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Monday, October 14, 2013

Parent/Teacher Communication - A Letter on Hold

This is the letter I wanted to send, but restrained myself.  I'm not sure what training is offered to teachers regarding how to communicate with parents, but the interaction I experienced was lacking in many ways.  I know there are many great teachers out there who have to deal with a variety of challenging behaviors too.  I still hold some hope that the parent/teacher conference coming up next week will help me resolve some concerns I have regarding communication issues.  Would love to hear how you resolved your concerns and the results following a meeting with a teacher.
October 09, 2013
Dear Ms. Teacher:
I wish to follow up with you regarding our conversation on the phone yesterday.  Isabella Rodriguez is one of your sixth grade students and I am her mother, Mary Rodriguez.  On Monday I received an automated call from XYZ Middle School that my daughter had been marked “absent” on your attendance record.  The call came after school hours.  I checked with my daughter to make sure she hadn’t missed attendance check for your class.  She assured me that she was indeed in class and on time.  I told my daughter I would check with the attendance secretary on Tuesday.
I went to school on Tuesday before noon and spoke with Ms.LMNOP, Attendance Secretary.  She checked and informed me that Isabella had been marked absent, but that she would check with you regarding Isabella’s attendance.  I informed Ms. LMNOP that Isabella was at school and I wanted to make sure her record was cleared.  She said she sent an email to you and advised me to check back with her later.  I did call back and was informed that she had not heard back from you yet, so I was given your voice mail.  I left a message but did not hear back.
I called back again this morning, Wednesday, and inquired into Isabella’s attendance status for Monday.  Ms. LMNOP informed me that it had not yet been changed.  I explained that I would like to hear back from Ms. Teacher by the end of the school day.  She agreed to place another call to you to follow up.  I also encouraged my daughter, Isabella Rodriguez, to talk with you and ask you to please call me so I can be assured of her change in attendance status. 
I do appreciate that you called me around noon today.  I am concerned about our conversation and would like to clarify some points so there are no misunderstandings. 
1.      I heard you say to me in our phone conversation that you were unable to reach me due to your responsibilities with the track team on Monday and Tuesday.
2.      I am concerned that you felt a need to make excuses versus respectfully apologizing for the oversight and kindly agreeing to take care of the matter to ensure Isabella’s attendance was properly noted for Monday.
3.      I know how busy a teacher can get. I was also a teacher and I understand the pressures associated with balancing work, family, and extracurricular activities.
4.      It was upsetting to me that your tone, according to my perception, was one that indicated I was the one disturbing your schedule.
5.      The school and the District were very specific about the level of concern regarding a student’s absence from school. This is noted in the Parent/Student Handbook.  I take my children’s participation and attendance seriously. I also felt it necessary to come to school
in person to make an attempt to correct the error in Isabella’s attendance record in a timely manner.  I feel that the same courtesy should be extended to parents.
6.      My daughter did speak with you and you informed her that correcting her attendance would have to wait until the end of the day because you have meetings all day.  She felt like she was bothering you and that you didn’t apologize to her for the error.  Students can feel when they are being brushed off.  Respect should go both ways. 
My concerns go beyond what occurred with my daughter.  Here are some thoughts I would like you to consider:
·         What if your error in attendance created a crisis for a family?
·         What if a parent received the call and really believed their child was absent?
·         What if that child couldn’t convince his parents that he really was at school?
·         What if that child was disciplined in a manner that was inappropriate for the situation?
·        What if the error never got corrected and the parent ended up getting a call from the  court system?
Perhaps that is a bit dramatic.  It could occur.  I just happen to believe my child and always check the facts.  Not every child will have a parent advocate for him/her.  I would have been ok with the error if I felt that you cared.  That is the whole point of writing this to you.  It could have been avoided.  Sometimes it’s hard to know how to communicate with parents.  I get that.  I have had many challenging parents to work with the age group I taught.  So in the interest of being your advocate too, here’s how I wished our conversation had gone this afternoon:
 The first thing that would have gotten us off to a better start would have been if you didn’t call me “Isabella” and knew my name.  There are several ways you could have found out who I was, including asking my child, “What’s your mom’s name?”
Ms. Teacher:  “Hello Ms. Rodriguez.  This is Ms. Teacher, Isabella’s third period teacher.  I want to let you know that I received your message. Thank you for taking time to make sure we correct this for Isabella.”
Ms. Rodriguez: “Thank You so much for returning the call.  I know how busy you are.”
Ms. Teacher:  “I apologize for the error. Looks like Isabella’s name was close to another child who happened to be absent on Monday.  I will personally make sure Ms. LMNOP corrects the attendance record.  I know how important this is to you and to Isabella.”
Ms. Rodriguez:  “Thank You for taking time to call me and to correct this situation.  I appreciate your time.  If you ever have any concerns about Isabella, I hope you will call me.  Have a good day.”
Ms.Teacher:  “Thank You for being a concerned parent.  Have a nice day too.”
Ms. Rodriguez:  “Thank You.  Good-bye.”
Ms. Teacher, I know you have a challenging job.  I appreciate all you are doing to make sure my child receives a good education while in your class.  However, making excuses and minimizing my concerns was not an acceptable interaction.  I hope that in the future, you will call on me if there are any concerns regarding Isabella's attendance and participation in class.   
Respectfully Submitted,

Mary Varville-Rodriguez
Mom of Isabella