Teaching. It’s a calling, they say. It must be, for it warrants a crap ton of work for very little pay. Most teachers will say they love what they do. They love their kids. Why else do anything, especially when there isn’t much money involved. Bills do still need to get paid, don’t you know. But most of the “love” stops when it comes to other things that come with the job. The politics, especially in the public school system, the hierarchies formed amongst teachers can sometimes feel like high school all over again, the fight for tenure, the lack of adequate supplies, and my personal favorite, the ever important, ever fluid relationship with parents. During my time teaching, it was my least favorite part- dealing with parents, especially parents who refused to abide by the expectations and then expect us to “fix” a problem with their child. Sometimes, parents cannot be involved due to personal circumstances and teachers pick up the slack, offering tutoring, buying books and supplies, and even supplying breakfasts and lunches, clothing and coats for the children who need it. Teachers are by far the most underrated, most underappreciated labor force on this planet. Period. Amen.
As parents, we often are curious about our child(ren)’s teacher. We hope it’s a good match and that he or she will do a good job. We want to be sure the teacher knows what he or she is doing. But too many of us will leave it right there. We might reach out to the teacher once or twice, but for the most part, most of the communicating comes from one side or the other. Communication is the heartbeat of ensuring success for the school year. Before school gets started, I like to play detective. And just like the great Lily Rush, I do my research before meeting my children’s teachers. I want to know how much experience they have, what they studied, what they like to do in their spare time. I want to know the whys and whats, the whos and wheres of this teacher’s career. Why? Teachers have such a large impact on their students, even more so than parents at times. Behind every damn body in the world, there was a teacher. In doing this research, I want to ensure that they have the tools they need to motivate and inspire my stubborn kids to learn and grow. I write email after email and make phone call after phone call. I request tours and stalk the school’s website for information regarding school functions, open houses, back to school nights, and play dates. And I make a list of questions. These questions help me better understand what I might expect from the teacher throughout the school year and what plans she or he has to ensure my child is having the best, or at least, most positive school year ever.
The new school year is upon us, friends. It is important that we as parents take an active role in our child(ren)’s education. We have a powerful voice that can do wonders to support the people who take care of our child(ren). I am blessed to know some pretty awesome people in the educational system, and I wanted to get their input on what parents can do to better prepare themselves for the upcoming school year.
So without further ado, here are some of the important questions you should be asking, before Back to School Night.
- What behavior management systems are in place, especially in terms of positive reinforcement?
- How are parents kept informed of daily, weekly activities?
- How does the school involve the community?
- What social skills are emphasized?
- How do you differentiate and when is that decision to differientiate made?
- What’s the next step if the type of differentiation doesn’t help/work?
- How does small group testing work, and is it for every assessment?
- Is there a social worker, counselor, or psychologist on staff here and if so, what are their roles?
- How can I ensure that my child’s IEP/504 plan is being followed? Do you have any questions for me about any parts of this document?
- How do you ensure student participation? How are you able to redirect a child who is having a hard time following directions?
- What programs does the school offer in addition to academics?
- How much transparency will you, and the school provide throughout the school year?
- What does your curriculum look like?
- What can I be doing at home to help support my child?
- When do pull-out services, like speech or special education, begin once the school year begins?
- What does seating look like? If there is flexible seating (This is BIG right now in classrooms) how will this work for my child?
- Will the SPED (special education) staff push in to the classroom or will my student be pulled out? What will they be missing in the regular classroom during that time?
- Is the SPED teacher only working on IEP goals or will this teacher work on goal as well as the grade-level curriculum?
- Will a SPED aide be working with my child on their IEP goals when they are pulled out or will it be a teacher?
- What is the classroom schedule..are there natural breaks built in?
- How often is recess? (Never enough recess!)
- What does the school have in place to support students who are easily overwhelmed or angered? What ideas does the teacher have? How does the counselor, social worker or school psychologist support students when they are overwhelmed?
- How is the classroom teacher supported with a high needs student? Does the school use PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support)? Does the counselor do social groups or other groups to help the student cope?
