Back to School: Tips from a Teacher

1149276_592554114121587_1699772536_oIt’s that time of year again. The displays with pencil boxes and crayons abound store entries. My Facebook feed includes a multitude of “First Day” pictures with children sporting huge smiles. Target commercials with catchy tunes and talk of needing lots of glitter don the television screen. There’s no denying that the school bells are ringing and ACMB is excited to bring you our week long series dedicated to going Back To School. As a first grade teacher, I am going to share a few things from years past that I have found myself wishing I could tell parents before school starts. So, here are a few “insider tips” about transitioning back to school and developing a strong relationship with your child’s teacher (and getting on her good side, too!):

School Supplies: Keep Them Simple

This basic black and white composition notebook works just as well as a sparkly pink one.
This basic black and white composition notebook works just as well as a sparkly pink one.

Who doesn’t love the smell of a fresh, unused notebook combined with the glorious sight of a freshly sharpened pencil?  Ok, maybe that’s just me.  In all honesty, I love new school supplies and I enjoy creating sorting activities so that the children can help me put everything where it belongs in our classroom.  Each year, I find that there are a few parents that get duped by their children into buying all of the fancy, character ridden supplies.  Not only are these more expensive, they are unnecessary.  Stick to the list and keep it simple.  There is no need to spend extra money to go above and beyond with school supplies.  Additionally, in the early childhood classroom, it is common practice to have “community supplies” in order to create an environment of sharing so there is no need to label everything ahead of time (unless you are specifically asked to do so).

Have an Open Mind

The day the mail goes out with the letters of who you “got” for the upcoming school year is certainly an exciting one.   In this day of social media, I love seeing enthusiastic updates from parents proclaiming who their children will have for a teacher and the comments that follow with a string of different last names.  (Here’s a secret: we are just as anxious to find out who we “have” for the year and what names appear on our class lists!) Along with all this excitement, people talk.  “Have you heard that Mrs. Smith is really strict?” Or, “I can’t believe we got the new teacher!”  This chatter, while only natural, can lead to preconceived notions prior to even meeting your child’s teacher. As teachers, we are asked to start each year with an open mind and to get to know each child as an individual, to start each year with a clean slate.  We kindly ask that you do the same for us.  Every child, and parent for that matter, is different.  Some years there are relationships that are harder than others, class mixes that create unforseen issues, and personalities that don’t jive.  Just because someone else didn’t have a fantastic year with a certain teacher doesn’t mean that your child is doomed.  Give the teacher a chance and get to know her, just like she will with you and your child, before you cast judgment.  You might be surprised that she and your child are a good match!

Meet the Teacher

When explaining to my family what the experience of Meet the Teacher is like for me, I compare it to being the bride or groom at a wedding.  Sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but really it’s not that different.  It’s an event where the guests might not know each other, it’s a finite amount of time, everyone is in a good mood, and often there is a receiving line to talk to the person of the hour.  So, for teachers, it’s a whirlwind of hand shaking and trying to greet everyone while ensuring a comfortable and welcoming classroom.  This is not the appropriate time to tell the teacher intricate details about your child’s personality, learning style, health issues, or struggles during the previous school year.  If you feel that it would be beneficial to share certain information about your child before the school year starts, call the school and schedule a conference so your teacher will be able to give you her full attention.  You can also send an email with important information, but be warned that lots of times teachers will not actually see it in the beginning of the year because of the tight anti-spam programs that districts have.

The First Day of School

My own little man last year on his first day of school.  I cried significantly more than he did.
My own little man last year on his first day of school. I cried significantly more than he did.

The glorious day has finally come and your child is eager to go to school!  For the older students, this process isn’t emotional and they know the drill.  For the the little ones, emotions can hit hard when it is time to say good-bye.  Take the time to talk about this on the way to school and explain that you will be back to pick her up (or if it’s not you picking up, who will be).  Walk your child in enthusiastically, greet the teacher, and say good bye quickly.  Give a hug, kiss, say “I’ll see you soon” and walk away.  Your child might become upset and cling to you, which breaks your heart into pieces (I know from personal experience saying good bye to my two-year old).  I can not reiterate this enough: Do Not Linger if your child is upset during drop-off.  The longer you stick around, the more upset your child will become, and the whole process is harder, especially on you.  In my experience, I have never had to call a parent to come pick up an inconsolable child.  It typically takes me less than two minutes to distract an upset little one and get her smiling again.  Also, don’t be surprised if this happens more than once and it takes a few weeks for your child to relinquish the tears and happily walk in to school.  If you are concerned that it’s not getting better, call your teacher and let her know so that you can come up with a solid plan so that everyone is happy!

Please Return Paperwork

Filling out forms and information at the beginning of the year is a pain in the neck, I know.  Lots of these forms come from the office and include important things like emergency contact cards, background checks needed for volunteering in the classroom, and lunch account set-ups.  When parents don’t turn them in, the office staff contacts the teacher and will continue to send paperwork home until it is complete.  Please take the time to fill all paperwork out and send it back ASAP.  There is so much information that comes home over the first few weeks, so completing the necessary forms right away makes life easier for everyone!

Start a Routine… and stick to it

I highly recommend establishing a solid system of responsibility and organization at home at the beginning of the school year.  Allowing your child to know what to do with his backpack, lunch box, folder, homework, books, and other school items not only makes thing easier for you, but creates an understanding that your child is in charge of his own things.  I also encourage you to allow your child to pack his or her backpack on a daily basis, especially once reaching elementary school.  If your child forgets something important, it is his fault and he can’t place the blame on you.  Another thing to consider is your morning routine.  Simplify your life and if you know your child is strong willed about what he wears, pick out clothes the night before to alleviate a tough morning.  In general, try to set up expectations for everything from when homework is done to what time they go to bed at night so that your child knows the drill.  Building a strong school/home routine is important.

We are just as excited and nervous as you and your child are!

No, really, we are.  Teachers may look poised and prepared, but inside, we are a ball of anxiety.  I often lay awake that night before school starts thinking, “Have I spelled every child’s name right?  What if my first lesson is a total bomb?  Is my outfit okay?  Did I remember to pick up that construction paper I need? What if I forget to do my attendance?”  The first book I read to my class every year is this one.  I love this story because it sums up everything that a child is thinking on the first day of school, but the main character is actually a teacher. In closing, I hope that some of this information helps you as you prepare to navigate the upcoming school year.  The best part of being a teacher is the relationship I get to build with my students. I have made it a habit to end emails I send to parents by saying, “Thank you for sharing your child with me.”  While I can’t speak for every San Antonio teacher, I have little doubt that he or she feels the same way.

What would you like to ask your teacher before you meet him or her?  What makes you nervous about the upcoming school year?

Lindsay is the co-founder of Alamo City Moms Blog. A native New Orleanian, Lindsay found her way to the Alamo City via her husband, Steven, who is a born and raised San Antonian. She is a mom to three young children. Lindsay earned her B.A. in Psychology from Rhodes College and her M.A. in Early Childhood Education from UTSA. She was a preschool and first-grade teacher for 10 years and is now a Reading Specialist and Dyslexia Therapist.