If you are like me, you are a parent who is anticipating the new school year just as anxiously, or perhaps even more anxiously, than your child is. This is perfectly normal as we gather new school supplies and make certain all the new clothes fit, and that the backpack, lunch box, and pencil case are ready for that first morning. You probably are also making sure (for the smaller ones) that the camera is charged and there is room on the card to take enough photographs.
No matter what the ages of your children (parents whose kids are going off to college tell me they have similar anxieties), there are ways to make it easier for both them and for yourself. Besides being a parent, I have been an educator for the last 26 years, including being an elementary and high school teacher and a school principal. I have seen most of what can be seen, and experienced it from both sides of the equation.
The first thing is to take deep breaths and think positive thoughts. Emitting any negative vibrations can affect your child, and believe it or not teachers will pick up on them too if you walk in the room that way. Being extremely positive is an excellent way to go about life anyway, so exuberantly tell your child that this is going to be a great day, a great year, and a wonderful time in his or her life. Say it and mean it.
You may be in a situation where you know the teacher your child is getting. As an administrator, I always tried to keep this under wraps until the first day of school. The kids would come in, be directed to a room, walk in and be surprised. This may seem unfair, but it is actually not. If you think your child is getting Mr. Mean Teacher all summer, what good is that going to do you or your child? Conversely, if you think you are getting Miss Sweetheart, imagine how disappointed you and your child will be if on that first day you find out that she took a new job or that the principal shifted her at the last minute to a different grade.
If you do know who the teacher will be, make every effort to be positive about this person no matter who she or he is. Even if your child has heard negative things about that teacher from siblings or friends, tell the child that you have met the teacher and found him/her to be very nice. This is probably the primary hurdle the first day of school brings, and we can do so much as parents to soften the blow.
Once the day comes, make a special breakfast and get your child off to school early. With the little ones I know this is difficult, but kids don’t need to see Mommy or Daddy upset because of running late. Remember, all of our own phobias, anxieties, and memories about school come into play here. We must be careful never to let children see these things, or to tell them war stories of when we went to school. Save that for when they are out of college and in the workforce. You can have a good laugh about it then.
During the first week, teachers and administrators are under tremendous pressure just like you are. If you can do something nice for that teacher, even a warm smile or enthusiastic “good morning” will brighten the day. This is not a time to tell the teacher all about Mary’s issues from last year. Make an effort to be seen by the teacher, and even the principal if possible, but make it only a quick “hello” situation. If people other than you will be picking up your child, make sure they are seen as well during that first week or so. Most teachers are fiercely protective of their students and will remember faces, which is a wonderful thing.
Once the first day is over, talk to your child about how it went. Show a real interest in everything that is said, look over all the books, and cover them that night if it is required. Try doing this together to show how much you care about things happening in school. I know it is sometimes difficult, but this enthusiasm has to continue throughout the year. Remember, if your child perceives negativity on your part about school or the teacher, this will become apparent in the classroom. You don’t want that to happen.
After the first week or so, there is usually a Back to School Night of some kind. This is a chance to meet and greet. You will probably sit at your child’s desk, get to hear the teacher speak about his/her program, and in general get a very good idea about what the year will look like. You may be nervous about this moment, and your child will be too.
Believe it or not, the teacher will also be extremely nervous. Having gone through these evenings many times as a teacher and administrator, I can tell you that for a teacher this is worse than a command performance before the Queen of England. The teacher wants to communicate so much to you and probably has one session to do it, because in most schools sessions are rotated so parents with children in other grades can meet all the teachers.
As the session begins, be prepared to take notes. Listen carefully and jot down any questions you may have. You might think of more later as you’re driving home. Usually there is no time that night to ask these questions or to have a one-on-one talk with the teacher, so don’t press for this or expect it. Luckily, these days most teachers have an email address and it is very simple to send those questions politely. If there is a major issue, then it is time to make an appointment.
If not, you can wait until the end of September or beginning of October to see what progress your child is making. If no major issues come up by then, it may be wise to make an appointment anyway. Teachers really do appreciate getting to meet parents. I know after I used to sit down to talk with a parent, I understood my student so much better, and I could see the child in the parent. This is a symbiotic moment good for both parties, and it is better for you to do this before the first report card appointment that will be coming a month or so later.
These are just some ideas to get the school year started right for you and your child. Communication is the key to successful school years for parents, teachers, and administrators. Also, a we're-all-in-this-together attitude makes for a much more pleasant, positive, and ultimately rewarding experience for everyone throughout the school year. Remember to go in shining a positive glow, and your child will appreciate it as will the teacher. That way everyone is off to a great start to a great year.