- What is the best way to communicate with the teacher? Daily? Weekly?
And here are some answers!
I model positive reinforcement, never make a threat and not follow through, and then routine. In the beginning of the year I model a certain routine, for example centers. I explain the expectation and then I tell the students to watch me. If I’m doing the right thing clap, if I’m not doing the right thing thumbs down booing. Then when they go to do it, call out students who do it correctly “I really like how Robin walked to the iPad center quietly” and if I say you will sit out for 3 mins if you don’t do the right thing, I always follow through. That also shows, I will do what I say so other watching will know I’m not kidding! I’ve also gotten, my child doesn’t know their abcs yet, should I be worried? Answer to that is always, not yet, the child will learn when he or she is ready, then I give them things they can try at home to help. If I do see an issue That’s more than just identifying the abcs then we’ll meet up again. I also like to express that no question is dumb/silly. I like when parents ask, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with anything. if I notice a kid doing things just to get my attention in a negative way I will totally ignore them and praise something near them. For example we do a library center. They are allowed whisper talk and share books with other in their group. They must always have a book in hand and looking at it. I had two boys that loved to goof off in this center. So instead of constantly yelling at them or redirecting them I walk over and praise the others in the group and completely Ignore them. They instantly look at the others and grab a book. If they stay like that for more than a few seconds, then I’ll praise them– Amanda, Kindergarten Teacher
I think the first thing that comes to mind is that find a time with the teacher when there are not people around or schedule a meeting with the teacher before school starts or within the few days I know for me, when I have a zillion parents telling me info about who will be picking their child up each day, what supplies they still have to bring or often whispering to me private info about custody arrangements, I am overloaded. Afterwards, I am trying to remember who told me what and put a parent face to the child I have in front of me the next day. I appreciate a conversation before Open House/Meet the Teacher or within the first couple of days. It gives the teacher time to completely focus, look over the IEP or touch base with last year’s grade level teacher or the SPED teachers. Then I feel like I am going into the meeting with a picture of the whole child and I can answer some questions and ask my own questions to the parent. Also, parents need to know that their child may not be pulled for services the first few days. The SPED teachers are usually frantically working on making schedules, double-checking IEP times, touching base with the classroom teachers of these students , and placing students they did not know about, and are new to the school who also have IEPS. They are also running around supporting the high needs students who have a difficult transition coming back from summer. Then groups or “push-ins” begin to happen. Some things parents may not know if they are new in the process.. As a teacher, I cannot say that a student is hyperactive and may have ADD or seem to be on the spectrum. If a parent asks, do you think my child is dyslexic, ADD, Autistic, teachers will always suggest you talk to your pediatrician. Unless it is as definite NO, (for example, parents have asked me if their child is dyslexic because they write b’s and d’s backwards. That is an emphatic NO from me and I explain that is completely developmental and I usually suggest they look up info on dyslexia because people make crazy assumptions about it just from backwards letters.) If a teacher brings up their own diagnosis, that should be a red flag. We are not medical experts. Teachers may have an idea in their head based on previous students and just from working with kids for many years– and sometimes we are not far off from what the doctor says, but teachers should not be diagnosing. Also, when you sit down for your initial IEP and testing is discussed, be aware that it is the first time the classroom teacher is hearing the testing results too. We are not allowed to discuss it or view results before that meeting. We are hearing things for the first time like you. I don’t particularly like that, as the SPED teachers have set their goals for the IEP based on that testing and sometimes I disagree with it. Then I have to gently bring this up in front of the parent and the rest of the team and then we have to spend our meeting changing goals. In one instance, the SPED team had made goals I thought were way too low and I knew it was made because the teacher was just new to teaching and had no idea that the goals she put were what a mid year kindergartner would do. I would have liked to see the goals, had a discussion with this teacher beforehand, talk about how we would make this work together and then go into the meeting on the same page. Also, a strong, respectful, appreciative parent advocate is welcomed. I have been in meeting with parents who sit there like a bump on a log, don’t ask questions or follow up with questions later and then are surprised that their child is failing that grade. Yey, they