While we do enjoy teaching your children and getting to know them, sometimes we feel like we’re alone on this island and parents expect us to do it all. Now don’t get upset with what I’m about to say because I, too, am a parent of two school-aged children, so I will be taking my own advice. These “words of wisdom” come from experienced teachers (most of who are also parents) who just want the best for your children. Most people don’t realize that this is a partnership and what is happening at home also affects what is going on at school and vice versa.
With this in mind, my intentions are not to upset anyone but to let you know what we on the other end need you to know in order to make this partnership a successful one. While we know that most of you are doing the best that you can and are truly there for your children, when you haven’t done what we do, you may not be aware of these things. So here’s the list of 20 things that you can do to help your child be successful in school and even in life.
- Please keep all of your contact info up to date. Yes, we need to call you when you’re child has done something wrong, but we may also want to call and tell you how wonderful your child is in our class. Unfortunately, accidents and bad situations occur and there’s nothing worse than not being able to contact a parent when there’s an emergency. Oh, and please don’t ignore our phone calls! We’re not stalking you!
- Check your child’s backpack regularly, at least once or twice a week. Not only do fliers go home announcing special school events, but your kid’s homework and graded work will be in there. Also, checking their backpacks may give you a clue as to what they’re doing or not doing in school all day. Flip through notebooks, pull out those papers balled up at the bottom. You’d be surprised by just how much you can learn about your kids by going through their backpacks. Bonus: You can have them organize it as you go through it so they won’t “lose” homework and can easily access their supplies while in class.
- Don’t believe everything your child says. Not to say that your children aren’t telling the truth. What we’re asking is that you investigate before reacting. Don’t be quick to blame the teacher for every problem that occurs. While there are a few bad apples, the majority of teachers only want to see your child succeed so they have no reason to purposely do something that will harm them (physically, mentally, or emotionally). I know I turn into Sherlock Holmes whenever my children tell me something that happened in school that might make me upset with the teacher. I know my children are not saints.
- Read forms before you sign them. I get back too many forms where I can tell that the parents just signed quickly without really looking over it. Some of these forms are asking for approval for your child to do or watch something or contain information about new rules that have been put into place that may cause your child to get into trouble if they break them or outline important upcoming due dates or dates of events or even explain the routine for signing your kids in and out of school. It frustrates us when a parent says they didn’t know or weren’t aware of something, but it is clearly his/her signature at the bottom of the paper.
- Make discussing your child’s school day a part of your daily routine. Don’t just ask, “How was your day?” Really take an interest in what their learning. Ask more meaningful questions such as “Do you have a test coming up? What will be on the test? How’s the project going? Are you prepared for tomorrow’s presentation? How can I help you better understand the content?” Even if you don’t understand all of the content they’re learning, still try to be as involved as possible. It’ll show your child your child you’re interested and keep them on top of their game.
- Make reading a priority in your home. Take them to the library to check out books. You can read to them or they can read to you. Many of our problems in the classroom come from students struggling to read and comprehend the content. Set certain times each day for your child to read for at least 30 minutes and then question them to make sure they really understood what they read. Find fiction books that interest them, but make sure to include plenty of nonfiction text as well since that’s what they’re most exposed to at school.
- Limit usage of technology. Time spent in front of a television, playing video games, on the phone, only serves to distract students from what they really need to do. Not to say that screen time is bad because I also enjoy catching up on my favorite shows (Can anyone say, This is Us?) and scrolling through social media; however, too many of our conferences are centered around the fact that the student is not completing homework because he/she is spending too much time at home on his/her technology. Some often fall asleep in class because they’ve been up to two or three in the morning playing a game or on social media.
- Monitor your child’s use of technology. In addition to limiting their use of technology, please make sure you are monitoring what your children are doing especially on social media. You should have passwords to their accounts and regularly scroll through their phones to see what they’re doing. Use the parental control settings on their technology. Many of our conflicts between students at school come from comments made and arguments that originated on social media. Teach them to use it responsibly, and if they can’t, they should not be able to use it at all. I love going to Common Sense Media to read their reviews on games, TV shows, books, and movies that my boys like or want to read or watch.
- Spend quality time with your kids. Plan special time out with them. Watch movies and TV shows with them. Use these times to really talk and get to know them. Many of our students are very needy and crave our attention, but it’s hard for us to give them that special one-on-one attention they so desperately need. Sometimes your kids just want to be heard. Know who their friends are, who they’re spending time with, and who’s influencing them. Listen to the music they’re in to. Be a part of their world. You may not like the same things they do, but showing an interest in their interests will foster a special bond. Don’t equate gifts with quality time. Those new Jordans are not as important as the time spent with you.
- Share your life experiences with them. You don’t have to give every detail about your past, but your kids need to know that you have had struggles, obstacles that you have had to overcome, mistakes that you’ve made. Let them know that you have experienced some of the same situations that they are going through, how you handled those situations, and how those things have made you who you are. Let them know that you weren’t always an all-knowing adult who has always had it all together.
