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Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher

Terry Heick

founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.
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Young boy sitting close between man and woman at a table with a teacher sitting across from them holding a pen with an open notebook

Back-to-school content is usually focused on teachers and students, and as these two groups will have the largest workload ahead of them, that makes sense.

But for students, the ultimate support system is not an expert teacher, but an informed and supportive family. One of the most significant challenges facing formal education in the United States is the chasm separating schools and communities. The more informed a family is, the more seamlessly they'll connect to so many other edu-constructs, from extracurricular activities and tutoring to reading programs and school-related events.

While schools (hopefully) work to update themselves and the way students learn within them, many parents have to work with what's available to them. With the exception of in-depth content like Edutopia's guides, much of the "parent stuff" you'll find through Googling is decent enough, but it can be surface level or otherwise completely unrelated to process of learning. Some common examples:

  • "Ask them what they did today."
  • "Help them with homework."
  • "Help them with separation anxiety."
  • "Talk to them about their struggles."
  • "Get them a tutor."

But these kind of topical interactions aren't always enough, nor do they do anything at all to create transparency between schools and communities.

So, in pursuit of that transparency, below are some questions to better clarify what's happening in the classroom, and then help you decide on the kind of non-superficial actions you can perform at home to truly support the learning of your child. Many of the questions may seem a bit direct, but I don't know any teachers who would take offense to them. In fact, most of my colleagues would welcome the kind of added capacity that questions like these could lead to. Many of these questions are rarely the subject of parent-teacher interactions, but -- well, that's kind of the point.

Just don't ask them all at once. In fact, maybe pick two and hope for the best.

19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
  2. How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
  3. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  4. Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  5. How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  6. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  7. How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
  8. What can I do to support literacy in my home?
  9. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  10. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
  11. How do you measure academic progress?
  12. What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
  13. What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
  14. What are the best school or district resources that we should consider using as a family to support our child in the classroom?
  15. Is there technology you'd recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
  16. What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
  17. How is education changing?
  18. How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
  19. What am I not asking but should be?

And when you get interesting or surprising answers to these questions, please share them in the comments section below.

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Kay.Janon's picture

I'm a middle school teacher who tries to teach language arts to 180 students EACH day. If a parent started asking me all those questions I don't know what I'd do. Even if they emailed me.
Perhaps, PERHAPS, an elementary teacher could take the time to talk to 25-30 parents in depth, but even then, I sort of think "get over yourself."
I'm a good teacher who cares. I work 10-hour days regularly and most weekends. (Some call me a great teacher.) I've won awards. Kids return to see me regularly. So, it's not that I'm lazy or ineffective; I'm just realistic.

BioTeachFHS's picture

With 7 quick 10 minute blocks with 5 minute passing periods as the format for our high school back to school night there is no time for parent questions. With a student load of 180 and back to school night happening about 3-4 weeks into the school year I have JUST got about 90% of the kids names memorized. These are interesting questions for teachers to think about as regards reflecting on their teaching practice. A lot of these questions are extremely open ended and would require hours of thought and reflection. Some are not possible to answer without the student engaging in a lot more reflection about their own learning than they are likely to be capable of and giving you the teacher specific feedback. A lot of the questions if they were to be answered appropriately would require a systematic restructuring of the education system in America. Something outside the control of all teachers.

Andrea's picture

What an interesting list of questions. I liked reading it as a parent and as a teacher.

Socrates's picture

My question is for the parents: What are you doing at home to support your child's education? Educating is collaborative and it takes more than firing a list of challenging questions and expecting an answer. The type of parent who attends open house, parent teacher conferences, or communicates with the teacher directly already is the type of parent who would ask these questions. And simply asking these questions does not make you a good parent. What this article fails to focus on is what the parents should do with the information from teacher responses. It's a similar concept to new expecting parents who buy baby books about child rearing. Just buying the books doesn't make you a good parent. The fact that you are the type of parent who would buy the books in the first place is part of it, but also what you do with that information. Lastly, at the middle school and high school level, responsibility falls heavily on the student. Parents need to ask: is my child fulfilling their job as the student? How is my child's behavior? It's usually the type of parents who don't ask "this list of questions" whose children are difficult to teach because of behavior and lacking social skills. There needs to be age appropriate accountability and teachers need to know how the parent will support them.

Mike Shirk's picture

These questions were written by a curriculum coordinator, not someone who interacts with children on a daily basis. These are basically the same questions asked at my last job interview. A parent is not there to interview the teacher for a job - they've already got the job. No parent would seriously use this kind of eduspeak. Parents reading this should ask questions about how the child is performing and socializing both at home and at school, how the parent and teacher can cooperate to support the child in the future, and how they can best stay in touch. There are lots of questions that can be asked along those lines that will lead to real world benefits for the child.

t k's picture
t k
1st grade teacher new york

Mr. Foster, I agree with ever word you said. I am a teacher for over 30 years. Many of these questions are hypothetical and are only inviting unnecessary misunderstandings. This will ultimately lead to confrontations where none has to be. Many parents don't understand the dynamics of running a class and will judge you by this one conversation. Of course there has to be transparency and communication with the home. Parents have the right to question if they feel their child are being cared for properly. Most schools have in place procedures for many of these questions. However this list of questions shouldn't be coming from the parents it should be coming from the teacher / school at their initiative. Personally, over the first few days of school I send home letters concerning various classroom procedures.

t k's picture
t k
1st grade teacher new york

I already responded to this nonsense. But as I thought more about this blog I think its mr. Heick and his ilk that are part of the problem in education today. Its one thing to be an educated consumer. Its quite another to be thorn in the side of the teacher. I thought of responses I would give to some of these questions and with many I felt like saying, "Oh so now you understand?" Some of these questions I doubt my professor in college could respond to in a way that would satisfy such a parent. Questioning does have a place but not in challenging tone or in a way that undermines the teacher and the school.

LisaGG's picture

Even as a parent I find most of these questions a bit ridiculous. They sound like interview questions and not the the type of questions that would be beneficial to starting a dialogue with my child's teachers. However, I do like questions 9 and 19 and feel they would be beneficial during the two minutes I am allowed questions during the parent/teacher conference. The answers to those questions should allow me to enrich my child's education and support his teachers.

Glyndora King's picture

Today's parents do want to know some of these things. I have been on both sides of the desk as most teachers have. I agree the back to school night is not the time for these conceptual questions. These issues might be best explored in a well planned parent engagement program on going throughout the year from which parents,teachers, and students can benefit. Engaged parents want to know how teachers will support their efforts when they try to help the students at home. With the new techniques and processes introduced, parents want to support the school , but also want to know how these new processes will affect their children.

Ahbez Eden's picture

Thank you for this insightful write-up. Parents really have to be on their feet when it comes to their kids' education, especially when it comes to schools for special needs. Having my son go to Aaron School, which is a special needs school, I can claim to have improved as a parent, being much more involved towards my son's growth.

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