Back-to-school is a time of new things: a new backpack, a new grade, a new classroom and a new teacher. Here are some insider tips to help you build a positive parent/teacher rapport right from the start.
Embrace the planner.
Many teachers rely on student planner books for daily notes and updates. “It’s an important two-way communication tool between home and school,” says Tamara Smith*, an elementary teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board. Find out what the expectations are and be diligent – for example, you may be asked to initial your child’s planner entry each day or add a note if an early pick-up will occur.
In addition to the planner, a teacher may provide electronic updates via social media or a website/blog. “If a teacher is taking the time to post information on a particular platform, make an effort to try to follow it,” Tamara says. “It will provide useful updates and reminders about homework, classroom activities and upcoming events.” You may also want to follow the school’s social media feed for news and weather-related closures.
Read the teacher’s introductory letter.
Don’t skim it – read it carefully, as if there will be a quiz later. If a calendar is included, display it in a visible spot. Pay close attention to what school supplies are being requested – anything from a combination lock to a box of tissues – and send them in as soon as possible.
Do your homework.
There will be standard school forms for you to fill out and sign, to confirm medical and contact information. Complete and return these promptly, so that the teacher doesn’t have to chase you for them. If the school uses an online system for lunch orders and field trip payments, verify your login and password (or reset them if they’ve slipped your mind over the summer).
Be honest when asked about your child.
Some teachers may send home a short “getting to know your child” questionnaire for you to fill out. As a teacher who has read many of them, Tamara advises: “Always be open and honest about your child’s learning style, interests, strengths, and so on. This helps in planning lessons, choosing read-aloud books and tailoring activities to the various learners in the class.”
“If the school has a ‘Meet the Teacher’ night, that is a valuable opportunity for both teachers and parents to meet and introduce themselves,” Tamara says. “It also helps the teacher recognize you during pick-up and drop-off times.” If you have the time and inclination, feel free to offer your services as an in-class helper, field trip volunteer or Play-Do maker.
Open the lines of communication.
A meet-and-greet or open house night is not the time to get into an elaborate discussion about your child’s specific needs. Instead, inquire about the teacher’s preferred method of communication and contact him/her afterwards to arrange a private meeting where you can address any special considerations or concerns.
Be on time.
When a student arrives late, it is disruptive and causes distractions in the classroom. Plan and prepare as much as possible in advance, so that your child arrives at school on time and ready to learn. Consider adding a “final backpack check” to your morning routine to confirm that your child has his/her lunch, planner and library books.
Don’t be needy.
A personal aside: I am absolutely, utterly guilty of this. When my oldest started kindergarten, I practically pulled on the teacher’s sleeve after school, filled with desperate questions like: “Did he sing the ‘Hello’ song? Did he eat his grapes? Did he play with a train?” Of course, you’re aching to know what went on in there, but you need to get a grip (as I eventually did). Have faith that your child is doing fine, and that the teacher will inform you if there are any issues that you should be concerned about.
Talk it up.
When discussing the school day, focus on the feel-good moments. “Ask your child what was the best part of her day, who she played with, what she learned or what book she read,” Tamara suggests. “Also, encourage your child to get involved in intramurals, choir, or other school clubs, as these all help to make school a fun and enjoyable experience.”
By putting your child’s name on all school belongings (including his/her backpack, lunch bag, water bottle and shoes), you can help your child and the teacher be organized and avoid stressful mix-ups.
Keep things in perspective.
“Please remember that teachers are human and do make mistakes,” Tamara says. “The beginning of a new school year is a busy time for everyone.” Naturally, you will be entirely focused on your own star student, but keep in mind that teachers have an entire class of students who need their attention. The good news is, you both have the same goal: to ensure your child has a great year at school!
*Name changed by request.