A new school year is often a scary time for our children, because they’re in a new class with a new teacher and probably at least some new classmates. It’s a new environment, with new rules and new expectations.
But what about Mom and Dad? The start of a new school year can be a scary time for parents too, because we don’t know what’s in store for our children and there’s so much we can’t control.
One of the best ways to ease your anxiety as a parent is to get off to a good start with your child’s teacher. Here are some tips to make that happen:
Read everything your child’s teacher sends home. Especially at the beginning of the year, teachers send home a lot of information for parents. Be sure to read everything, even if it’s tedious, and even if it seems repetitive. Think about how frustrated you would be if you provided answers to the most common questions, but no one read them so you had to keep answering the same question over and over anyway.
Keep an open mind about your child’s teacher. Regardless of what you may have heard about your child’s teacher – positive or negative – remember that a teacher’s relationship with every child is different. What your friend and her child may have experienced with a teacher may be the opposite of what another friend and her child experienced with the same teacher, and both of their experiences will differ from what you and your child will experience. In fact, I have friends who dislike a teacher as intensely as other friends like that same teacher!
Have a chat. Sometime during the first week of school, make some time to have a chat with your child’s teacher. I usually just wait after class is dismissed, and then catch the teacher for a few minutes. If the teacher doesn’t open his or her door to parents during the first week of school (or if you work and rarely see your child’s teacher), send a note or email asking if you can meet one day before or after school. During the meeting, ask any questions you might have, and tell them anything you want them to know about your child. For example, one of my kids has food allergies, and I want to make sure his teacher knows that. Other friends have told me they talk with the teacher about their child’s legitimate need to use the bathroom more frequently than normal (something teachers discourage because it’s a distraction), and others simply discuss their child’s personality quirks. Be sure to ask if there’s anything the teacher would like you to do, or if there’s anything they need. At public schools in Los Angeles, parents are frequently asked to donate basic supplies like facial tissue, baby wipes, and antibacterial wipes for the classroom.
Keep an open mind about your child and his or her abilities. Over the years, our children show some characteristics that don’t change. For example, some kids are chatty while some hate to raise their hand, and some kids work quickly while others work slowly. You may have some ideas about how best to help your child, and it’s great to share those ideas with your child’s teacher. At the same time, however, be aware that your child’s teacher may have some new ideas. Let your child’s teacher try “their way” first, before you get frustrated about how things are going.
Be communicative and ask lots of questions. If your child’s teacher isn’t providing the information you want, ask for it. He or she may not realize that their communications aren’t sufficient, and you may have to ask specific, detailed questions in order to get the answers you want. For example, this past year, my older son’s teacher administered a timed math test on multiplication, but we didn’t really know anything about it until a note came home in May. All we knew at that point was that our son hadn’t passed, and we didn’t know what it would take to him to pass. So we met with his teacher for a few minutes one morning before school, and learned that the same test was administered over and over again, and that our son could bring the test home (why he didn’t do that on his own is one of the great mysteries of children). Once we understood the parameters of the test, we had him take the test multiple times at home and he passed within a few days.
Be appreciative. Teaching is a hard job, and at times can feel thankless. Let your child’s teacher know that he or she is appreciated with a note, or a small gift like cookies or classroom supplies. Since my children attend a budget-strapped public school, I like to give classroom supplies like facial tissue, baby wipes, and even pens and copy paper. These are all inexpensive items, but they go a long way to making my children’s teachers feel that we’re all in this together, and that their hard work isn’t unnoticed.