About this time each year, I look out at my five classrooms of kids, and I feel a little sad that I don’t have much time left as their teacher. Sure, some of them will visit me at the beginning of the next school year and say that they miss me or that they are so stressed in their new English class; but for the most part they will not be “mine” anymore. Teachers really do make important relationships with students; we spend time after school answering their emails or watching them perform in the school play or the track meet. We get blown away by a poem that they write or by an insightful comment they may make in a discussion. In a sense, we feel like a parent to them, trying to help them curb the bad habits and strengthen the good ones.
But frankly, no one loves a child like her parent or guardian does. No one knows the “way they take” and is better able to help them “come forth as gold.” My best advice to parents is “Stay involved.” Your child needs you even when he says he doesn’t. I know that the obstacles to involvement are numerous, and sometimes it is easier to just leave things to the school; but do not be tempted to do that. Yes, many teachers and administrators recognize how special your child is, but you should remember these five things:
- Be your child’s best advocate. Despite well-meaning professionals, no one knows your student like you do - his strengths and weaknesses, her bents and fears. I do not want to encourage a parenting style that creates students who shrink from a struggle or who cannot advocate for themselves. Students must increasingly develop a sense of drive and an ability to cope with obstacles independently. However, when you speak up on her behalf, you are not a nuisance or interfering or in any way disrespecting your child’s teacher. You are not a “helicopter parent.” You are simply taking your job as parent seriously.
- Meet your child’s teachers and principal. Take advantage of every open house and Parent-Teacher Conference because you need to know who is supervising your child’s education. Bring your student with you when you can. You need to be familiar with the teachers’ teaching styles and their methods of communicating with you, the parent. You need to understand your child’s schedule and the hardships it could present. These times set aside for conversations about individual students provide you and your teachers with valuable insight.
- Take advantage of the school’s learning management system. When possible, check in with your student about what he's working on. By checking in regularly, you can catch problems early. If needed, schedule a time to talk with your teacher about your child’s progress and what you can do to help. Whether your child needs more of a challenge or is struggling to keep up, you are the most important overseer of his education.
- Stay informed. Both public and private education is complicated today. You should be up on your student’s grade level expectations. If the teachers and staff of your child’s school are being trained in a new method of mathematics, ask authorities if that training can be provided to parents. Know what your child is reading in English class and how often students have the opportunity to participate in science labs. In addition, you need to know about other aspects of your child’s school day. If a new plan to safeguard against intruders is being put in place, be sure you know what it is and that you can talk to your student about it.
- Know that students have rights. Every student has the right to a quality education with the appropriate supports to enable them to meet high expectations. That starts with the strategies you use at home to help your child, but you also need to know what educational law requires of schools and what your school district’s policies are. Be sure that you are leveraging the talent and expertise of the professionals who are working with your child to ensure the best outcome for your child. Work together with them to set goals for your student’s success and aim high!
As I celebrate my students’ successes at the end of this year, I like to think that they will be in good hands next year. I like to know that the ones who know and care the most about them will continue to oversee their education, knowing when to advocate for them, and when to let them advocate for themselves. I am only involved in one leg of the educational journey my students are on. My hope is that the entire journey is a smooth one.