While some of you wish that summer break could go on forever, I know many of you are excited to once again send your children off to school. It has been a whirlwind summer spent chasing the little ones around the house, listening to the older ones complain of boredom, keeping everyone sane and out of trouble, and possibly even coercing your children to complete the dreaded summer reading projects. Finally, you can take a deep breath and pass the baton to the teachers and school administrators. Don’t get so excited though that you fail to aid both student and teacher in making a clean transition.
As a former teacher, I can assure you that you play an integral role in how the year will play out. Start the year off right by attending Open House if possible or by emailing the teacher. Future conversations will go more easily if you build a relationship now. Alert teachers now to any vision or hearing issues, any learning challenges, and any behavior issues your child has been known to have. It is so helpful to know these things at the start. You have no idea how many students will tell the teacher a month into school that they can’t see the board. Often after accommodating them, the teacher suspects that the student’s complaint was really just an excuse to sit next to his best friend as the quality of his work has actually decreased and the level of distraction has increased. Without parents providing such valuable information (preferably in writing so it can be referred to later), it really is just a guessing game for teachers. Which students have legitimate issues and which are just trying to pull a fast one?
Another thing you can do to make the year go smoothly is to see the guidance counselor or registrar about getting online access to your child’s grades. Every teacher has experienced the phone call of a parent who calls at the end of the quarter to say he or she should have been made aware of the child’s poor grade. Please understand that teachers have the best of intentions, but they also, at least at the middle and high school level, have 100+ students and a mandatory twenty to thirty assignments to grade each quarter. With 2000+ papers to grade every nine weeks, it simply isn’t possible to contact parents every time a student fails an assignment or doesn’t turn it in at all. That doesn’t mean that teachers don’t want to hear from you. They love to hear from concerned parents. They don’t need you to be the helicopter parent that calls every other day, but they certainly don’t want you to be hands off either. For most teachers, an email is often easier than a phone call as they can return it from home or in between classes or meetings. Email them every couple of weeks to check on progress, behavior, and upcoming projects, but do what you can at home to hold your child accountable. Be mindful that teachers are not just teaching the curriculum; they are also trying to instill in students a strong work ethic and other skills necessary to succeed as they move from school to the workforce. Like you, they want your child to be a happy, healthy adult who is capable of chasing and fulfilling his dreams later on. You and your child may not always appreciate the hard lessons of losing credit for late work or not having it accepted at all. Just remember the teacher isn’t trying to be mean or lessen his workload; he is simply attempting to teach your child accountability.
There are a few other helpful pointers, which may seem like common sense to you, but believe me, they are issues in many classrooms. First, don’t do your child’s work for him. How else is he or she going to learn the material? Not only that, what lesson do you teach when you do this? It certainly doesn’t make the student accountable for or appreciative of his learning. It also shows him that teachers do not have your respect, which will, in turn, affect the respect he affords his teacher. Second, talk to your child about the importance of doing his own work. Classwork and homework are preparation for upcoming tests and if your child has copied answers from a friend rather than working thru things on his own, how will that impact his test scores? He should also do his friends the favor of not letting them copy his work either. He does want his friends to be able to pass the test, right? Teaching them that copying is cheating and that cheating is wrong instills accountability, integrity, and self-esteem. It is better for him to fail an assignment completed on his own so that the teacher is aware he is struggling and can offer assistance than to copy, get a good grade and no extra help from the teacher, and fail the test. Third, know that lack of attendance and excessive tardies are a big issue in middle and high school. Talk to your child about the need to be at school and in class on time. Most parents are on board with this and struggle right along with teachers to nip this negative behavior; however, some parents knowingly allow students to regularly miss school. By allowing absences and tardies without consequence, students learn that school is not important. This leads to a lack of respect for authority and other such issues. Please, please, please stress the importance of being at school. Finally, talk to your child about being prepared for school and organized. Yes, there are students who genuinely lack supplies and teachers/schools do their best to provide for those in financial need. The problem is that approximately one-third of students show up to class each day without paper, writing utensils, and other supplies. Whenever I brought up this issue at parent/teacher conferences, nine times out of ten the parent informed me that the child had a full supply of materials at home and didn’t understand why these supplies weren’t making it to school every day. Just imagine all the time that is wasted each day as the same students wander the room in search of these items. Everyone expects teachers to offer up a pen or sheet of paper when needed and trust me I tried to do just that but as items borrowed were rarely returned, I found I could go thru at least a full case of pens bought in bulk every quarter. This is an expense teachers can ill afford.
So to recap, here are my tips for a successful school year: 1) contact teachers now to get and give vital information; 2) monitor your child’s grades online and hold them accountable; 3) stress the importance of the student doing his own work; 4) let your child know you think school is important and he is expected to attend regularly and be on time; and 5) do what you can to provide the necessary supplies and ensure they actually make it to school. By doing all of these things, you will give your child an academic advantage, make the learning process more pleasurable for other students in the class, and show support for the teacher who will be forever grateful.