7 Questions for Your Child’s New Teacher

by Stanley Thomas

Whether it’s at a back-to-school meeting or your first parent conference, you’ll have limited time with your child’s new teacher. To help you use that time productively, we asked six Delaware Valley educators what questions they think are the most important. Here is what they advise.

Communications. Several of the teachers suggest parents ask how to get in touch with them. “What is your preferred method of daily communication with parents?” is how Lisa Mazinas, a Delaware elementary teacher, puts it.

“Parents should ask the teacher what is the best way and time to get in touch with them,” says Kristen Young, the lead teacher for the 5th and 6th grades at Penn Treaty Middle School, Phila. Mark Strohm, elementary principal of Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA, suggests you simply ask, “How would you like me to communicate with you?”

Support from home. Strohm recommends you ask, “If I have 20 minutes a day to invest in my child’s schooling, how would you like me to invest it?” This question, he says, “will quickly get to the heart of what is important to the teacher.”

Charles Blitzstein, science department chair at Philadelphia’s Lincoln High School, suggests parents ask, “Is there anything we can do to help you give our children a successful school year?” In budget-strapped Philadelphia, he notes, “parents can help immeasurably in fund raising, donating materials, contributing time, and more.”

Homework policy. Deptford Township, NJ 2nd grade teacher Laura Fortson-Williams advises you to ask, “What is the homework policy in your classroom?” Young adds that parents should ask teachers “how much time they think their children will need to complete homework on a daily and weekly basis.”

She explains, “Time management is such an important skill for the kids (and the parents) to have, and stressing that homework is important from the beginning sets everyone off on the right foot.”

Discipline policy. What is the discipline policy in your classroom?” is a key question, says Fortson-Williams. “It is important that parents reinforce the teacher and school’s discipline policy at home. Education is a partnership between family and school.”

Bullying and tolerance. “I would ask new teachers how they plan to handle bullying, how they plan to be aware of this behavior, and what proactive strategies will they use in their class to build tolerance for individual differences and empathy for others,” suggests Dolores Liebel,
a School District of Philadelphia psychologist. “Parents are really worried about bullying in school. It starts early and can have grave consequences.”

Daily schedule. Fortson-Williams suggests you ask, “Can you give me an idea of the typical daily schedule?” She explains, “I would want to know this in case my child ever had to be absent or come in late.”

Teaching strategy. “Parents may want to ask if the teacher has any particular strategies to address students with different reading, writing and math levels so that everyone is challenged or supported as need be,” says Liebel. “It’s a big order for today’s teachers but most good educators will have a few tricks to share with parents on back-to-school night.”

Stanley Thomas is a local freelance writer.