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Emailing Your Child's Teacher about Academic Issues: What to Write
Sparking the Conversation
What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to communicating with your child's teacher?
Identifying an academic issue
As a parent, you know when there is something off about your child, but sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint the problem. The first step I recommend is having a conversation with your child, asking him or her what they feel the issue is. Particularly if the child is younger, it helps to start off with yes or no questions before moving on to more open-ended questions. I've noticed that if I cut to the chase and jump in with the larger questions, I get a lot of "I don't know"s. Here is a list of potential questions to ask your child about his or her academics. I'll start with some yes or no questions, and then move on to questions that will hopefully elicit more detailed answers from your child:
- Do you feel happy with your grades in school?
- Do you feel like the work your teacher gives you is too hard / too easy / takes too long to do?
- When you get a worksheet (or quiz, test, etc.), is it difficult to stay focused on it the whole time?
- Which subject in school is your favorite / least favorite? Why?
- How do you feel when your teacher gives you math (or writing, reading, science, history, etc.) work?
- Which items are your favorite / least favorite to work with: computers, calculators, notebooks, text books, reading books / literature (or other types of classroom materials)? Why do you feel that way?
- Which areas do you want to improve in?
- What are your goal in math (or writing, reading, etc.) by the end of the school year?
One question I would recommend not asking your child is whether or not s/he wants you to talk to the teacher. When asked, many children will say no to this sort of question for a variety of reasons, and they end up feeling betrayed or embarrassed when the parent eventually contacts the teacher anyway. It will be worthwhile to include your child in some stage of the conversation, but whether or not it happens in the first place is up to you.
By the end of the conversation about academics with your child, you will likely have a number of talking points to bring up with your child's teacher. Now, the question is how to go about doing that...
When to reach out to the teacher
Whether you feel your child is struggling academically in some area or not being challenged enough, it is important that you contact your child's teacher and start that conversation (if the teacher hasn't already started it). In my opinion, if you feel like you should talk to your child's teacher, then you definitely should. Don't be afraid to kick start the conversation. School districts always encourage their teachers to maintain open lines of communication with their students' parents, but sometimes teachers get so overwhelmed by all the other chores involved in their career that they drop the ball when it comes to touching base with parents on a regular basis. I have been guilty of this when I notice that a student completes work quickly and easily-- clearly, that student was ready for more difficult work, but I was too busy dealing with all the squeaky wheels to give enough attention to the excelling student! When I met that child's parent at one of her softball games, the issue finally came up, and we enjoyed brainstorming ideas of challenging projects to give that student. More often than not, a conversation with a teacher will go better than you might imagine!
When to Engage the Teacher in Conversation
Teachers' schedules are packed.
There's no two ways about it. Of course, the best forum for a conversation with a teacher is to set up a meeting in person. However, you will likely need to call or email to set up such a meeting. Below, I will outline these three forms of communication and discuss the timing that will most likely work for your child's teacher:
Phone call timing
Timing a phone call depends on the hours of the school day. If you decide to call first thing in the morning before the school day starts, keep in mind that the conversation will likely be cut short due to the arrival of students. Many elementary and middle grade teachers meet their students in a central location in the school building first thing in the morning, and then walk them to their lockers or classrooms. High school teachers often have students waiting outside their door or even in their rooms before the morning bell rings. You also might miss the teacher all together if she had to run to the copy / work room to finish up any last minute tasks before the students arrive. For all these reasons, I believe phone calls work must better after school than before school.
When you call after school, it is best to wait about five to ten minutes after the students leave the building. After school, teachers often check in with each other informally or even have formal meetings with administrators, but in my experience, there is usually at least a ten minute gap in between the end-of-day bell and a scheduled meeting. In that small gap, you can likely catch a teacher on the phone, even if it's to quickly schedule a better time for a phone or in-person conversation.
The best thing about email communication is that the recipient can read your message on his or her own time. If you email in the morning, it is likely that you will get an email back from the teacher by the afternoon before s/he leaves to go home. If you email in the afternoon, evening, or weekend, don't expect a reply until the end of the next school day afternoon. If it has been two full school days and you haven't heard back from the teacher, it could be that your message got buried or passed over somehow in the crowded inbox. Don't be afraid to send a follow-up email to make sure s/he got the first one (I'll offer some ideas for wording below).
In-Person Meeting Timing
Most schools offer various periods throughout the school year designated for parent-teacher conferences. The simplest way to make a meeting would be to email (or call if you don't email) your child's teacher and ask to reserve a slot on one of those conference days. If the next conference day is too far in the future and your concern is pressing, or if you simply can't do one of the conference days, your best option is to schedule a meeting for after school.
