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How to get parents onside

At the start of a new school year, the founder of Mumsnet offers some advice to help teachers get off on the right foot with parents

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At the start of a new school year, the founder of Mumsnet offers some advice to help teachers get off on the right foot with parents

The autumn term (or, as many children – and a few excitable adults – tend to refer to it, “the Christmas term”) is here: nearly four full months of toil and industry for teachers and pupils alike, culminating in school days that begin and end in darkness as everyone limps towards the glitter-strewn finish line.

For parents whose children are at primary school, the early weeks are marked by curiosity about the new class teacher: will this one overlook a bit of slackness when it comes to signing the reading record? Will they be driven to distraction by your child’s tendency to forget their PE kit? Will they forge a connection with your child, or will they have completely forgotten each other in 10 years’ time?

And then there’s always the nightmare scenario: will they not be able to stand the sight of each other?

Looking at conversations on Mumsnet over the years about the “new teacher”, there seem to be a few nailed-on dos and don’ts for school staff when it comes to getting parents onside in the early weeks – so here are our tips for making a good impression.

Names: parents understand that teachers aren’t going to have 30 names down pat within days, especially if four of them are variants of “Sophie”. Most parents will, however, be ticked off if you unilaterally adopt a shortened version of a child’s name, or if a name is still escaping you altogether after a couple of weeks.

Favouritism: shocking as it may seem, parents can become convinced that some teachers simply prefer girls or boys – or just prefer some individual children, full stop – and dole out their time and enthusiasm accordingly.

Try not to be one of these; parents will rumble you (and will discuss it in the playground within the hearing of next year’s parents).

Discipline: parents prefer a well-ordered class to a chaotic one, and they understand that teachers use the early weeks of the school year to impose their authority. Making children cry, though, is largely a no-no – especially if it happens more than once. Shouting tends to go down pretty badly.

Punctuality: many parents have to race to work after dropping off in the mornings, so – while it may seem like a small thing – opening the classroom door a couple of minutes late can have big knock-on effects.

Fundamentally, most early-days niggles can be easily ironed out if communication between teachers and parents is good; most of us would definitely rather know as quickly as possible if our child is being an utter pain. Not all parents can be there at pick-up times (and lots of teachers don’t like being collared then anyway), so providing other ways for parents to contact you with any concerns they have – email addresses are ideal – can help to forestall any bigger problems further down the line.

Justine Roberts is founder and chief executive of Mumsnet. See @justine_roberts

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