Communicating With Parents

As ESL teachers, we often put so much focus on the classroom that we forget to step back and look at the bigger picture.  Your classroom is where you have the most power to reach and inspire your students – but there are a lot of factors that go on outside of that realm, and those can have a huge effect on your students’ classroom behavior. 

ResolveThe easiest way to understand your students’ lives a little better and get some insight into things they might be struggling with, is to meet and communicate with their parents.  Communicating with parents can be intimidating, especially the parents of students that you consider to be difficult.

Add in cultural differences and language barriers, and it’s no wonder that most ESL teachers leave parent communication and relations to the school administrative team.

But before you break out in a cold sweat about explaining why you sent little Johnny out of class three times last week, consider these tips for communicating with your students’ parents in a productive way.

Be positive

First and foremost, no matter how much a student has challenged you, make sure that you have something positive to say about them.  Parents want to know that their child is in the hands of a teacher who sees past challenges to recognize their child’s uniqueness and potential.

Showing them that you see and appreciate the positives about their child creates trust and shows that you are on the same team.

Be open about your concerns

If a student is struggling, or if you are struggling with a student, don’t try to hide it in interactions with parents.  You might fear that it will reflect poorly on you as a teacher if you tell parents that their child is still struggling with some basic grammar patterns, or that you are having a hard time managing their behavior.

However, chances are that the student has similar issues in other classes.  Your willingness to directly address the issue is a sign of a teacher who genuinely cares.  Most parents will appreciate that.

Ask for advice and help

Parents want to see their student succeed.  In most cases, they are actively choosing to enroll the student at your school, which means that they are invested in their English education.

If you are clear in outlining things that their child is struggling with and asking for their advice, they will be happy to give it.  They know their child best, and can give you helpful insights into what will upset her, what will light up her interest, and what ways she learns best.

Make use of Co-Teachers and School Administrators

If there is a language barrier, don’t be afraid to still communicate with the parents. Click To Tweet Chances are you’ve got co-teachers who can help translate or draft an email.

They are also likely to be more familiar with the family situation since they have been interacting with the students and parents for longer.  They can help explain any cultural differences that might be coming up, as well.

Be Diplomatic, but Stand Your Ground

Many parents are willing to acknowledge their child’s struggles and work with you.  However, you will no doubt encounter some parents who think that their child can do no wrong and that every discipline problem or low test score that their child has is someone else’s fault.

These can be frustrating interactions.  With these parents, you have to learn how to approach the situation diplomatically.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be clear about any problems their child has been having in the classroom, though.

Acknowledge the parents’ point of view, and look for positive ways to frame what you have to say.  For example, instead of saying, “Tim has trouble paying attention,” phrase your comments around something positive: “I’ve noticed that Tim does really good work when he is fully engaged in class, but he’s seemed distracted lately.  I’d like your help coming up with some ways to keep Tim more engaged.”

Patience, persistence, and positivity will go a long way toward getting these sorts of parents on your team.

Whether your school has official parent-teacher conferences, or whether you just occasionally run into the parents when they are picking up students after class, they provide a fantastic opportunity to get a deeper understanding of what is going on in your students’ outside lives, and can be an incredibly valuable resource in handling issues that come up in class.

Do you have anything you would like to add to the list? How have these ideas worked out for you? We want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments section below. 

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