If the teacher doesn't do it first, give the teacher a list of five or so dates and time windows that work for you and ask what would work best for him or her. If you would like to set up a meeting that includes multiple teachers, specialists, administrators, or other individuals, I recommend setting up a schedule on Doodle , which helps you find a time that works for everyone.
Below, you will find sample email segments for each part of the whole message you want to send. In each sample, I will use italics to give example names and situations. Feel free to copy and paste my words and replace those in italics with the information appropriate for your situation!
Begin with a Simple Greeting and Introduction
The first part of your email should greet the teacher, announce who you are and who your child is, and state the purpose of the email. When making introductions, be sure to use your child's full first and last name, just in case your teacher has another student with the same first name.
Sample 1: A parent feels her child is not being challenged enough
Hello Ms. Roberts,
My name is Anna Sullivan, and I am Dominic Sullivan-Brown's mother. I am writing to touch base about my concerns regarding Dominic's academic growth.
Sample 2: A grandparent feels her grandchild is struggling in a certain subject.
Good afternoon Mr. Chapman,
My name is Beth Moore, and I am Tiffany Zimmerman's grandmother. I am writing to express my concerns about Tiffany's math progress and make plans to help her improve.
Sample 3: A legal guardian wants to set up a meeting to discuss his child's overall academic performance
Hello Ms. Lawrence,
My name is Pete Franks, and I am Justin Reed's foster parent. I am writing to schedule a time to meet with you to discuss Justin's overall academic performance and create a plan to help him succeed in all subjects this year.
List Some Specific Concerns
The teacher will want to know some exact areas of discussion so that s/he can fully prepare for the conversation, be it 100% over email or mainly in person. Create a new paragraph after the greeting and list one to three topics you want to put on the table. Choose the one/s that you feel most strongly about. I'll use the same sample scenarios as above to give you some options for wording:
I'm noticing that Dominic receives high grades on all of his assignments, which causes me to wonder is the material is challenging him enough. He has told me in passing that sometimes he feels bored while completing desk work, and that he often finishes assignments long before his classmates. I would like to brainstorm ways that we can extend upcoming assignments so that he will feel more engaged and enthusiastic about the work.
I've noticed that Tiffany has received lower than average marks on math assignments lately, which makes me wonder whether she has missed some key concepts in math class. When she brings home math homework, she seems frustrated and overwhelmed. I wouldn't want her to fall behind in this important subject, so I would like to see what we can do to support her math success.
I have found that Justin seems reluctant to talk about academics, so I would like to find out more about his progress from you. Specifically, I would like to review some of his completed assignments and get your feedback as to how he could improve on similar types of assignments in the future. I would also like to talk about upcoming assignments and how I can best support him in completing them successfully.
End with Next Steps
Before signing off, focus the conversation toward what you feel the next steps should be. If you would simply like an email in response, ask a few questions that the teacher can respond to. If you would like to meet, begin the scheduling process here.
I look forward to hearing back from you about options for extension activities or any other ideas you have about helping Dominic stay engaged.
Thank you for your time!
What activities can we do at home to help support Tiffany's math progress? Do you have any other ideas as to how we can help her feel successful in math class?
All the best,
I can be available meet from 3:30pm to 4:30pm this coming Thursday or any Friday this month. Which date works best for you? Please let me know where the meeting will take place.
Looking forward to our conference,
If you don't hear back right after two full school days, feel free to send a follow up email to ensure that the teacher received your original email.
Hello Ms. Roberts,
This is Anna Sullivan, Dominic Sullivan-Brown's mother. I sent you an email a couple days ago in regards to Dominic's academics. I just wanted to touch base and double check that I'm using the correct email address to reach you. If I don't hear back from you by the end of this week, I'll call the main office and see how best I can touch base.
Have a good day!
If you still haven't heard back after another two school days, it's likely that you are using an incorrect email address or that the teacher is experiencing technical difficulties with his or her email account. In that case, as referenced in the sample email above, call the school's main office and leave a message requesting that the teacher call or email you back.
Basic Email Etiquette
Final Thoughts on Emailing Teachers
Of course, the tone of your email depends on your relationship with the teacher. If you know this teacher already, your emails will probably be a bit more colloquial than my samples.
In general, and particularly when you're writing a teacher for the first time, it's important to follow all the basic emailing guidelines of a professional email. See the video to the right for information about basic professional email etiquette.
Writing about issues surrounding a student's academics can trigger sensitivities for teacher and parent alike, so being as kind and open as possible is key to positive communications. Happy writing!