3 Nov 2022

How to share feedback with your child's teacher

The new academic year is usually an exciting time for everybody; there is a sense of novelty for pupils who have just started at school, and even for those who are coming back, there’s the feeling of a fresh start, a chance to get together with old friends, as well as some unfamiliar faces and intriguing possibilities. Initially at least, it is a largely positive time, suffused with a sense of optimism about all the wonderful opportunities that might lie ahead. However, this is not always the case…

Hot on the heels of our advice about how navigate parents’ evenings at school, we received a question from a parent who wanted to know how to deal with ‘unsatisfactory teacher experience’. Her situation is not an uncommon one; her son complains he is not learning anything from the new teacher, and he feels that the other groups are doing better work. From the parent’s point of view, there are several factors to consider.

What makes a good teacher ‘good’?

Whilst there is often consensus amongst students as to which teachers are ‘good’ and which are deemed less so, the experience that a student has of an individual teacher is deeply personal and can vary hugely from subject to subject and student to student. A teacher recruitment advertisement in the late 1990s in the UK ran with the strap line, ‘you always remember a good teacher’. For many of us it prompted a nostalgic conversation about our own teachers and the impact that some made on our lives, none more movingly than former Arsenal Striker turned TV presenter Ian Wright’s tribute to his teacher and mentor Sydney Pigden.

Not many of us have had Ian Wright’s experience but we can all concede that a good teacher is the teacher that engages us in their subject, perhaps when we thought that was an impossible goal, and helps us to achieve and often surpass our expectations and those of others.

Ask your child to try to be specific about what it is that isn’t working and what, if anything, they have done to let the teacher know.

It is quite possible that your child enjoyed a great relationship with his/her previous teacher and has been slightly wrong footed by a new approach. The first few weeks of term are all about pupils and teachers getting to know each other and a quiet word at a parents’ evening or a quick email just to ask how the teacher thinks your child is doing as they are feeling a little unsettled, might be a good place to start.

Children can be resistant to change

Sometimes, whether they liked a teacher or not, when they move on children can be disorientated by having to get to know a new teacher and feel frustrated by the prospect of building a new relationship. The older the students and the longer their experience with the former teacher, the more difficult it is for them to adapt.

Teachers and teaching styles can be very different

Although there is much in place nowadays in terms of rigorous teacher training and ‘best practice guidelines’, teachers are very different, and each one has their own areas of specialism and preferred teaching style, which will naturally develop the more experienced the teacher becomes. Some teachers are brilliant when it comes to their subject knowledge but perhaps less adept at delivering that to the students, whereas others may not be quite so expert, but work extremely hard to ensure that all children can access the subject.

Teachers need feedback too

It is not always easy when you first arrive at a school as a member of staff to get a feel for the culture of the school. This can be especially difficult when you’re faced with a class of students who are eager to learn, as students, particularly more academically able students, can find it challenging to admit in front of their peers that they don’t understand something.  Teachers should not expect to be their students’ friend, but they do have a duty of care to ensure that every child in their class makes progress.

Making Your Approach

Bearing all this in mind and given that the new school year is still relatively young, it is a good idea to start with a gentle word/email of enquiry. This will be particularly effective if you explain that you want to support your child, who is motivated to do well but is feeling a bit unsettled. This might prompt a discussion and a rethink in terms of teaching approach.  Always start with a positive – mention how much your child enjoys this subject, but then note that he/she has become a little disheartened… is this something that the teacher has noticed too? Is there something that can be done to get them back on track?  A positive, collaborative approach is usually the most productive.

Even if others in the class feel the same, only focus on your child, don’t be tempted to cite any other child’s experience to reinforce your position as this will tend to put the teacher/school on the defensive. If other parents also feel strongly about the teacher, tell them to do what you are doing.

It is always possible that you are dealing with a worst-case scenario – this really is a bad experience and your child is not making the progress that they should. If this is the case, you should be aware that there will be a chain of command in place, and the teacher will have a Head of Department who is responsible for the performance management of the staff and ensuring that all pupils are making the progress that they should.  If you have tried the conciliatory and supportive approach in the first instance, and the evidence is there to show that progress is not being made, you will have to escalate your complaint and take it up the chain of command.  It is not unreasonable to expect the school to put strategies in place to support your child and, for that matter, the teacher.

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