It’s back to school time and the pressure is on.
In homes all over the country, as we search for stray tennis shoes and clean out last year’s backpacks, we generally prepare to be back on tight school-year schedules. From a parent’s point of view, this is a bittersweet time; our kids are growing up, the relaxed summer season is winding to a close, and another school year is beginning.
Not only will our kids interact with a new teacher, the same will hold true for us as parents. Even if your child is assigned to a teacher you know from an older child, each relationship and connection is new.
As a parent, how you foster a positive connection between your child and this year’s teacher is one key to making this a great school year.
1. Trust the process.
Give your child and the new teacher a few weeks to connect. Trust your school’s placement decisions and give the teacher and class members the chance to form a new, strong dynamic. Even if you sense that your child and the designated teacher will not be a good match, try to hold off before considering any action. The first few weeks are critical—to everyone, especially your child. If your child and the teacher are truly not well matched, most school administrators will listen once the circumstances are evident. Administrators will be much more receptive to your concerns if a few weeks filled with genuine efforts to support the teacher have elapsed before you express your desire for intervention.
2. Empathize with the teacher.
Remember that this person is a wise, educated, committed adult who has dedicated his/her professional career to helping children to discover their strengths. While you know your child better than anyone else, this teacher is going to know a side of your child better than you are in the coming year. This professional is trained to recognize and detect learning patterns, to recalibrate instruction to ensure students grasp key concepts, and is focused on many educational building blocks that might appear invisible to you.
In the first few weeks of school, many teachers explore various approaches to tap into the best learning strategies for all the students in the class. To help elevate your confidence, check out the teacher’s credentials. Most school web sites include the educational backgrounds of the faculty. You’re likely to find a dedicated pro with lots of experience or a highly educated newcomer, brimming with new insights and enthusiasm.
3. Listen, look, and learn—independently.
While it might be tempting or even feel comforting to discuss your child’s new teacher with other parents over coffee or a walk, resist the urge. Every child is different and every parent’s experience is different. It is so important to form your own opinion of how things are shaping up in your child’s new classroom, and doing so based on data from multiple sources.
First, ask your child for stories and specifics about the first few weeks. Be careful not to prompt or react. Your goal is to extract information without indicating that you may have potential concerns. Try to separate any issues your child may have with peers as these events can influence your child’s recall and retelling. Listen to what kids say to one another during carpool time, too. When you’re the driver, kids often forget that you’re there, speaking candidly to one another within your earshot. This is also a good way to confirm that most kids have initial adjustments at the start of a new school year.
Lastly, look at homework and notes from the teacher to find more clues into your child’s teacher’s style. Are the notes detailed? How does the teacher communicate what’s going on in the classroom? Many teachers spend a significant amount of time on a class web page, uploading photos, forms, and details about what is going on at school. Be sure to remind yourself to log onto this regularly. Keep in mind, however, that with the many demands on teachers at the start of the year, it can take teachers a few weeks to get their web pages up and running.
4. Do your own homework.
Most teachers will request information about your child directly from you. Teachers want to know as much as is relevant about all aspects of their students’ lives to best shape the class’s learning experience. When these forms and questionnaires come home, do your own homework carefully. Don’t fill these in sitting in the bleachers or the car; find a few quiet minutes and respond thoughtfully.
Share pertinent information about your child as a learner—and as an individual, personality and all. Take responsibility for communicating your child’s specific needs like allergies, health issues, and past educational challenges that may continue to be relevant in the coming year. Also be willing to communicate any big transitions that may be going on at home like a recent move or loss as well as changes in family structure. While you may feel hesitant about sharing personal details with a teacher you do not yet know, teachers and schools are committed to respecting your confidences. If the transition is big enough to influence your child, positively or negatively, you will be well served to share this circumstance with those who will work with your child every day. Help them help your child: share what matters.
5. Sign up and show up.
Get to know your child’s teacher by getting involved and engaged in the activities and events that your school has established including the PTA/O, committees, classroom celebrations, and field trips. Volunteer in the library or lunchroom; being in the school is an excellent way to observe many different facets of school life. It’s not about seeing your child’s teacher in action, although you might catch a glimpse. It’s more about the enhanced perspective you’ll gain by seeing your child’s school in a way that is positive and helpful. You might even observe other teachers and this might just shift your initial views on your child’s teacher. Data is valuable; gather it.
What if you work and are not able to be in the lunchroom on Thursdays? Even the busiest working parents can find a way to participate. Don’t get intimidated by the “regulars” who may seem to volunteer for every event. In fact, once the dust settles, drop a note to your child’s teacher to express your willingness to help. This is a great way to introduce yourself more fully. Perhaps the class needs a special book or there’s some prep work you could assist with after your house has settled down for the night. Sometimes it takes a bit of ingenuity to figure out a way to contribute when you work. Asking what’s needed and sharing your areas of expertise are excellent first steps.