Holding class: Local teachers seek improved communication with parents

Olive Gardner, seventh-grader at the University School of the Lowcountry, studies with her teacher, Bucky Buchanan.

Bucky Buchanan will never forget during his early years of teaching when a parent accused him of not caring about one of his students.

Buchanan, who teaches physical education, health and Latin at the University School of the Lowcountry, thinks that open communication between parents and teachers is essential for student success and to maintain a healthy relationship.

"Communication is always important, whether it's good or bad communication," Buchanan says.

Buchanan is among many teachers in the Lowcountry striving to have better relationships with their students' children. Lowcountry Parent magazine recently caught up with a few to ask what parents can do to help.

Ivy Kalik, guidance and wellness counselor at Ashley Hall, thinks that teachers should have an open communication with their parents at all times.

"It is so important that parents know the expectations of the classroom, as well as the course curriculum," she explains. "Most of the time, issues can be handled directly with the teacher. Parents should be willing to start with the classroom teacher instead of involving the administration from the beginning.

"It is important to remain consistent at home and supportive of the homework expectations and classroom work."

Hold your tongue

Parents also shouldn't blame or talk badly about their teachers in front of their children, which often happens and leads to upset teachers, Kalik says.

"When children see parents blaming the teachers for too much work, unfair grades, not teaching the material well, they learn not to take responsibility for their education," Kalik says.

Ricardo Robinson, sixth-grade social studies and English teacher at Sanders-Clyde Elementary/Middle School, agrees. He says undermining a teacher in front of a child is improper.

"Sometimes a parent, who for some reason says there's something they see in a teacher they don't like or don't agree with and they communicate that with their child, that puts the child on the same plane of field of their teacher," he says. "If mom doesn't like the teacher because the teacher is ugly, that child now doesn't have to listen to the teacher because he's ugly."

Fair and balanced

Another scenario that irritates teachers is when parents hear one side of a story from the child and not hear the other side of the story from the teacher.

"Often parents get their children's perception of issues at school, and it is important to hear from the teacher and gather information before coming to any conclusions," Kalik says.

Savannah Williams, who teaches Spanish at Charleston Progressive Academy and at Montessori Community School of Charleston, says if a parent hears only one side of the story, they will often assume that the teacher is unfair to their child.

"I hate when parents assume that we are just out to get their child. Even if I had a problem with the child before, I start every day on a new foot," Williams explains. "I'm not out to get your child like I want him to fail. It comes to a point where you don't know what to expect."

Get involved

Kalik also stresses the importance of encouraging parents to be active in their children's school.

"Parents need to stay involved and interested. Volunteer at school, make your presence known in supportive ways at school. This encourages higher levels of achievement with the student," she says. "When a parent is invested and supportive of their children's school, it sends a positive message of community and educational importance."

Robinson says parents can take a bigger role when they are involved in their children's education.

"(When) they are actively participating or engaging in their children's homework on a daily basis and having an understanding of their expectations," Robinson says, the classroom then is extended to the home. "After-school time is not just for playing, (and) make sure time out of school is not wasting time."

What teachers say

Local teachers weigh in on the things parents can do to make the school year smoother. What was the best thing a parent has ever done to a teacher? What doesn't make a teacher happy?

Anne Wil Wingfield, The Cooper School, kindergarten/first-grade lead teacher

--What makes a teacher happy?

"Read with their kids at night to instill a love of reading, volunteer at school when the teacher asks for help, make sure the student gets to school on time, as those first few moments often set the tone for the rest of their day!"

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"I choose to focus on the positive things that parents do every day."

Chad Counts, Julian Mitchell Elementary School, special education teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"To know that a parent really cared when I invited her to a conference and she came with me to learn about her child's special need. So she was on the same page as me."

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"I have three kids of my own, and one thing I know is that learning is a process. ... They might come at many errors along the way and make them think along the way. I want their parents to teach them a strategy, not to do the goal and task for them. That's a big deal to me -- to focus on what they can do."

Melissa Nehez, Julian Mitchell Elementary School, third-grade teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"I appreciate seeing them smile or getting a hug from a parent of a former student. ... I appreciated when a parent came back and, first, she told me she wished she had more kids that were the right age to be in my class. Then, she updated me on what my former student was doing. That meant a lot to me."

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"I've heard of teachers complaining about too much parent involvement. It takes away from the amount of instruction they can get to and amount of freedom they have. It's a fine line."

Keilya Pringle, Sanders-Clyde Elementary/Middle School, third-grade teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"In my seventh year of teaching, a parent sent me an arrangement of flowers, and I thought it was from my husband. I found out it was from a parent; it was a surreal moment for me. I'm like, 'What did I do?' "

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"For me, personally, I don't find it to be very enlightening to talk down a teacher's credibility to other colleagues (because) nine out of 10 times, it's not always the truth. Those things are harmful and hurtful, and it's undermining a teacher's credibility."

Sandra Flowers, Charleston Progressive Academy, fourth-grade teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"(A student) wrote me a letter when he went to college. When I see a parent and their kid is in college and they thank me."

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"If something happens in class that upsets a child and the child goes home and tells the parent without the parent even talking to me, they assume what their child is saying is true. The next day, I get the letter accusing me. ... Listen to it all: my side of the story and the child's side of the story."

Gale Chappelle, Sangaree Intermediate School, fifth-grade teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"In 1989 or 1999, I was pregnant and then I had a miscarriage and my mom passed away that summer. ... My parents totally stepped in for me, they were there 100 percent. I adopted a little girl and they gave me a (baby) shower. ... They treated me as a human, they were there for me; stepping in and being there at my lowest times and supporting me."

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"When a parent isn't taking part in the child's education. You don't have to be Einstein, just show that you care about your kids. You can tell the ones who do. ... Just come by and spend some time in the classroom and school. Volunteer, work, see if a teacher needs help. I love it when a parent comes in. We need more parents."

Segina Canty, Beech Hill Elementary School, kindergarten teacher

--What is the best thing a parent has done?

"They don't have to do a lot for me. Just a simple thank you; thank you for the sacrifices we make every day, time dedication and hours. It doesn't have to be a material thing. A note of appreciation or encouragement for the job that we do."

--What doesn't make a teacher happy?

"Not being able to contact parents to talk to them about their children. When you try to contact parents to talk to them about problems and you can't get a response. Or parents who appear like they don't value their children's education -- like ones that you can't get in touch with."

Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist currently attending the College of Charleston to obtain her master's in education with a focus in teaching English as a second language.