Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Most children are heading back to school this month.  There are lots of ads for school supplies and articles written explaining how children can be more successful in school. 

Parents, do you wonder what it takes to help your kids do their very best at school? Good Housekeeping went into classrooms at schools around the country and talked to the teachers who spend their days with your children. Here's what they said about how you can help the teachers help your kids:

(as a retired teacher of 25 years, I added my comments in red)

1. Don't be a stranger!

Talk to your child's teacher early and often. Back-to-school night shouldn't be the only time you connect, but it's a great time to introduce yourself and find out the best way to contact her in the future. Then stay in touch with updates on how things are going at home, questions about your child and his work, or to schedule conferences to head off trouble (should you worry about that string of C's?). Most teachers have e-mail at school, which is a great way to check in.

My communication preference as a teacher was e-mail, because it was a quick and efficient form of reply to a parent inquiry.  It takes a longer time period for a teacher to write notes or to make telephone calls which typically means leaving voice messages. 

2. Learning doesn't stop at 3:15.

You can help the teacher do a better job by encouraging your child to show you something he's working on at school. It doesn't have to be a big deal.  Ask him to demonstrate how he does long division or to read his book report out loud.  Every time your child gets a chance to show off what he knows, it builds confidence.

Usually the difference between a child being successful and mediocre depends on how involved their parents are in the learning process.  All parents lead busy lives, but part of the parenting process is providing the time to help reinforce the learning concepts with their children.  Repetition is a big part of mastering a learning skill.

3. Stay involved — even when you don't know the material.

You can provide moral support and be your child's cheerleader no matter how well (or poorly) you did in a certain subject. "Parents tell me they didn't take trigonometry or flunked chemistry, so how can they check the homework?" says Tim Devine, a high school social science teacher in Chicago. "But we don't expect you to be an expert on every subject." Just knowing a parent is paying attention can be very motivating for a student.

Check with the teacher when they provide tutorials and if they could recommend an on-line tutorial or help website.  Many high schools offer free after school tutorials by National Honor Society members.  The counseling office may have a list of tutors for hire.

4. Keep your child organized.

That means helping teachers with the paper chase. "I spend way too much time tracking down tests or forms I've sent home for a parent's signature," says Judy Powell, a fifth-grade teacher from Richmond, Virginia. Usually, the missing items are crumpled up in the bottom of the kid's backpack, along with lunch leftovers and other clutter. Powell's solution: Have your child empty his backpack every day as part of a regular after-school routine. Set up a special place, such as a box in the kitchen, where he can put the day's papers, and provide another spot, such as a desk drawer, for old assignments that you want to save. A bright-colored folder is a good idea, too, for toting homework — and signed papers — to and from school. And about those supplies: Keep plenty on hand. "Kids run out of pencils and paper, and it'll be three weeks before they'll remember to tell you," says Powell.

One of the main reasons a student receives a zero for an assignment is due to "misplaced" homework.  The student completed the homework, but has nothing to turn in to the teacher for grading.  This is very frustrating for all involved because it doesn't provide a true indicator of the student's knowledge.

5. Let your child make mistakes.

Don't forget, he's learning. Teachers don't want perfect students, they want students who try hard. "Sometimes parents get caught up in thinking every assignment has to be done exactly right, and they put too much pressure on their child," says Brian Freeman, a second-grade teacher from Red Spring, North Carolina. "But it's OK for kids to get some problems wrong. It's important for us to see what students don't know, so we can go over the material again."

I always told my students it is important to learn from their mistakes.  That's why it's called "learning".

Is your child struggling with an assignment? Help him brainstorm possible solutions. If he's still stuck, resist the temptation to write a note. Instead, encourage your child to take charge by asking the teacher for help the next day.

High school teachers usually prefer for their students to come in "before" their class starts to get help rather than waiting until homework is collected during class. 

