. Ask non-accusatory questions. Be gracious.  Listen.  Offer some possible solutions. Aim to work together. Children will look to you and their instructors to understand how to express frustration and work through disagreements. Even when you’re angry or concerned, you can still be an excellent role model. It’s largely your responsibility to lay the groundwork for constructive communication and conflict resolution.

All you teachers, coaches, instructors and parents out there– let’s hear your tips and comments about ways to approach a teacher with a concern! Comment below!

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How to Write a Thank-you Note to Teachers: 9 Things to Remember

When the truth feels so good: Writing a Thank-you Note to the Teacher

December 2009 update:

Would you please vote for me for best Parenting Blog?  It only takes a moment! Thank you!!!

It’s the end of the school year. Many of you are saying, “thank goodness.” But let’s not forget to say “thank-you” to the teachers.

We’ve talked about gratitude and 10 great ways to say thank-you to teachers in the past, but I bring it up again since we are in the home stretch– Spring Fever is just about to turn into Summer Fervor in many parts of the world. Our minds might be on getting out but there is something we must do first.

Teachers, coaches, instructors, tutors and mentors have worked hard this year. You might not have always loved them, you may not have always agreed with them, but all of us can come up with a list of ways that they’ve been helpful. Think for a moment about the times when they went out of their way for you or your children. Think of all lessons they’ve taught your children. How did they show their understanding? How did they share their knowledge? How did they make something a little easier for you—and yet made your children challenge themselves in ways that they couldn’t have done themselves?

What to write in a thank-you note to the teacher:

Be specific: When writing a thank-you letter to the teacher, don’t fall back on overused phrases and colloquialisms. It’s important to customize the thank-you letter, so that it can only be for that one person—that teacher—impossible to interchange with another. What is it about that teacher that you appreciate?

Refrain from saying things like “Thank you for teaching class to my child. He learned a lot.”

Instead, write something like “I want to express my sincerest gratitude for your hard work this year. You should be congratulated for the innovative lesson plans you created. Johnny particularly liked your science experiment with the potato and the match. He still talks about it today.”

Use Stationary or Cards that Allows you to Express Yourself: Pre-written thank-you cards with fancy writing and a make-shift poem doesn’t really say a lot about you or the teacher.

  • Choose a blank card where you can write your own thoughts.
  • Buy or make some stationary with your child.
  • Fold a piece of card stock in half and have your child draw a picture on the front especially for the teacher.
  • When a group is involved, you can get creative! Take some pictures and use that to decorate your note of thanks. For example, check out this cute idea

Use a Nice, Respectful Greeting: Don’t just write the message. Start with a formal greeting. People often forget to this in our “rush, rush” world. Or worse yet—they use something like “Hi” of “Hey.” As my mother used to say to me, “Hey is for horses, Robyn, start with a nice greeting.” And remember, people’s favorite word in the world? Their name. Something like :Dear Coach Suzie” will work fine.

Use your own handwriting: While you might not think it looks as nice as a type-written note, handwritten notes always beat out any font. It’s personal! Put pen to paper and take your time. The teacher will certainly appreciate it.

Be gracious: For those of you who have loved this year’s teacher or coach, the toughest part might be finding just a few lines to sum it up. For those of you who had a frustrating year with a teacher, the toughest part might be finding something nice to say. You may have had a tough time with this teacher and you may not have appreciated all of his or her choices, but there must be something you can be thankful for this year.

Again, refrain from, “I’m writing to say thank-you. You were helpful and fun. We appreciate it.”

Instead say, “We are so thrilled that you were Laura’s teacher this year. Thank-you for taking the time to help her with her math homework—she had been struggling until you taught her those little “tricks.” It really made a difference as you know!”

Talk about how the lessons will influence your child: The lessons your child learns don’t lose their impact when your child walks out the door. They stick with your child. The best teacher or coach will have taught lessons that last indefinitely. I still remember the teachers that taught me to believe in myself and cite them often in my presentations and trainings. Be sure to recognize these important feats.

Refrain from saying; “We’ll remember you fondly.”

And instead, say something like;

Peter will always remember when you said; “You have terrific, creative ideas—write them down because they’ll help a lot of people one day.” He now has a journal filled with ideas for inventions and experiments he wants to do. Because of you, he has taken such an interest in learning that will stick with him always.

Talk about the past and the future: The teacher has been helping your child for quite some time! Especially when dealing with a retiring teacher or a coach/instructor who has been part of your child’s life for a long time, it’s important to talk about the beginning. What did you think when you first met this person? What did your child think?

Refrain from saying; “Chris was glad he got you as his coach. He hopes to see you next year.”

Instead say: Chris liked you from the moment he met you. He said to me; “Mr. Don is so cool!” You certainly did not disappoint! He told me yesterday, “I want to make sure we see Mr. Don this summer and join his class when he starts in September again!” We’ll certainly be there when you start up classes again in the Fall—and we’ll be there this Summer for the school bash!

Even if your child is continuing classes throughout the summer, like many Powerful Words Member programs such as martial arts, gymnastics, swim, or dance, it’s important to take time to thank them for the work they’ve already done this year—just tell them that you’ll see them tomorrow or next week in class instead of next year!

Thank them again: After all, this is the point of the note!

Sign it: Believe it or not, people forget. Be sure to let them know who you are! Be gracious and sign it kindly.

Refrain from signing it:

–Joe Murphey

And instead sign it with one of these and your name:

  • Sincerely
  • With Kind regards
  • Warmest regards
  • Yours truly
  • Best regards
  • Our deepest thanks
  • Love (in certain cases)

And this should go without saying—I certainly hope it does—don’t email it! Send the letter through the snail mail or give it directly to the person. It’s personal and many teachers, coaches, and educators want to keep these things in files, up on their desk, or in a special place where they can look at it.

Here’s to gratitude—we love our educators!