Advice from a Teacher

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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:

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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.

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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.

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7 Thoughts to “Advice from a Teacher”

  1. I love that reading what your kid is reading idea. I’m totally doing that later when Aubrey is older because that’s a great idea!

  2. Sharon

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! I teach 6th grade science and I agree 100%, especially the part about excuses! I have found that parents who are involved tend to have more successful children. (To clarify, success is not determined only by grades, but also attendance, effort, and attitude.) Additional supplies that I find helpful are paper towels, ziplock bags (of all sizes), and index cards. Another tip I have goes along with being too involved. I enjoy speaking to parents but there are some that will monopolize your time by stopping by to chat and then talking for 20-30 minutes. I don’t mind discussing your child, but please be courteous and make an appointment. Despite common belief, teachers do have responsibilities outside of school. Also, we are not perfect and from time to time will make mistakes. If a mistake is made, please bring it to our attention, respectfully and generally we will correct it to the best of our ability.

  3. LOVE this post! Though Nate’s just in pre-school, most of what you write above still applies. Since Nate’s in special ed, he really gets one-on-one attention (and actually, right now, more so because there are four teachers and three kids in his autism room at the moment!). This means I can journal back and forth with his lead therapist + speech pathologist and really have a handle on daily interactions in the room. However, as in most of life, it’s always easy to just make your voice heard when something’s wrong and stay silent when all is well. Everyone likes to hear a genuine compliment. We should all holler a good one out now so that when something isn’t right, we don’t appear to be complainers.

    At Nate’s school, teachers are not allowed to ask for supplies for their room. Nate’s teacher sent home a pathetic note in August that said it would be nice if you maybe could send in a box of Kleenex, but it’s entirely optional and YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO BRING ONE BOX OF TISSUES. So we asked her to write a list of her wishes on a self-destructing post-it note and then we went out and got the supplies. They were simple: napkins, disposable silverware, Clorox wipes, kleenex, and paper towels. Lots of it we already had around the house (so much silverware left over from Nate’s themed birthday parties!). Some lady was just on Ellen the other day. She spent $1,000/year on supplies for her classroom so Ellen gave her $10,000. Wish we could do that for all the teachers! 🙂

    Your kids are lucky to have you, Katie – keep up the good work! Now, write a post of about gifts that teachers *really want.* 😉

  4. Paula S.

    Great post! I am surprised there aren’t more comments. Thanks for doing what you do. I second “Nates Mom” – would love to see a post on what teacher gifts teachers really want. Thanks!

  5. caroline

    This was really interesting, but I am so shocked that you have to buy your own supplies! Surely that’s the responsibility of the school to provide the materials to allow you to teach the children?! Here in England, that would just never happen!

  6. Amber K

    As the mother of a middle school student, I try to do the thing you suggest. However, I struggle to get teachers to respond to my emails and phone calls. Also, NONE of them update their webpages, and grades are typically only updated once a week. The problem I have with that is that once the grades are finally posted, sometimes a week later, something that may not have been turned in has probably found its way to The Land of the Lost Homework. I hate finding out days later that work is missing! Ahhh, if only all middle school teachers took the time to update daily like you do….
    Thank you for the post, and I will keep this post in mind and keep trying to do my part.

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