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Back to school!

As the weekend is winding down here in Indiana, so is the summer. It’s the last day before the school year starts in most of the state. Tomorrow, kids of all ages will walk into schools, find their new classrooms, and meet their new teachers. They will start off a new year of learning, discovery, test-taking, skill acquiring, and growing. Many parents are looking forward to getting the kids of their house and back into school. Others are sad to see them leave, wishing the summer would never end. But most are probably ready. As their teacher, I’m ready, but still nervous. This is my first year teaching in the US. I was prepared this last year but still nervous. I find the start of every new school year nervewracking for a variety of reasons. Many of the reasons have to do with the students and the parents of the students. As a teacher, I want to connect with my students during the first weeks of school in order to set a good tone for the school year. I also want to focus on set high expectations in the classroom and on setting routines for the classroom right away to ensure that the class runs smoothly throughout the year. Now, I understand they have a lot going on as they prepare for their children to return to school, but I’ve observed some things that make the job of getting their kids back to school and setting up a good school year more difficult for everyone, including the teachers. So I thought I’d offer some tips on getting your kids back to school and starting the year off well with them and with their teachers.

1. Meet the teacher and ask what he/she expects of students.

This is really important. Find out directly from the teacher what he/she expects in the classroom. Chances are that you will be on the same page with the teacher. Most teachers don’t expect the sun, moon, and stars from their students or their parents; they do expect some basic rules to be followed (put things where they should be, put the name on the paper, no food or drink in class, etc.) mutual respect (even you, dear parent, expect this from your child), to participate in class (which usually involves listening, responding appropriately) and to be responsible (following directions and turning in work on time).

2. If there is something the teacher needs to know about your child, get it in writing and to the teacher and office before the school year even starts.

There are kids who need extra accomadations. That’s part of life. Some kids need to use the bathroom all the time because they have a bladder problem or diabetes. Some need to be placed at the front of the class because they are easily distracted by others. Some just need some extra understanding. You, dear parent, have the right to bring it to the teacher and ask for it. If you bring it to the office, in writing from a doctor or authority that can help back up these claims, accomadations will be provided.

Don’t take advantage of it, though. I’ve seen individualized education plans for students with disabilities that require the teacher to allow a student to walk around as much as he/she wants, let the student eat whenever he/she wants (not because of diabetes or other medical reason, but just because), and to get the child McDonald’s as a reward for turning in homework. I’m not kidding with that last one; the plan actually said: “If this child turns in all his homework daily, the teacher should give the child McDonald’s.”

Let’s be reasonable here, parents. You and teachers need to prepare your child for the world. Yes, there are sometimes accomadations that need to be made, but they can’t be made if you don’t communicate them, and they should be reasonable and not taking advantage of the school.

I would also like to add this (because it has happened to me a few times): if a crime was committed against your family or there was a death in your familly, communicate this with the office and teachers immediately. They aren’t going to ask for death certificates or police records, but please communicate it with them. Unfortunate things happen in life. Teachers are human beings and understand this. They will provide extra time, accommadations, and understanding to your child. They may even pray for you, your family, and your child during those times. Please communicate with them.

3. If a teacher calls about something, please listen.

Teachers are busy people. Their daily schedule includes writing lesson plans that follow state standards, collaborating with other teachers, grading work and modifying lessons in response to the work, helping individual students who are struggling, documenting everything they do, answering emails from the office and parents, preparing for state tests, talking with students, disciplining students, responding to students’ emotional moments, having to fill out reports about students, and then, sometime in the midst of all of these actions, actually teaching lessons while trying to keep students’ attention, ensuring they don’t distract others and prevent the learning of others. Sometimes, during the day, there is a problem that teachers want to talk to parents about.

Teachers don’t call to tell you that you’re bad parents. They aren’t picking on your child. They were terrified to make that phone call. Even if the teacher doesn’t have children of their own (like me), they understand that no parent likes to hear something negative about their child or their child’s actions. But something happened and something had to be done. It’s not personal to the child. It’s what needs to be done. Teachers call parents to tell them when something needing a consequence happened so that they know right away what happened, what the consequence will be, and in the hope that you, dear parent, will help them in guiding the child to make better choices.

On more than one occasion, I or a colleague have contacted a parent about a behavior that needed a consequence and have been met not only with an outright denial of the child’s actions, but hostility, anger, and accusations of making up consequences to pick on a child. I assure you, parent, that is not the case. Teachers are busy people. They don’t want to make things up only to give consequences. The don’t have time. They don’t like doing it. It’s not fun. It stinks.

Please don’t attack teachers when they call. They might even have something good to say about your child. But if they need to talk about something more serious, please listen. They are trying to work with you, not against you.

4. Give teachers some credit

To become a teacher in the state of Indiana is not easy. On top of having to go to college, they have to compete for student teaching positions. They have to pass licensing exams, which they have to pay for (and cost hundreds of dollars). They have to be CPR certified (at their expense). They have to pass classes about educational psychology, educational theory, methods of eduation, child and adolescent psychology, and all the classes for their content area. They have to prove that they are capable. They have to prove that they are smart enough, responsible enough, and capable of doing their profession. That’s what this is: a profession. It’s like any other.

They know what they’re doing. Give them some credit.

Teachers hear all too often how anyone could do their job. That is not true. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Just as I can’t be a stockbroker because I don’t have the education, abilities, or desire, not anyone can be a teacher. Comments about how anyone could do their job, how people pay their salaries with taxes, and how they are just babysitters is demeaning. They give children a bad impression of the teacher and then don’t treat them as an adult. They treat them the way people talk about them.

Parent, if you have a concern or question, please ask the teacher. They love when parents are interested and willing to understand why something is being done, or what standard the activity meets, or what really happened during the day. Just ask. They’ll answer.

Teachers are not against parents or their children. They want to encourage children’s learning. They want to see them suceed and grow. They want them to do well. They want them to learn the material and skills that will help them in college or in the workforce.

Parents want the same things for their children. Teacher understand that and want to be a part of that process. Children will grow and be the best they can be if parents and teachers work together.