By Jane Weinkrantz

The first time I attended the US Open, I was a little late. As we entered the tennis stadium and headed towards our seats, an employee intercepted us and made us wait until the set was finished. After all, he reminded us, "tennis is being played." My mistake was an honest one. I didn’t mean to be rude; I simply didn’t know the protocol. Likewise, I suspect, there are a number of parents who don’t understand that teaching has a similar protocol. When it comes to meeting with a teacher, you can’t just show up. Children are being taught.

Teachers are generally happy to return phone calls and meet with parents. Often, this permits us to gain insight to our students and their strengths and weaknesses. However, getting in touch with a teacher is not always easy. First, understand that unlike those folks who work in the business world, we generally do not have our telephones, our own secretaries, our own voice mail, call-waiting or even answering machines. We can share a phone with as many as 15 other teachers, and we can only return phone calls when we are not teaching, not meeting with administrators, not preparing for our next class, not on hall duty, not at lunch and not helping a student after class. And then only if no one else is using the phone. So if you need to call a teacher, it may be unrealistic to expect a call back immediately. There may simply be no opening in the day where there is time. Frequently, a teacher does not even receive a phone message until the end of the school day.

To schedule a visit, call the teacher and determine a time during the school day that is convenient for both of you. It is discourteous and rude to show up at a school and demand to see a teacher without an appointment. Just as you would not ask an actor to hop off the stage and talk to you because you didn’t like the way he recited a soliloquy in the middle of Hamlet, so you should not expect s teacher to drop his or her other students upon your arrival to discuss your child’s progress exclusively. This sort of instant gratification does not fit into the tightly scheduled culture of a school, nor should it. There are no hotlines or 24 hour customer service representatives, only a staff of dedicated educators whose time is at a premium.

Finally, contacting an administrator before you have spoken to the teacher is an inappropriate approach to initiating a dialogue about your child. Generally speaking, an administrator will have a limited knowledge of what has transpired in a classroom and virtually no information on your child’s day to day academic performance. Without the teacher’s input, you cannot reasonably expect to get a clear picture of your child’s progress.

With all this in mind, we encourage you to be a vital part of your child’s education .Ask what she learned about, which topics interest her the most, whether or not she has homework and if you can help her with it. Contact her teacher if you have a question. But, remember that you will need an appointment. After all, children are being taught.

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