Photo Credit: Barineau
This time of year always gives me palpitations. Still. I’ve been teaching for 12 years, and my insides still start to short-circuit when I think about going back to school.
And in about a week from now, the nightmares will start, and they are always the same: the kids are going buck-wild, I’m screaming like a lunatic, and anarchy is reigning in my classroom.
Thankfully, that only has happened in my nightmares, not in real life, but I think every teacher wonders about the class she’ll get in the fall. Will I have good kids? Motivated? Open to learn? Or will they be lazy? Hard to handle? Apathetic? I’ve had the whole gamut…some years I’ve loved teaching, and some years I swore this was it for me and I was never going back.
Well, obviously, I went back.
I can speak probably for a majority of teachers, that we pour our heart and soul into your kids. Truly, we do. Our job is NEVER done at 3:15. Our evenings, weekends, holidays, vacations are not our own. Most teachers I know are grading, planning, creating. For your kids. We don’t leave our work at work at the end of the day. Our work comes home with us more often than it doesn’t. Even when we aren’t working, our minds are constantly going…with new ideas, brainstorming, problem-solving, wracking our brains for ways to help your child ‘get it.’
Now, I’m not saying all this for pats on the back or applause. I say that so you know how thoroughly invested we are in the success of your child. Trust me. We would not be teaching if we weren’t; the financial return for the investment of time, energy, and our guts just doesn’t add up. We don’t feel good about ourselves and our job if your child is not successful.
If you have kids in school, regardless of the age, you know how important the trio of student-parent-teacher is in a child’s education.
If you will allow me, on behalf of your child’s teacher, I would like to present you with an ‘Open Letter to Parents,’ some things your child’s teacher might say to you, if she or he could, as we start this new year…
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Every fall, we teachers start out so hopeful and excited to begin the new year with your child. We come in with hopes and dreams of what this year will be like – and all of those visions include good things for your child. While we are willing to put in the effort, the hours, the creativity, the enthusiasm – there are some things on your end that would be incredibly helpful for us – which result in the overall success of your child. That is what we all want.
Here are 10 things from inside that would help us all along:
1. If your school has an online portal, please use it. We work very hard to keep records and grades up to date. It is impossible for me to call or email you every time your child does not do his homework. I know some of you are ‘not into’ technology, but can I respectfully ask that you ‘get into it,’ for your child’s sake? I’m not asking you to get a Facebook account, but the way of the world – business, education, communication – all of it – is locked into the Internet. For good. It’s not going away. These systems have very valuable information about your child’s progress. Please check it. Often. It is much easier to catch your child before he sinks if you know he is in danger. We need your help on the homefront to ‘be on top of him.’
2. Beware of the other side of technology. TV is a huge distraction as well as the Internet, cell phones, video games, etc. Watching TV sitcoms will not help your child be a better student. They need to be reading; they need to be exposed to good writing. This will benefit them in every class, not just English; they need reading comprehension and writing skills in history and science, too – right? That might mean you may have to model good habits and turn the TV off yourself. Set ‘no technology’ zones and times. And enforce them. Your kids are on their cell phones all night, texting back and forth with their friends, and then they fall asleep in class. And honestly, most kids are addicted to their devices. They cannot part with them even for a class period. Please support us when we make rules about iPads and phones in the class and when we confiscate them. As much as we would like to think they are an asset to education, 99.9% of the time they are a distraction. I know as an adult, sometimes I have a hard time separating myself from my cell or iPad. You think a 15-year -old has that kind of self-control and discipline?
3. Please have an open mind if we need to call you about an issue at school. I know it is hard to believe that your darling could behave that way at school, but trust us – we are way too busy to invent stories to call home about. We are not calling to badmouth your child. We are calling for intervention and solutions.
4. We love involved parents; we do not love helicopter parents – the ones who hover and do not give their kids a chance to grow up and learn. You are crippling your child and doing an enormous disservice to him if you always come to his rescue and never let him experience the consequences of his decisions. Cut the apron strings. Please. You are not helping your child in any way by enabling them, babying them, or making excuses for them.
5. We give 150% during the week when we are with your kids. Please, do not call us at home or on our cell phones. Ever. We need to have some boundaries to keep our sanity. Even if a teacher gives you her cell, don’t use it. Call the school. Send an email – just go through the professional channels and respect her privacy. And please let us have some down time on weekends. Do not expect replies to emails or return phone calls on weekends. We try to detach as much as we can on weekends. We need to do this for our sanity and to be a better teacher. And if we run into you in church or the store, please just let us be human and not your child’s teacher. Let’s chit-chat, make small talk. But really. We don’t want to have a parent conference in cookie aisle (or any aisle) at the grocery store. Again, boundaries. We’d be happy to talk during school hours or set up a conference.
6. One of the best things you can do is to teach your child character. This goes along with #4. Life is unfair sometimes. Your child will get hurt. Your child will be treated unfairly. Your child will struggle. I know, it hurts even just thinking about it. As much we all want to, we cannot protect him from every source of pain and discomfort. This is heart-breaking – I wish we could. We hate to see your child suffer, too. But what we can do is teach them how to navigate through these difficult parts of life with character: integrity, honesty, self-respect, maturity, and perseverance. Teach them coping skills. Teach them how to resolve conflict. Those are life-lesson that are invaluable! I can’t stress that enough. That will serve him much better in the long-run than rescuing. And believe or not, his character has a lot to do with the overall outcome of not just his education, but his life.
7. Speaking of things to teach, two of the most important qualities we need you to help us build in your child is discipline and self-control. We live in an instant-gratification society. We want what we want yesterday. Teach them to wait. Teach them discipline. Teach them to work hard, to persevere, to discipline themselves to create good habits and break bad ones. Teach them that they do not have to react emotionally to every emotion they feel. If they are weak in these two areas, everything unravels quickly after that. Give that some thought: discipline and self-control.
8. This seems minor, but late work gets graded last. If your child turns in work late, it goes to the bottom of the grading pile. Don’t expect to see that one graded overnight.
9. “I” didn’t ‘give’ your child a bad grade, and “I” didn’t ‘fail’ him. Your child earned it. A harsh reality, I know. But let’s call a spade a spade and go from there.
10. Finally, we really, really love your kids. We want to encourage them. We need you to encourage them, too. This only works if we all are on the same page. They really need positive adults who believe in them. We know they aren’t perfect. We don’t expect them to be. But they do need to know that we believe in them. Even if your child disappoints you, lets you down, frustrates you – never neglect calling out the best in them. Let them know you think they are better than that. Never put them down – it is a horrible motivator. They need to know you love them and accept them. Unconditionally. They need to know that you believe in them, not just that we do. Deep down, most kids really, really want you to be proud of them. Never under-estimate the power of life-giving words.
So, dear parent, while this isn’t the be-all, end-all in teaching or parenting, this might be a good place to start. And the stakes are huge.
On behalf of all teachers, thank you for letting us play such an important role in your child’s life. We recognize that we might spend more time with him on any given day than you do. That is an honor we do not take lightly.
Your Child’s Teacher
(This was posted originally on August 23,2013 as a guest post on The Girl Creative, my sister’s blog. Special thanks to some of my teacher consultants for their input: Kristin Hinde, Krista Gagliardo, Heather Tinneny, Ginny Caroleo)