Parents, you aren’t alone in suiting up for a new school year. Your children’s teachers have spent months thinking, planning and preparing for this time of year. When parents and teachers unite, good things are bound to happen.
Kids do amazing things when they have a dream team working together behind the scenes. So how can parents best support teachers?
Amy Ward-Bailey, a middle school social studies teacher with experience in both urban/public and suburban/charter schools, offers her top six tips for being a teacher’s best friend.
The benefits of reading for health and happiness are clear at any age, and students are prime candidates. Improved memory, bigger vocabulary, increased empathy, decreased stress, brain development – there’s no downside.
The 18th century essayist Joseph Addison wrote, “Reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body.” When it comes to your young scholar, the best way to encourage a sharp, healthy mind is to promote reading.
Schoolwork often involves required reading, and kids are less likely to do or enjoy it if it feels like a chore. Set a teacher up for success by instilling in your child the concept of reading as a fun activity.
“Read to them, read with them,” Ward-Bailey said. “Find books they like and have them read to themselves. Or better yet, have them read aloud!”
Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to help a child prepare for learning, according to the national campaign Read Aloud 15 Minutes. They’re working to make parent-child reading sessions a daily habit, as ingrained as brushing teeth or drinking water.
Pay attention to school resources
Schools are invested in your child’s achievement – it’s the reason they exist. To that end, use any and all resources they provide.
“Be aware of what’s happening at school in whatever way you can, be that joining the PTO or just reading emails and newsletters that get sent home,” Ward-Bailey said. “Pay attention – that shows your kids that they should be aware of what’s going on at school, too.”
If you think your child may be struggling, be proactive and do your research. Don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences or final exams to tackle a problem. Contact his or her teacher now to check in, or create a plan with your child to deal with the issue before it gets any bigger.
Ask specific questions about classes
How many times have you found yourself asking the question, “How was your day?” and hearing a grunt of “fine”? That exchange is devoid of information, isn’t it?
If you want to be in the know about your son or daughter’s progress in school, ask them more focused questions. Talk about how things are going in class.
Ask what they’re learning in each class. Ask which classes they like and which classes they don’t. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Ward-Bailey recommends helping your child focus specifically on the class they hate.
“Learning strategies for overcoming a weakness is way more important than getting 110 percent in a class that’s easy for them,” she says.
Likewise, help the teacher by encouraging your child to ask for help.
When grade improvement is needed, teach your child to advocate for themselves. If he or she would do leaps-and-bounds better with extra study time after school, or a different approach for a challenging concept, the teacher might not know unless a kid speaks up.
Focus on organization
There are so many pieces of paper in a student’s world – homework, handouts, info sheets, permission slips, progress reports. It’s all too easy for things to slip through the cracks or get lost in the shuffle when it’s one big maelstrom of printouts.
A chaotic locker or messy backpack can be a sign that a child is overwhelmed. That’s when assignments start to disappear, teacher notes for parents never make it home and grades begin to wobble.
“Help them get organized, be that checking their locker, helping them clean out their backpack or just being really neurotic about organizing materials and papers into folders, notebooks, etc.,” Ward-Bailey said
Before the first bell rings on the first day, check in with your child about their strategies for staying organized. If they have a planner, make sure they’re using it.
What’s more, give them practical methods to organize all that paperwork. Consider folders and binders with dividers or multiple pockets. Sort materials by class and/or category [notes, homework, assignments, projects, grades, etc.]. It’s easy to find something when you know where you left it.
Foster good study habits
At home, prioritize schoolwork over TV, games or just hanging out. Your child’s full-time job is to be a student, and that takes both practice and support.
“Create an environment where doing homework is the focus, not an afterthought,” Ward-Bailey said. “Just asking a kid, ‘Did you do your homework?’ isn’t enough, especially below 11th grade. Have them show it to you, or ask follow-up questions.”
Kids don’t know good study habits intrinsically. Parents should teach and show their children how to study, particularly for tests. Take it from a teacher:
“Teachers do the best they can to provide study guides and review in class,” Ward-Bailey said, “but studying for a test involves going back over old material and checking themselves to make sure they know it.
“They need to learn through practice and parental oversight that the word ‘study’ implies more than just ‘knowing there’s a test tomorrow.’”
Do it all over again in January
Everything may work out beautifully in the first semester. Congratulations! But buckle up for the after-Christmas crackdown.
Students often are more motivated at the beginning of the year because everything is fresh. It’s still new, so they’re focused on being their best. But five months into the school year, that strong stream of motivation may have shriveled up to a trickle or even a dry riverbed.
After the holiday glow has faded, pull these tips out again to keep both of you sharp in the second semester. With renewed focus, you can set up your student – and their teachers – for real success throughout the whole year.