- Encourage, praise, and lift them up. Let them know that you see their accomplishments whether big or small. Let them know that they don’t have to perfect, that it’s okay to fail if they tried, and that they can brush themselves off and try again. In the classroom I see both sides of this spectrum: the kid who is terrified of bringing home a ‘B’ because that’s not acceptable in their home to the kid who doesn’t care about his/her C’s and D’s because no one at home holds them accountable or expects more. Be their cheerleader. Encourage them to do well, and pick them back up if they fall flat on their face. Let them know you believe in them.
- Don’t be afraid to discipline your kids. I’m not saying that you have to beat them down. However, our jobs are so much harder when a child knows there won’t be any consequences once they get home, or if the consequences are too easy or inconsistent, they don’t really care about getting in trouble. How can we enforce discipline, rules, and expectations in our classrooms if the child is not held to the same standards at home? So what if they get upset with you? You’re not their friends; you are the parent, and you really do know better than they do what’s best for them.
- Use the resources available to you as a parent. I know every school and district is different, but I know where I work there are a ton of resources available to parents in order to keep track of what is going on in their child’s school. For example, with my older son there is the online grading system where I can see his grades and attendance in real time; for my younger son it’s Class Dojo where his teacher can keep me up to date with his behavior and work throughout the day, and I can see how many points he earns or loses throughout the day. Believe me; I use these daily. In addition, I’m sure every school has guidance counselors, a school social worker, a resource officer, and many other people that can help you. Use them! Check out your school district’s website. Your kids might not be happy that you know so much, but you’ll love being on top of everything they’re doing. Sometimes I’m aware of my son’s grades even before he is!
- Don’t underestimate what your kids know about sex and drugs. Some of our students have their parents fooled. The conversations we hear in passing often shock us. My mom who teaches third grade has told me about things that her students have said and done that have left me with my mouth wide open in shock. Talk to your kids about these things often (of course on their level) before their friends, television, and social media teach them, and you have to deal with the consequences.
- Talk to them about correctly dealing with their emotions (disappointment, frustration, loneliness). Kids have to be taught how to properly deal with these emotions or they will let these feelings get the best of them. Pay attention and notice any changes in mood especially if they seem sullen and withdrawn. Make it a priority to get to the bottom of things. Again, the school has many resources to assist in this matter. Don’t be ashamed to seek counseling if need be.
- Help your child set goals for themselves that are attainable yet challenging. Don’t allow them to become complacent with where they are. For example, at the beginning of each new quarter, sit with your child and review their grades, behavior, and work ethic from the previous quarter and help them to set new goals for each area. Help them to monitor and adjust these goals throughout the quarter and celebrate their successes at the end! And you can even let their teacher(s) know about these goals so we can encourage them to do their best.
- Advocate for your child when it’s something important. Don’t be silent if you have genuine concern for your child’s well being, but make sure you also have your priorities in order when doing so. For example: Good – You don’t understand why your child is spending two hours every night completing homework for one class. Bad – Your child is failing several classes but you’re at the school because someone stole your child’s cell phone charger. (I’m speaking from personal experience here.) Speak up for your child because sometimes kids won’t say anything to us about concerns they have.
- Give your kids authentic life experiences. Visit museums, attend local festivals, go on weekend or even day trips to some place new, volunteer together, grow a garden, watch documentaries and discuss what they’ve learned. Teachers cannot teach your children everything in the short time we have with them and being exposed to more knowledge helps them to understand our lessons even more. Ask any teacher who has to always stop his/her entire lesson just to give their students background knowledge about a topic. Children who have more real-world experiences and learn about topics at home such as history and art and see things first-hand grasp concepts much more easily than kids who don’t and are able to make connections to the text they’re reading and lesson they’re learning in class.
- Invest in your child’s interests. School electives are not enough. Unfortunately, many schools no longer have the funding, so electives such as art and music have been completely taken away. While it can become expensive (not to mention the time it takes to run them here and there), sign your kids up for the activities they enjoy that will help them improve upon the talents they already have or may not know they have. Kids who are involved in these type of activities outside of school seem to do much better in school and are more well-rounded. Your child is worth it the money and the time.
- Get involved with the school. I get it; we are all busy. You don’t have to be there for everything but choose some things you can help with. The PTA is always an option, helping with fundraisers, coming out to parent nights such as Math or Literacy Night, school concerts, chaperoning field trips, all of these things add up. Not only will you be more aware of what is going on at the school, your child will appreciate what you’re doing, and this will be another opportunity for you to bond.
Thank you to all of my fellow teachers who chimed in to make this list! I pray that all parents will read this and come away with a newfound understanding of what they can do to help improve the success of their child or children. We all want the same thing for your children, so we might as well work together!