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What parents really need to stop saying in emails to teachers

Writing an email to your child's teacher? For the best outcomes to a school situation, here's what parents should avoid saying in their emails, according to teachers.

What parents really need to stop saying in emails to teachers

For 20 years, I was that teacher who spent hours penning that perfect welcome email to the parents of my new students. Back-to-school time presented an opportunity to make a good first impression. It was also a time to gain an understanding of how we would work together to ensure a successful school year. In a perfect world, a good rapport is established and the treasured trinity of teacher, student and parent is never disrupted.

But in the real world, there are times when something unpleasant happens at school — a bad grade, a reprimand or a misunderstanding. An unhappy child leaves out the door in the afternoon and an email from a parent arrives in the morning. Emails between parents and teachers can open lines of communication and provide an opportunity to clarify and find a way forward. But some emails, even if the initial intention is to find solutions, can create more problems. 

We asked several teachers from different parts of the country, who have requested anonymity, to weigh in on what parents should avoid saying in their emails to teachers, in order to keep the lines of communication open. 

If you are wondering how to write an email to a teacher, avoid the six types of comments below and take this helpful advice before hitting “send”:

1. “Contact me immediately”

Starting an email with “I need you to contact me” or “I expect you will address this” can come off impolite and demanding, says one middle school teacher from Plymouth, Massachusetts. “It is always better to be polite and empathetic.”  

Tip: Try to remember that teachers are professionals with schedules and responsibilities. Sending a brief email requesting the earliest time available to speak in person shows respect and consideration.

2. “Don’t take this personally, but …”

“This usually means that it’s completely personal,” says a high school teacher from Miami. “The fact that they are saying that it is not personal already means that they have mentioned things in their email that are offensive or hurtful.” She adds, “A parent who is condescending towards a teacher creates an uncomfortable situation for not only the teacher, but also the student.”  

Tip: When unsure how to compose a difficult email to the child’s teacher, consider using the sandwich method: start out with a positive comment or two, write your concern/criticism in the middle (preferably using curiosity to frame it), and end with an appreciative or positive statement. 

3. “This is the first time my child…”

“This is the first time my child has ever got a ‘B’ … etc.” is something parents should not say in an email, says a fifth- to eighth-grade teacher from Nashville, Tennessee. Especially do not write this email, she adds, “the last day before the semester/quarter ends or before a break.” Stating in the email that it is the first time a child got a lower grade than usual or received a reprimand about a behavior, she notes, implies it must be the teacher and not the student.

Tip: Focus on the issue at hand with a spirit of curiosity, trust and cooperation. Check in early about grades. And if the child is old enough, have the child speak with the teacher first.

4. “I have copied the principal on this email”

A kindergarten teacher from Baltimore, Maryland says, “I hate when parents copy the principal on emails about issues the very first time they come up!” She explains, “Usually those issues are easily resolved, had they just reached out to me about them earlier, and by copying the principal, I feel like it always makes it seem as if the parent has been unsuccessful dealing with me or that I hadn’t responded, even though usually this is the first I hear of it.” 

Tip: Parents should always reach out to the classroom teacher first before contacting an administrator. The classroom teachers spend the largest amount of time with the students and they know the student best. It is certainly OK to request administrative support if initial meetings with the teacher don’t produce results, but an educator will certainly be defensive and mistrusting of a parent who fails to make contact with them before contacting their supervisor.

5. “My child is bored and is not being challenged enough.”

“Parents complaining about their child’s boredom at school can be frustrating for teachers,” says a first grade teacher from Boulder, Colorado. “These complaints are usually followed with comments stating that their child needs more ‘challenge’ within the classroom.” She adds, “While boredom (and the need for differentiation) can be a valid concern, parent comments often feel judgmental, without any actual knowledge or experience of what is truly going on in the classroom.”

Tip:  Attend parent/teacher conferences to stay informed. Volunteer to spend time in the school and see what is happening within the classroom. Send messages that exhibit curiosity instead of judgment. 

6. “I have spoken to the other parents in the class and they agree that…”

“Saying things like ‘…and other students and parents feel this way too…’ basically admits they’ve been talking bad about you and your class,” says a high school teacher from Jasper, Indiana. “It feels like a parent is trying to make the teacher feel like a failure or ‘the bad guy.’ Teachers wish parents knew more about their daily lives and the barriers they face.” 

Tip: Keep the conversation focused on your own child when asking the teacher how to improve the situation, even if other parents may be experiencing something similar. 

Communicate from a place of compassion and use a style that is professional and positive. Using responses like, “I understand,” “I appreciate” and “I can see your point” are important to establish a sense of trust.

How to write an email to a teacher: A checklist

Consider tone

“It is far better to come to your child’s teacher with an attitude of partnership than an adversarial tone,” says Katie, a first-grade teacher from Boulder, Colorado. “Respect and appreciation goes a long way.”

Consider length

“Email should be used to ask simple questions,” says Carol Diaz-Zubieta, director of Conchita Espinosa Academy in Miami. “If you find the email you’re writing is going beyond a few sentences, it’s better to just request a meeting and discuss the issue.”  

Remember the shared goal

“As an administrator, the No. 1 tip I have for parents is to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Do not assume the teacher does not care or dislikes your child when there is a problem,” says Diaz-Zubieta. “Teachers, administrators and parents all have the same goal. We all want what is best for the student.”

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