signed all the paperwork and cause a big stink later on from their basic unwillingness to try and understand the process. Parents should ask all the questions they want, no question is too silly. The team appreciates parents trying to learn this paperwork filled system and wanting to really understand what their child is being taught and why. I have been in meetings when I have been dying for the parent to be a little more forceful or understand the Special Education Process better, because I knew if they pushed or researched they could get their child more help even though it might cost the district money. I have been in meetings when the parent hears the scores and psychological testing and watched the parents cry. Parents need to know that our heart is going out to them and we are doing everything we possibly can and if we could change the outcome we would. Parents often do not know they can call a SPED meeting at anytime they want to discuss things. The whole team will show up. Oh, and if you are scheduled for a meeting and you have to cancel, please call. That seems so basic, right? You wouldn’t believe how often parents just do not show up and we have to reschedule. I have left my class with a sub to attend a meeting and we have sat there and waited. We are required by law to have that meeting and trying to reschedule with a team of people and squeeze it before the end of school year with often a hundred other SPED students to schedule is beyond difficult. Also, when you have a meeting, be aware that the team is trying hard to start and end on time as it impacts them too. However, if a parent in the meeting is visibly upset or suddenly all the goals have to be revamped, time will be taken with that parent so that the meeting can be ended on a positive note and not abruptly. This is the same with parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are watching the clock too. Parents also need to give the teacher some time to get to know their child. I may not have a ton of things in place initially, other than seating accommodations and what is required on the IEP because I will try new things and change them as I get to know the student’s academic and behavioral challenges. Also, although I pay attention to what the previous years teacher has said, a teacher with a different personality, the child maturing more over the summer, family changes or our classroom dynamic may make the year better and I am not going to judge the student based on only what last year’s teacher has said. Other teacher info helps to give a big picture, but ultimately we have to see how the student manages their behavior and/or academics within our classroom with our teaching style, and expectations- Maureen, First Grade Teacher
Parents with kids that have IEPs need to make sure their kids are actually getting the services. Teachers’ hands are tied a lot of times and unless parents step up and find out if they are being followed… a lot of things can be ignored if the budget doesn’t allow them- Laura, former First Grade Teacher, current Homeschool Teacher
Your child’s teachers are their biggest advocates. Be open, honest, and transparent about what your expectations are, and work collaboratively with the teacher- Fume, Elementary School Assistant Principal
My job is very complex and my role with the parents, teachers and students looks very different but to try and sum it up with the parents I provide them with direct services, refer them out to the community and type reports just to name a few. My role is to fill in the gaps to help ensure student success. Today, I sat in on an IEP meeting, paid a mother’s light bill, provided uniforms for a family, and did grief counseling for a student. So everyday is different- Delora, Elementary School Social Worker
I think parents should be aware of the IEP/(504) plan, make sure programming is all set, and also maybe reach out to teachers with any information that they have about your child which may not be in his or her documentation that they would like to see implemented as well. Examples of this may be how the child learns best, triggers for behaviors, and academic strengths and weaknesses. Once the schools years starts, make sure the IEP and class goals are being followed- Gabriela, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant
This is a lot of information… as it should be. The point here is not to overwhelm you, fellow child-rearers, but instead to prepare you to be the best battle buddy and advocate for your little one(s) as possible. Contrary to what we might think when school starts up again, there is no freedom from responsibility. Yes, we might not be physically taking care of our kid(s) all day as we did during the summer months, but the school year demands just as much from us, if not more. These questions (and answers) will provide you the weapons you will need as you and your mini me forge through this school year together. May the odds be ever in your favor… I’m not even sure that fits in here.
Good luck and may your family have the best school year ever!
Question suggestions credit goes to: Sheri, second grade teacher, Amanda, kindergarten teacher, Laura, former first grade teacher and currently homeschooling, Maureen, first grade teacher, Delora, elementary school social worker, LaDonna, middle school math teacher, Fume, elementary school assistant principal, Gabriela, teaching consultant, and Latoya, fourth grade teacher