Hands off bigger assignments, too, says Marty Kaminsky, a fourth-grade teacher in Ithaca, New York. "I assigned a project on inventors, and several kids brought in amazingly detailed reports with slide-shows. They looked great, but they clearly weren't the work of a nine-year-old," he says. "I was much happier with the posters with the pictures glued on crooked, because I knew those children did the work themselves. What matters isn't the final result; it's letting a child have ownership of the project."

How many parents have you heard say, "I stayed up till midnight finishing my child's project"?

6. Raise a good reader.

Even if your child isn’t a natural-born bookworm, you can encourage him to love literature. Keep reading together, even if your kid can breeze through a book on his own. Reading aloud can expand his vocabulary, and your chats about the book will help him understand and enjoy more. But you might want to shelve books that seem way over his head. It’s tempting to push literary limits, but the goal is understanding and enjoyment.

Use audiobooks as a tool to inspire love of reading. They aren’t “cheating;” they’re a terrific way to engage kids in a good yarn. Check out bookadventure.com for more with books kids will enjoy.

If you can read, you can do almost anything!  There are a vast number of electronic reading programs/books on the market, but remember you are the most important resource for your child.

7. If the teacher deserves a good grade, give her one.

Teaching isn't easy, and there are days when a kid has a tantrum, or a teacher feels like crying because a parent speaks to her harshly. So why not e-mail or call when your child enjoys a class event or says something nice about the instructor? And if you feel the teacher is doing a good job, let the principal know. Volunteering is another way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and support, even if you only have time to help out once a year. It shows your child — and his teacher — that you really care about his education.

This is so true.  In the business world, most people receive salary bonuses for excellent work.  Students receive high GPAs as their bonuses for doing excellent course work.  Teachers do not receive salary bonuses....  As a high school teacher, I loved receiving positive feedback from parents and students.  I also think it is very important for teachers to let parents and students know when they were terrrific. 

8. The teacher's on your side — give her the benefit of the doubt.

Rachel James, a third-grade teacher in Reson, Florida, was having a terrible time with one of her students. For days, the boy had been disruptive, rolling his eyes and sighing dramatically whenever anyone spoke to him. Naturally, she had to reprimand him. "His mom called and accused me of picking on her son," says James. "When I told her what was going on, she was shocked." After the mom had calmed down, they worked out some ways to change the boy's behavior. "A lot of parents go into attack mode when their child complains about a teacher," says James. "Or they take the problem to the principal, so the teacher feels blindsided. But parents need to get all the facts before they react."

I believe there are 3 versions to most classroom stories:  the student version, the teacher version, and the version involving background information.  In order to be fair to all parties involved you must enter the discussion with an open mind and be there to help your child.  As in the story above, what has happened that caused the boy to exhibit these behavioral changes?  Address the problem and then you can find a solution.  Everyone wins in that scenario. 

You should be an advocate for your child, but you must allow your child to be responsible for his own behavior and to accept consequences for any inappropriate actions.  That's part of growing up and becoming a responsible, productive citizen.

9. There is a secret to better grades.

Set up a brief get-together with your child's teacher(s) early in the school year. A one-on-one conversation is the perfect time to bring up important issues, like the fact that your child struggled in math last year or tended to hand in homework late. Also check in with the school district’s or teachers’ website in order to stay on top of your child’s assignments, grades, test dates and scores — and more. Find out what resources there are for you, and use them. If your child is having a tough time in a particular class, don’t just swoop in and try to make things right. Encourage your child to meet with his teacher to resolve a problem on his own.

Be pro-active rather than reactive.  Don't wait until the end of the grading period to ask why your child isn't performing at his grade level or if there is any last-minute solution.  If you are following the tips listed above, you should never be in this position.

If there’s issue between your child and a teacher, don’t automatically run to the principal behind the teacher’s back. Certain situations that involve your child’s safety do merit a meeting with the head of school, but otherwise, going over the teacher’s head signals a lack of respect. When you can’t agree on a solution, set up a meeting with the teacher and a school administrator, who can help work things out.

Remember there is a chain of command.  The first link in the chain of command is the teacher.  Teachers are in the profession because they love teaching and interacting with children.  They are NOT your enemy.

May this school year be your child's best!

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