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By: Jon Hardy

Dealing with parents is a very intimidating part of being a new teacher and the normal hurdles are intensified with parents who don’t speak English, or who are learning English themselves. These families may need teachers to put in extra effort to reach out to students but be unsure how to ask for that help, or even unaware that teachers would like to be in close contact. The potential for miscommunication is scary for everyone.

First of all, as in all things teaching, “know thy students”. Communicating with home starts with getting to know the kids you’ll be working with. Ideally I like to try to set up home visits at the beginning of the school year. Before calling home, I talk with my students about who speaks English at home. If the student is a complete beginner in English, I reach out to a translator to call home for me. If there are usually events at the beginning of every school year attend them with your ID badge on so people will know who you are.

Not every parent or guardian is comfortable with a home visit and if parents aren’t comfortable that defeats the purpose. Still in my experience more often than not families are excited and flattered that a teacher wants to visit the home.

  • To be comfortable and safe always go with someone else: a colleague, a translator, a counselor, even an administrator.
  • Let the family know the purpose of the visit beforehand: “I want to get to know your child better so I can be a better teacher.”
  • Keep it brief. Families are busy, and so are you if you’re a first year teacher.
  • Be organized. Have a list of questions or checklist of information you’d like.
  • Be polite. Learn a little about the home culture before you go. Families may or may not shake hands, kiss cheeks, ask you to take your shoes off or offer tea or snacks. Smile!

At the primary grades, ESOL teachers or any teachers who work with English language learners (ELLs) should invest in picture books in the home language. Research into language learning has shown that developing the first or home language supports additional languages. In other words, developing students’ Spanish or Arabic or Vietnamese language and literacy will help their English. Parents who don’t speak or read English can read with their child at home and feel supported by their child’s teacher.

Make connections with translators, family members who speak English or friends who act as go-betweens. It’s fairly common for immigrant families to rely on older siblings, cousins or friends as go-betweens with schools and other institutions. As you work with families learn who can best help so you know who to call or email when parent-teacher conferences come around.

Above all, be patient with and respectful of your students and their families. Remember that most families want the best for their kids but may be unsure of how to express that or how to interact with schools. They may be unaware of the school’s expectations, resources or programs. It may fall to you to fill out registration forms, call doctor offices or seek counseling help.





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