Most of the time, parent emails are a standard, non-issue part of a teacher’s job. At their best, emails from parents help to communicate logistics, provide a heads-up to teachers for context of what’s happening at home, and ask questions when something isn’t working. I know not every teacher can say this, but when I was in the classroom, almost all parent emails were kind, cooperative, and professional.
That said, for me and for every teacher, the emails that weren’t kind, cooperative, and professional definitely stood out (and not in a good way).
A caveat before I dig into this list: This isn’t to say that parents can’t ever email with frustrations, concerns, or serious questions. It’s critical to communicate with teachers on behalf of your child’s well-being and academic performance. However, if you’ve clearly communicated your needs to the teacher and those needs still aren’t being met, that’s not a green light to fire off a nasty email or hound the teacher—that’s when you sit down with an administrator to help you get what you need.
We’ve put together some phrases and approaches to avoid that will help you get the response you’re looking for and avoid jeopardizing a relationship with an important person in your child’s life.
1) Accusations instead of questions
There’s a big difference between “Maddie said you wouldn’t let her retake her quiz, and I don’t think that’s fair” and “Maddie said you wouldn’t let her retake her quiz, and I was wondering if she got that info right. Is there some context we’re missing?”
2) The word “ASAP”
Between the human beings in their classrooms, lesson and curriculum planning, and other emails, teachers already have about 100 ASAPs bouncing around in their mental workload. Unless it’s an actual health emergency or a high-stakes time-sensitive request (both of which I would think would do better as phone calls, but I digress), leave this acronym out of your emails.
3) “Per my last email”
Listen, I get the frustration that someone may have missed a part of your earlier email. But this phrase has been around long enough to become synonymous with an insult. Alternatives: “Wondering if you got a chance to address my question from Friday—let me know what you think.” “You might have missed it in the thread, but I responded on Wednesday. Just didn’t want you to think I left you hanging.”
4) “I talked to your boss and she said to speak to you first”
I think parents use this phrase to say, “I’m serious enough to have let your boss know about this,” but really it says, “Instead of addressing the problem with you like an adult, I tried to go over your head and your principal called me out on my unprofessional approach.” (Note: In cases of students’ health or safety being at risk, go directly to a principal or building supervisor.)
5) Questions about other children
We can’t comment or report on other children’s behavior, academic performance, accommodations, personal information, schedules … anything, really. Please don’t ask us for our thoughts on something you wouldn’t want us telling another parent about your child.
6) Anything too long-winded
If it’s more than two paragraphs, ask for a meeting or phone call instead.
7) Requests for a meeting or phone call with no context
I remember once I got a request for a meeting and the parent refused to let me know what it was about. It turned out the parent was confused about a grade and had never seen the rubric I sent home and put online. We could have avoided a lot of worry on my part (and a lot of time/coordination on both our parts) if he’d just been honest about what he wanted.
8) Giving deadlines for responses
Most school districts have a 24- or 48-hour email response expectation for teachers. It’s perfectly fine to request a response time if you have something time-sensitive like a recommendation letter. But it’s both condescending and not in your realm of control to give teachers an earlier deadline (“I need a response by the end of the day”).
9) ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS
Unless you’re emphasizing something funny or lighthearted, all caps come off as yell-y and demanding. Not a good look or effective for getting what you want.
There’s a very important exception for all of these guidelines: if you are ordering food or beverages for teachers. In that case, all bets are off. All caps, a three-hour deadline, the acronym “ASAP,” and a demanding tone are all fair game!