News & Events

No Tape, No Muzzle: Communicating Effectively With Teachers


The writer for The Guardian (Link) who reported that in England in 2014 a teacher had been suspended “after it was alleged that she put sticky tape over the mouths of children in her class” also mentioned a colleague’s childhood memory of a teacher “making noisy children wear dog muzzles.”

These are education horror stories. Almost all teachers are far more reasonable—especially in this era when they are encouraged to be supportive rather than punitive. Nevertheless, a teacher’s specific approach aside, pushing students to do their best can create friction. When a problem comes up between a teacher and a student, both the student and the parent(s) will benefit by remembering a few things as they communicate with the teacher.

The National Parent Teacher Association’s recommendations (Link) include:

  • Providing personalized information about the student (for example, whether there are health or learning issues, or recent significant changes in the student’s home life)
  • Asking about the best way to contact the teacher—and the best time, since teachers are often busy and might feel ambushed if contacted without warning
  • Diplomacy, especially in e-mail communications, when you can’t soften what might look like criticism with your tone of voice or body language

One online resource that offers advice about paying and preparing for college has some recommendations (Link) aimed at students that can also help parents:

  • Earn the teacher’s trust by taking part in class discussions and staying off electronics
  • Frame questions in a non-accusatory tone (for example, by asking “Would you please explain. . .?” instead of “Why did you. . .?”
  • Write thank-you notes to teachers who have been especially helpful

Clinical psychologist Robert Brooks sees evidence that “memories of teachers persist, continuing to influence our lives years later” (Link). If Dr. Brooks is right, tactful communication with reasonable teachers will create happy memories that stick with a child—and with the adult that he or she becomes—much longer than sticky tape can.