An Open Letter to Parents Before School Starts
It's the beginning of August, which means school is right here on our doorsteps. I know my kids are equal parts excited and anxious. I'm sure yours are too (if not also angsty teens who are groaning about waking up before 9 a.m.). The back-to-school shopping is almost wrapped up, the uniforms are ready to go, and the bus routes are posted.
Before your students head back to school, teachers are already there. They are organizing classrooms, reviewing policies and procedures, and prepping their curricula for the school year. Their school year started weeks before the students' did. Many of them are new teachers who are coming into a new situation. COVID-19 is largely behind us, there is a teacher shortage (some of these new teachers were just hired in the last couple of weeks, if not days), and schools are recovering from scores dropping in many places around the state.
I spent eight years teaching, and have covered a lot of subjects in that time. I've coached, I've volunteered, and I've helped implement schoolwide initiatives aimed at improving class offerings and school activities. I've taught hundreds of students and interacted with hundreds of parents. As a parent and a teacher, I've been on both sides of the student's life. And before you drop them off, I'd like for offer some advice. It's offered in no particular order, but I hope you'll take all of it in.
1. Be There And Advocate
The most important thing you can do is be there not just for your student, but to advocate for their needs. Studies have routinely shown that students with parents active in their school lives are more successful and better prepared for life. Just being there and being the moral foundation your child builds off of makes sure they stay on the right path. I cannot begin to describe the difference I've noticed between students with engaged parents and students with largely absent parents. It's night and day.
2. But Trust The Professionals
There is a difference, though, between advocating for your children and undermining their teacher (or coach). Just as students with no parental involvement suffer, so too do students whose parents excuse everything they do and constantly fight to get their kids out of the consequences of their actions. They will argue coaches about playing time, argue with teachers about bad grades, but they will never ask their kids if they did what they were supposed to, or pushed themselves to their best potential. Teachers and coaches are there to help your child grow, and actually pushing them and holding them accountable is a major part of that.
3. Keep Them On A Schedule
This is largely for younger students, but older students could use this help, too. When summer comes around, one of the biggest factors to lost learning is loss of schedule or routine. When school starts, they have a schedule for the first part of the day
- Wake up.
- Get dressed.
- Go to school.
And breakfast is somewhere in there, too, depending on if they eat it at home or at school. But when school is out, if your student isn't involved in some extracurricular activity, they feel the need to go home and do nothing. They'll watch TV or play video games, eat dinner, and scroll through their phones until they fall asleep. And while none of these things are bad, per se, making sure students aren't engaging with their homework or some reading in the afternoons or evenings prevents the learning of the day from setting in. Again, it comes down to being there, being active, and holding them accountable.
4. Keep The Supplies Coming
I could probably write a whole separate column on this, but this is extremely important: Donate tissues, paper towels, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning supplies when and where you can. Teachers are running out of this all the time. Every now and then, just send an email. Ask if they're running low on any of those health supplies. They'll appreciate the email and the donation. Also, start sending your child to school with a can or two of compressed air to give to teachers, especially if the school has gone 1:1 with technology or if your student has a class in a technology lab. It keeps the keyboards clean and prevents schools from having to replace technology as often.
Schools always have events going on. There are Parent Teacher Committees (PTCs), teams, and other groups that need support. The front office is always overwhelmed. If you want your child to get the best out of his or her school, help the school produce the best environment possible. Get together and help clean up the campus, donate or take part in fundraisers, show up to events, and show your student that supporting the school is how your get everything you can out of it. Successful schools have active parent groups that are there to support (not run) the school and its administration.
But Most Importantly...
Be excited for the new school year. Students need the education, sure, but they also need the social interaction and engagement. It's a new chance for growth for your students and for you. Let the teachers know you're there if they have questions or need advice. Offer whatever help you can. You would not believe some of the hoops teachers have to go through just to make sure your child gets the best education possible. They need all the help they can get.
Have a great school year, everyone.