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Observing Your Child's Classroom

Why and how you should sit in.


Observe your child's classroom

Parent-teacher conferences give you a limited picture of what’s happening in your child’s classroom. And children are notoriously poor reporters of classroom activities. So to obtain a better understanding of your child’s performance in school, as well as the quality of the classroom instruction, you can make a request to observe your child’s class. You don’t need to be an educator to gain useful information from a classroom observation.

School districts in New Jersey may invite parents to observe their child’s class during American Education Week (Nov. 13–19 this year, 2011), but you may also wish to observe at other times. Most school districts will honor this request.

Keep in mind that it may be hard to get a true picture of your child’s classroom performance when you’re observing, since he will be keenly aware of your presence and thus may either put on a show or withdraw. You’ll get a truer picture if you’re in the classroom on a periodic basis as a volunteer. The teacher, too, may put on a show for you during your observation—but you still should get a good sense of how she communicates with students and gets across the lesson.   

Why sit in the classroom?

Here are examples of situations where you may want to observe a classroom:

  • You’re concerned that your child has a learning or behavior problem.
  • You want to observe a special education class recommended for your child
  • You want to learn how to work more effectively with your child by observing the teacher’s technique.         
  • You have doubts about the appropriateness of your child’s class placement or the quality of teacher instruction.       
  • Your child has been recommended to skip a grade or stay back.
  • You’ve heard that the teacher is doing an exciting project and wish to see it.
  • You want to consider requesting a specific teacher for your child next year.

How to observe the classroom

Call the principal to request permission to observe, but keep in mind that the school may not be enthusiastic about this request. The teacher or principal may fear that you will be critical of what you see and will demand change. Try to ease their concerns but be persistent in your request, especially if the observation is crucial to a decision you’re making.

Try to observe within a timeframe that spans two subjects so you can see what the class is like during unstructured moments. Be as unobtrusive as possible and avoid making suggestions or providing assistance to the teacher—you are there to observe and not participate.

Finally, find something positive to say to the teacher and express your appreciation before leaving.

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a school and family psychologist and part-time instructor at Rutgers.

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