Do’s and Don’ts of Emailing Teachers

We’ve all been there.

Something happens to your child at school and your mama or papa bear surfaces – that primal, raw protector of child. A burning need to blast a note or an email to the teacher about the situation overwhelms you.

I often get calls from parents in this state of mind. Three this past week. Here’s what I suggest every time:

Go ahead and type that email. Get it in writing while the situation is fresh. Put it down on paper. The details, your feelings, how you want the situation fixed. Don’t worry about the length. Just get it all out.

But don’t hit send.

Instead, send that mama bear email to a friend, your mom or your spouse first. Then reread it the next day and get some perspective - from people you respect. Listen carefully. Now, rewrite it. Keep the email short – 3 to 4 sentences – and ask for a meeting or a phone call if an issue needs to be discussed. When you channel your anger and frustration first, THEN choose words that work, the outcome for your child improves. Significantly. Here’s a common situation handled very differently by two moms:

What NOT to Write

Ms. Sweeney:

 You must be aware by now that Brenda is bullying many of the girls in your class. She is a mean girl who’s been harassing our Jill for weeks. She takes Jill’s cell phone, decides where the girls sit on the bus, yanks Jill around and even kicked her in the leg at recess today . We’ve had it!  I’ve heard from Sarah’s mother that Brenda is also bullying Sarah. 

Starting immediately, we want Brenda kept away from our daughter at ALL times – in the classroom, at lunch and at recess. I want the bus driver and cafeteria ladies to be made aware of this. We want to know asap what will be done about Brenda so I can assure Jill that this problem will go away. We expect to hear from you today and will contact the principal tomorrow morning if we do not.

(Jill’s mother)

While this email appears to be an honest, assertive way to advocate for your child, it’s problematic. First, it assumes that Jill’s story conveys what actually happened vs. her version of the story. Remember there are three sides to every story. What she says. What he says. What actually happened. Don’t assume.

Second, it’s focused on the behavior of another child rather than the feelings or needs of her own daughter, Jill. Mama Bear pounced on her daughter’s attacker – a natural, emotional reaction from parents who see or feel the hurt their child is experiencing but never looped back to her child’s needs.

Third, it tells the teacher what to do, which is never a good idea. This email will put the teacher on the defensive vs. on problem solving mode. Now compare this to the email from Sarah’s mother:

What TO Write: 

Good Morning Ms. Sweeney:

It seems that the social trio between Sarah, Jill and Brenda is escalating. I’m hearing about seat exclusions, nasty texts and “bullies” at lunch. While I’m not exactly sure what is going on, I do know that Sarah is feeling scared at school and can’t focus on her work. I know you’d agree that she needs to feel safe at school. I’m wondering what you are seeing and what we can do to fix this situation soon. The best way to reach me today is by cell phone. Thank you,

(Sarah’s mother)

This email relays to the teacher what she is hearing with an open mind, rather than blame. She asks what the teacher is seeing. She channels her Mama Bear and focuses most of the message on how her child feels – scared – and her need – to feel safe – not threatened. Sarah’s mom conveys this information in a professional way.

When children are distracted by social or emotional issues and don’t feel safe, their learning stops. It’s helpful to give teachers a heads up about issues like this before they become too big. But how you go about doing that and the words you use with the teacher make a big difference in getting your child’s needs met. Sarah’s mother also uses the word we and recognizes that she, as the parent, will play a role in the solution too.

Teachers, like students and parents, are people too – with emotions and opinions. Your relationship with your child’s teacher  – that bridge you build every year – happens primarily through communication – notes, emails or phone calls. Everything you write or say to the teacher either strengthens or weakens this bridge. If you keep that simple idea in mind when you communicate, you’ll be a more effective advocate for your child, no matter what the year brings.

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