Q: I’ve emailed my daughter’s teacher four different times this year about different things, but she never emails me back. What is the best way to handle it?
First, you should be open to the possibility that it’s not necessarily the teacher’s fault. I’ve been accused of not responding to many emails that I never even received. Maybe you got the wrong email address (school emails can be rather long). Maybe the firewall or spam filter caught it. Maybe you forgot to send it. Maybe Russian hackers are intercepting your messages (just kidding).
It’s also possible that the overwhelmed teacher simply made an honest mistake and forgot to respond. Teachers get tons of emails. Middle and high school teachers get even more than elementary school teachers because we often teach over a hundred students (so even if you do get a response, chances are you’ll need to patiently wait for it).
I counted it once, and my school inbox averages about 50 emails a day. Around half of those usually require some kind of answer. That’s a lot of reading and a lot of responding to a lot of usually unimportant stuff. But since I doubt a teacher would forget to respond to the same person four times in a row, this scenario admittedly seems unlikely.
A third possibility is maybe the teacher didn’t think your emails needed a reply. I get a dozen or so emails a week with messages like “My son is going to be absent tomorrow.” It’s nice information to have, but it doesn’t require an answer on my part and since I’ve got grades to enter and lessons to plan, I’m probably going to just absorb the information, delete the email and move on.
There is, of course, another possible reason your emails have gone unanswered: the teacher is slack. If this is the case, you have every right to be rankled. But don’t follow up with guns blazing. A wise teacher once told me that you win more bees with honey than with vinegar. (Side note: I responded with, “Why would I want to win bees?” which resulted in her accusing me of being deliberately obtuse which was true.)
So first, double check that all your emails were 1) sent properly and 2) necessitated a response. If they did, send one final email politely stating that this is your fifth attempt. If there’s still no answer, then it’s time to contact the principal.
If the principal doesn’t respond, either, then it’s possible that your email skills aren’t what they should be. Fear not, however. There are options. I know this is the 21st century, but don’t forget about paper, ink and an envelope. A letter sent to the teacher with your child works as well today as it did 30 years ago.
Even better, call the school and set up a conference with the teacher. In our digital age, the power of face-to-face human contact is often neglected but still runs circles around the alternatives.
On the other hand, you might consider a better choice altogether and that is to wean yourself way away from emailing at all.
If your child is old enough, have him talk to the teacher. Teachers often get emails that put us in the position of trying to explain to parents things we couldn’t possibly know, like “Why isn’t my kid doing his homework?” We also have to try to explain to parents things that would much better be explained to the child, like “How can he improve his grade in your class?” That’s a little like a doctor writing a prescription for the patient’s mother.
If your emails are about homework, try checking the teachers’ websites first. My colleagues and I get emails every day asking us what the assignments are when that information is published for the world on our class websites. And anyway, shouldn’t the student be asking this question?
If those options can work for you, everyone will benefit. You and the teacher get to spend less time on email and more time doing more valuable things. The child improves his learning and communication skills and the principal doesn’t have to get caught in the middle.
That’s called a win-win-win-win and it’s a feat worthy of multiple smiley emojis.