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From kindergarten through high school, kids benefit from parental involvement in their schooling. While the appropriate amount of hands-on interaction needed will vary from child to child and grade to grade, establishing a solid, working relationship with your child’s teacher is a good place to start. You’ll probably be meeting this key person in your child’s life for the first time at Back to School Night. Asking the right questions, and avoiding the wrong ones, can help to provide a working framework for the year. Not sure where to begin? Here’s a solid list of do’s and don’ts applicable to any grade.
Don’t Make Back to School Night About Your Child
This first get-together is typically done in a group setting and led by the teacher who will be addressing all of the class parents simultaneously. In middle and high school, you will most likely be traveling to the various classrooms your child will be in for each subject. The agenda will be focused upon the curriculum and goals the entire class will be working towards. This is not an opportunity for you to request specifics about your child but rather, to learn what their responsibilities will be for the coming year and how you can best support their efforts. If you have questions or concerns you wish to address prior to the next month’s parent-teacher conferences, make an appointment to do so.
Do Ask About the Curriculum
Remember that teachers typically follow a set curriculum and reading lists for each grade. Back to School Night is not an opportunity to bash the book list but rather, a time for you to find ways to support the choices already in place. Use the curriculum as a guide for trips you can take with your child to museums and other places where their school work can acquire added context and richness. The curriculum can also help to inform the books, craft projects, movies and dinner conversations your family shares.
Do Ask About Homework and Extra Credit Work
Knowing how much time your child will typically be required to put into homework can help you with scheduling and expectations for your child’s workload. Also key is knowing how much involvement you should have in the homework process. Find out if it is preferable for your child to turn in homework with mistakes so as to address these in class, or if it is better for you to review and polish their homework at home. Find out if these rules apply to projects such as those for the science fair and extra credit work and also how these will impact upon your child’s overall grade.
Do Ask About the Importance of Tests
Find out how large a percentage of your child’s grade will be based on tests and quizzes, as opposed to classroom participation and extra-curricular work or activities. Should your child expect to take state exams and if so, what impact will these have on grading or placement? Knowing this information will help you to determine if your child should be putting in additional time prepping for these types of exams or would benefit from outside tutoring, prior to their falling behind.
Do Ask About the Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Action
Know in advance what the school’s stand is on cutting classes, bullying and the overall code of conduct expected of each child. Discuss these with your child so they know what the consequences of their actions will be and also what their rights are in school if they feel bullied or are made uncomfortable by another student.
Don’t Let First Impressions Rule
You may or may not be impressed with your child’s teacher at this first meeting. Remember that even a great teacher can get flustered or feel uncomfortable when facing a room full of parents. Your child’s teacher and therefore your child will benefit from your support, rather than your criticism. Above all, do not let any negative feelings become translated to your child, who will be looking to you for cues about the relationship. If you don’t respect the teacher, it’s a no brainer your child won’t either.
Don’t Keep Your Phone On
Just as your child will be instructed to leave their phone in their backpack during school hours, so will you be expected to keep yours off or on vibrate for the evening. Treat Back to School Night with the same respect you would a Broadway play and if you must take a call, do so in the hall.
What is it about classrooms that make our collective mind wander? Despite the room’s too-high temperature and too-small seats, stay focused on what the other parents, as well as the teacher, have to say. Put thoughts about work, bills that need paying and TiVO on hold for the evening and give everyone your full attention so there are no surprises later on about the class trip or a textbook you’re required to buy.
You know the old saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Despite your hectic, unending schedule, try to find some time to volunteer and turn the teacher into your ally by letting them know you will help out, either as a class parent on trips, in the classroom or as a fundraiser.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.