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Work With the School

Communication between teachers and parents is very important in solving homework problems. Here are some important things to remember:

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  • Talk with teachers early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise, and let teachers know that you want to be kept informed. Most elementary schools and many secondary schools invite parents to come to parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your child's school doesn't provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.

  • Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a homework problem (as well as when you think he's having any major problems with his schoolwork). Schools have a responsibility to keep parents informed, and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand, sometimes parents figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.

  • Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss homework problems. Tell him briefly why you want to meet. You might say, "Rachel is having trouble with her math homework. I'm worried about why she can't finish the problems and what we might do to help her." Parents for whom English is a second language may need to make special arrangements, such as including another person who is bilingual.

    Don't go straight to the principal without giving the teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child.

  • Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree about something. It's hard to solve problems if teachers and parents view each other as enemies.

    If you have a complaint, try not to put the teacher on the defensive. For example, avoid saying that you think the assignments are terrible even if you think so. You might say, "I'm glad Calvin is learning to add and subtract in the first grade, but he doesn't want to do his math work sheets. Can we find another way for him to learn the same material?" This might encourage the teacher to let Calvin (and the rest of his classmates) try another approach. Perhaps he can learn addition and subtraction by moving around buttons, sticks, or shells.

  • Let the teacher know if your child is bored with assignments or finds them too hard or too easy. (Teachers also like to know when children are particularly excited about an assignment.) Of course, not all homework assignments can be expected to interest your child and be perfectly suited to her. Teachers just don't have time to tailor homework to the individual needs of each student night after night. However, most teachers want to assign homework that children enjoy and can complete successfully, and they welcome feedback from parents.

    Many times homework can be structured so that a wide range of children will find assignments interesting. For example:
    • Different approaches to the same topic or lesson can be offered to students;
    • Extra assignments can be given to students who want more challenge; and
    • Specialized assignments can be given to students having trouble in a particular area.

  • While meeting with the teacher, explain what you think is going on. Also tell the teacher if you don't know what the problem is. Sometimes a child's version of what's going on isn't the same as the teacher's version. For example, your child may tell you that the teacher never explains assignments so he can understand them. But the teacher may tell you that your child isn't paying attention when assignments are given.

  • Work out a way to solve or lessen the problem. The strategy will depend on what the problem is, how severe it is, and the needs of your child. For instance:
    • Is the homework often too hard? Maybe your child has fallen behind and will need extra help from a teacher, parent, or tutor to catch up.
    • Does your child need to make up a lot of work because of absences? The first step might be working out a schedule with the teacher.
    • Has your child been diagnosed with a learning disability or is one suspected? If so, you'll need to make sure your child gets extra help, and the teacher may need to adjust some assignments.
    • Does your child need extra support, beyond what home and school can give? Ask the teacher, school guidance counselor, or principal if there are mentor programs in your community. Mentor programs pair a child with an adult volunteer who assists with the youngster's special needs, such as tutoring or career advice. There are many good mentor programs operating in schools, universities, community organizations, churches, and businesses.

  • Make sure communication is clear. Listen to the teacher and don't leave until you're sure you understand what's being said. Make sure, too, that the teacher understands what you have to say. If, after the meeting, you realize you don't understand something, call the teacher to doublecheck.

  • Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is working. If the teacher told you, for example, that your child needs to spend more time practicing long division, check back in a month to talk about your child's progress.

Homework can bring together children, parents, and teachers in a common effort to improve student learning. The younger your child is when you start to do the kinds of activities suggested in this guide, the better.

Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve your child's chances of doing well in school and life. By helping your child with homework, you can help him learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines of communication--between you and your child, and you and the school. You are in a unique position to help your child make connections between school work and the "real world," and thereby bring meaning (and some fun) to your child's homework experience.

Whether you succeed in doing all of the activities suggested at this site is not what's most important. What's most important is that you are willing to take the time and make the effort to be involved in your child's education.

See also: Share concerns with the teacher >>

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