I get asked a lot of questions about my job. I teach 8th grade language arts, and I absolutely love it. Most of the questions I get are from parents of middle school students who want to know how they can help teachers help their students. As a teacher, I will admit that parents are often left out of the loop when it comes to educating their children on a day-to-day basis. It’s certainly not an intentional thing, but with over 130 students, it can be challenging for teachers (especially at the middle and high school levels) to get the time to reach out to every single parent. Often, you’ll only hear from us if something is wrong or is something exceptionally good is happening. But the majority of parents have kids that fall somewhere in the middle. If you’re one of those parents (or even if you’re not), here are a few things you can do to stay connected to your child’s education:
Check class or teacher websites often. Most teachers these days have a class or teacher website. These websites can range to anything from general class information to detailed specific daily information. My own teacher website is a blog format (go figure…) and I post to it every day with a brief synopsis of what we are doing in class that day, any important announcements for things coming up, and homework. If your child’s teacher has a website like this, it can really be invaluable. It can give you a good idea of important things coming up and information about what your child is studying in school.
Email the teacher. If your child’s school operates on a nine-month traditional schedule, then you are probably nearing the end of the first quarter right now. This is an excellent time to touch base with your child’s teacher. If you have concerns about a particular class or subject, ask about it. But if you just want to reach out, you can’t go wrong with a simple email telling a teacher how much your child likes them or their class. It doesn’t have to be long. Just a few sentences introducing yourself and sharing a little something your child has mentioned about their class before. Teachers pay attention when parents are involved, and the onus of being involved doesn’t always have to fall on the teacher.
Read what your child is reading. Not only should you encourage your child to be reading grade-level appropriate novels, but I would strongly encourage you to read along with them. This gives you great things to talk with them about, and that discussion can really deepen their reading comprehension skills. Reading along with your child is also a good idea because you get a good look at what they are being exposed to. The Young Adult genre these days is not what it used to be. There are more controversial topics explored that are definitely relevant to today’s tweens and teens, but that are better suited to discussions with family. It is not uncommon to find rape, depressions, suicide, spirituality, sexual preference, alcohol, drugs, sex, and all kinds of other topics within a YA novel. I certainly don’t think kids should avoid some of these topics, but they really need to be discussed with adults within a framework of your family values. You reading along with your child can be a great way to broach some of these topics in a calm, neutral discussion.
Don’t make excuses for your child. Whether your child is doing poorly in school overall, in one particular subject area, or in one particular assignment, don’t excuse their performance. Extra-curriculars should be kept as the extras. Not studying until the night before is not being prepared. Not having the assignment in class ready to turn in is not being responsible. Call the actions of your child what they are. You don’t have to rub their noses in it (most good teachers aren’t going to do that either), but they do need to know that with certain actions or lack of actions, they are held accountable. Use school and the responsibilities associated with it as a way to teach your child how to be a respectable citizen. Excusing them or making excuses for them only teaches them that there’s always a way out, always a back door. And that kind of mentality breeds a lazy generation. Hold your child accountable for their successes and for their failures. When done in a loving way, this is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child because it makes them a better, bigger, stronger person.
Donate supplies. Most teachers have to fund supplies for their own classrooms, and those supplies don’t last long. If you’re financially able, try making a classroom donation once or twice a year (or each quarter if you’re feeling hospitable!). This can be in the form of actual supplies (paper, pencils, dry erase markers, hand sanitizer, tissues, crayons, glue, etc.) or it could be a little gift card to the teacher ($10 to an office supply store or a book store is all you need). You can also donate any used books from your house to their class library. I know especially language arts teachers would appreciate this gift! Not only is this a nice thing to do, but it shows your child’s teacher that you appreciate their time and commitment to your child.
Being a teacher is not easy, but neither is being a parent of a child with teachers. I know that as your kids get older, there’s that fine line of being involved and being TOO involved. But I think most teachers will tell you that there is not a thing wrong with being too involved in your child’s education. Be supportive, appreciative, constructive, and attentive. But above all of that, just be involved. Know what’s going on in your child’s classroom(s), but don’t expect it to be the teacher’s responsibility to keep you involved. It’s hard enough to keep your child involved! Instead, be proactive and speak up. Let us know who you are and how we can best help you child because in the end, that’s the goal of every single teacher.