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What parent hasn't talked with a teacher and wondered: Is that my child she's talking about?

It's no surprise that kids act differently in different contexts. So the kid you see at home can be very different from the one the teacher sees every day – for better or worse. That's just one reason that parents and teachers need a strong relationship. It not only helps bridge that gap between home and school, but it ensures that the key adults in your child's life are working in tandem to help him succeed in school.

Building that bridge isn't as tough as it sounds. But it does require remembering a few simple rules:

1. Teachers are people, too
Just because they hold your child's future in their hands doesn't mean teachers don't have feelings, too. Just like you, they respond better to compliments, concern and commitment than to criticism, complaints and crankiness.

So, before you call a teacher, get your own emotions under control. Tell yourself that you both have the same goal: helping your child to do her best.

2. Preparation helps
It's a good rule for students and it's a good rule for parents. Prepare for a parent-teacher conference by talking with your child. Find out what his concerns and problems are. Make a list of the issues you want to cover during the short time you'll be together.

3. Meet early and often
The more frequent the interactions, the more likely you are to develop a positive relationship.

Have a question? Ask if you can stop by before school – remember the teacher is just as exhausted as you after a long day at work. If that won't work, ask her for another time that would be convenient.

And don't give up. If the teacher rebuffs your first attempt at a meeting, try again – ever so gently. It is your right and responsibility to know what's going on with your child during the school day. Sooner or later, the teacher will come to see that, too. And, once you've laid the groundwork for a mutually respectful relationship, it will make things all that much easier when it comes time to have those really difficult conversations.

4. Air your dirty laundry
Teachers see the results of what's happening at home. If your child might be affected by a family event – the death of a grandparent, your pending divorce, the loss of a beloved pet – the teacher needs to know. At the very least, she can monitor the situation. Who knows? She might even have a few ideas that could help you help your child.

5. Remember, your kids are watching
Your children will learn by watching – and listening to – you. If you have problems with the teacher, keep them to yourself. It won't help your child to overhear you say that you believe his teacher is a jerk. It puts the kid in an untenable situation – he must choose between his loyalty to you and his loyalty to his teacher. Younger children can be confused by your contempt for a teacher they love. Older kids will hear your criticism and use it as an excuse to defy or disrespect a teacher.

Available at Chicago Public Schools

Dr. Doris Frentress, retired principal from the Chicago Public Schools, reminds parents that there are a myriad of professional resources available in addition to their child's teacher:

1. Each Chicago Public School has a principal who is the educational leader. If you have any questions about the curriculum of the school make an appointment with the principal. Many principals have an open door policy, and an appointment may not even be necessary.

2. Each local school has a part time or full time school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, school nurse, school librarian, and gym teacher. Schools may also provide specific help via itinerant personnel for students with special needs.


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