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For ELL families: Why and how to partner with teachers

By Lydia Breiseth

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In the United States, schools believe families are important partners in their children’s education. Here are some things to know about partnering with your child’s teacher during the school year.

Why partnerships matter

When schools and families work together, children benefit. Parents and caregivers know their child best — their child’s interests, personality, and behavior. This information can help teachers. At the same time, teachers may also have ideas on how families can support their child at home. 

In addition, good communication is an important part of school-family partnerships. Working together will help schools and families figure out how to communicate during the year. This communication can help families and teachers:

  • Stay in touch about important updates

  • Share ideas

  • Identify and solve problems more quickly

Research shows that family engagement can help children succeed in school. To learn more, see this multilingual report from the National PTA: Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success (available in Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic).

This partnership is even more important during COVID-19. It can make a big difference in a child’s access to learning. 

Frequently asked questions

What if I don’t speak English?

What you have to say is more important than the language you say it in.


  • You have a right to get information from the school in your language or request an interpreter anytime.

  • If you are not receiving the information you need in your language, ask a teacher, school leader, or local community organization to assist you.

  • There may be a family liaison who speaks your language at the school.

What if I or my child is an undocumented immigrant?

In the United States, public schools are required by law to educate all students. This includes undocumented students, or children of undocumented parents.


  • No one should ask you any questions about your immigration status or your child’s. If they do, you don’t have to answer those questions.

  • Immigration or citizenship documents are not required to register your child in school.

  • If you have questions about which documents are required, speak with someone in the front office, a school leader, or a local community organization.

What if I am not used to meeting with my children’s teachers?

In some countries, families are not expected to interact with the school. As a result, some families feel it’s rude to question a teacher or to suggest something different.


  • In the U.S., asking your child’s teacher questions is not considered disrespectful.

  • Teachers and schools want families to partner with them. Your ideas and questions are welcomed and needed.

What if I don’t have time, transportation, or childcare during school events?

It can be hard to find time to meet with teachers or to attend school events. However, there are other ways you can communicate with your child’s teacher.

  • You can use phone calls, video calls, e-mail, or text messages.

  • Some texting apps also provide translations. Just remember these translations may not be perfect.

When should I talk with my child’s teacher?

Early and often. When a child sees that parents and teachers are working together, the child will understand that education is a top priority at school and at home.

  • Contact your child’s teacher or teachers as soon as the school year starts or when your child is assigned a teacher.

  • Share any ideas, questions, or concerns you have throughout the year — you don’t have to wait for a scheduled meeting.

  • If you prefer a certain schedule or way of communicating, let your child’s teacher know. For example, some families prefer sending texts since they aren’t allowed to answer calls while they are working.

Other important information

Remember: You know your child best. Tell teachers what they need to know about your child, including:

  • Likes and dislikes

  • Strengths and needs

  • Experiences, such as a new sibling or a death in the family

If your child has learning and thinking differences, make these known from the beginning.

Also, if you notice a big change in your child’s behavior, school performance, or attitude during the school year, contact the teacher immediately. And always let the child’s teacher know if your child doesn’t understand an assignment or needs extra help.

Also, check in with the teacher during the year. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards offer important updates. But you also need to know how things are going between these updates. For example, if your child is having trouble in math, contact the teacher to find out when the next math test is and when it will be returned. This allows you to address a problem before it gets bigger.

Questions during COVID-19

You may have many questions during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is normal! Don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher (or another trusted adult) questions about the following — and to request translated information when needed:

  • Your school’s ongoing plans related to learning online, in person, or in a hybrid model

  • Access to a computer, tablet, or internet

  • Your child’s schoolwork and activities

  • Your child’s schedule

  • How your child is doing with schoolwork or behavior

  • Questions about distance learning, including log-ins, using technology, completing assignments, or privacy concerns

  • ESL or special education services

  • School meals

  • Transportation to school

  • Health care (especially if your child is showing any symptoms of COVID-19)

  • Plans to keep students and staff safe in school buildings

  • Childcare/student supervision during the school day

  • Support to address stress, anxiety, trauma, or abuse

  • Whether your school is helping families sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine

Making it work

Finally, remember that each teacher will be different. It may take time to get to know your child’s teachers and figure out how you can work together. The time is worth it, however — as a team, you can both invest in your child’s success.

Adapted from WETA. © 2020, WETA. 


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