An Interview with Mary Beth Gaertner: “Way to Go”

Jan 25, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

Mary Beth Gaertner has just published a book entitled “ Way to Go “. In this interview, she expounds on some of the issues in detail, and provides a general overview of this book.

1. What led up to this book?

Nothing concerns me more as a school administrator or causes me more angst as the fear of unhappy parents. Being a private school, pleasing parents is compounded because we know parents have a choice as to where they place their child for a formal education. Our desire to know and understand what parents expect from us as a school and from teachers is “paramount.” “Tell the Teacher More Day” is a research-based strategy that helps to establish a positive relationship between parents and teachers before school ever starts.

2. What are the top ten things that teachers need to be saying to parents?

  1. We care about your child’s academic and social- emotional progress.
  2. We are partners with you the parents in your child’s formal education.
  3. We want to know about your family dynamics.
  4. We want to know about what things motivate your child.
  5. We want to know about what things frustrate your child?
  6. We want to know about any special needs your child may have.
  7. How can we best communicate with you as to your child’s progress?
  8. What types of things do you want to know about your child’s progress or lack of it.
  9. We want to know when you have concerns.
  10. We are professionals and take responsibility for informing you about your child’s progress and behavior in the classroom.

3. What are the top ten things that parents ought to be saying to their child’s teachers?

  1. We care about our child’s academic and social-emotional progress.
  2. We are partners with you in our child’s formal education.
  3. We want you to know about our family dynamics.
  4. We want you to know what motivates our child.
  5. We want you to know about what is frustrating to our child.
  6. We want you to know about our child’s special needs.
  7. We want to tell how best to communicate with us.
  8. We want you to know what and how much to tell us about that occurs during the school day.
  9. We want you to know when we have concerns.
  10. We are the parents and we will take responsibility for working with our child to support academic progress and social-emotional adjustment.

4. How do we get parents to initiate conversations with teachers- and maintain that supportive conversation?

By holding a “Tell the Teacher More Day” before school begins, the stage is set on a positive note. The information gathered in that meeting will help determine the amount of information shared with parents as to the student’s progress as well as the way and frequency in which the information is shared. There will be no surprises, keeping the relationship based on the realities of the progress in the classroom.

5. Let’s face it. A lot of children are from families where parents are divorced and the child is being raised by a single parent. Is there any way teachers can be supportive, yet get that parent involved to assist with homework, book reports, science projects?

Married, single, all parents must take their roles as support to their child’s academic and social program seriously. Good, clear teacher communication strategies will help to both inform and guide parents as to how to support their child’s learning. If at the beginning of the school year, the teacher learns from the parent what information to share and the venue in which to share it, the relationship will become solid and communication will flow freely between teacher and parents. Cell phones and other mobile devices make it very easy to stay in touch during the day. School websites are being expertly constructed to be interactive and to include assignments, enhanced curriculum materials and even assessment results for both students and parents. It’s much easier for busy or disconnected single parents to stay in touch with the school activities.

6. A student is coming to school and sleeping, seems to be poorly attired, forgets homework, etc. At what point should a parent teacher conference be called? Or should the child be referred to the SAT team? Or what steps should a teacher take?

If parent teacher communication has already been established early in the year, contacting the parent about the observed behavior such as sleeping, poor attire, forgetting homework, would be appropriate and expected by the parent. If communication had not been established, then a conference between the parents and the teacher would be a necessary starting point. Then, depending on the results of the parent-teacher conference, the SAT team may or may not need to become involved. Out of respect, it is the teacher’s professional obligation to contact parents when they observe these types of behavior that could have a negative influence on the child’s learning.

7. Those three initials- AYP- when kids are not making “annual yearly progress” – how concerned should parents and teachers be?

When students aren’t making annual yearly progress, teachers and parents need to be very concerned and do their best to determine the reason for it. The use of benchmark assessments over the course of the year greatly reduces the chances of students falling behind. The benchmarks serve as progress indicators and if a student falls into the area of risk, the teacher can take note quickly to apply strategies for remediation such as intervention. Assessing annually can then support benchmark assessments.

8. In instances of documented disabilities, what do teachers REALLY need to do to assist parents?

In cases of documented disabilities, teachers need to be working toward common goals as documented by the IEP (individual educational plan) and stay in close communication with parents as to the student’s progress. There should be no surprises to the parents.

9. What didn’t I ask?

How can parents and teachers work more effectively together for the child’s sake?

Parents and teachers need to understand one another’s expectations as well as their concerns. Collaboration has to exist for the sake of the child. Clear, frequent communication will help forge a genuine partnership between parents and teachers.

Copies of the book Way to Go can be purchased from,,, or your favorite online bookseller.

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