I’m a teacher.
I spend one thousand, three hundred and twenty three hours a year with kids.
I have taught every grade from two to eight. I don’t have a doctorate and I’ve never written a book but I do feel like when it comes to working with kids, I have some insight. I’m sure there’s a secret teacher handbook sitting on some shelf somewhere that says “DO NOT TELL PEOPLE OUR SECRETS”, but I think there are certain things that parents should know. And would make the world run ten thousand times better.
Secret #1: Of course we have favourite students, but it’s usually not who you think.
If you ask any teacher if they have favourite students they say ‘No! Of course not, we like them all the same”, which is a lie so large it wouldn’t be able to squish itself into the Grand Canyon. OF COURSE WE HAVE FAVOURITE STUDENTS. Put any group of people in a room, young or old and there will be certain people who stand out, who make you laugh harder or who remind you of someone you know. This means my favourite student is less likely to be the kid who knows all the right answers but more likely to be the kid quietly trying to shove erasers up his nose. Of course, once you are honest with yourself and admit that there are kids who pull a little harder at your heart strings, you will work even harder to make sure you are fair in class and that there’s no favouritism. I promise.
Secret #2: The quickest way to get gossip is to hold “Show and Tell”
So you are getting divorced. You never wear a seatbelt. A check bounced and you and your wife argued last night about money troubles. Your favourite curse word is the F WORD. Your daughter wants to go on The Pill and you think she should be committed. Your kids know. And if you don’t talk to them about it, calm their fears, explain the situation, they come to school and tell everyone. Because kids are always looking for answers, explanations and if they don’t get that at home, they will try to get it at school. Whatever secrets you think you have at home, rest assured- your kids know and are sharing them with the school. And if your kid busts you and your husband ‘naked wrestling’, we will all hear about it.
Secret #3: I WANT TO MEET YOU
I often look at teacher/parent relationships as being similar to the Facebook relationship you have with people you haven’t talked to in years. You don’t make an effort to be around them and when you run into them at the grocery store, you are exceedingly polite while looking for the nearest exit. I think parents assume teachers don’t want to meet them and teachers often feel like parents don’t want to meet them either. The truth? I WANT TO MEET YOU. I WANT you to come on Meet The Teacher night, on parent teacher interview evenings and for any other possible time you can be at the school. Why? Because, frankly it weirds me the hell out when parents are so quick to hand over their child to a stranger for an entire year without meeting them, but also- I want to have a relationship with you. So if your child does something exceptional (or exceptionally awful), calling you to tell you about it won’t involve a 10 minute introduction warm up where I feel like I’m auditioning for a role I already got in September.
Secret #4: Stand Up For Your Child
As a teacher, I am an advocate for your child at school. But there is only so much that my administration (and school board) will let me do and then my hands are tied as I silently will you to read my mind and get involved. Schools today are overcrowded and resources are stretched as thin as possible. If you believe your child needs extra help (like being pulled from regular class during language arts to get 1-1 help with a specialist), talk to the teacher. If she leans in your direction- PUSH FOR WHAT YOUR CHILD NEEDS. Go to administration, go above them if necessary. I have repeatedly watched the following scenario take place: Student A and Student B both need (and deserve) out of class support. Student A has a family who is on the teacher, who comes into the school, asks questions and continually requests that their child get extra support. In short, they are the squeaky wheel. Student B, has a family that doesn’t come into the school, doesn’t ask for support because they don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. Both are EXACTLY at the same level of need, yet Student A will get pulled and Student B will stay in regular class. Student A will improve while Student B will struggle. This happens every day in schools.
Another way to ensure your child has a successful year is to look at his/her teachers for the next year of schooling and make a request. Like I said, teachers teach VERY differently and as long as the curriculum is being taught, most school districts give teachers the benefit of teaching how they like. This means some teachers may teach a unit on Plants solely through textbooks and note taking, while the teacher next door may teach the same grade (and the same unit) by student projects such as growing seeds, building models and diagrams. At this point it’s important to think of how your child best learns and if you have a preference, let your school know. Obviously your request has to be educational based (i.e.: “I believe my son would benefit from the hands on teaching style that Mr. X uses in his room” or “I believe my daughter needs the structure of seat work that Mrs. W seems to have in her class”). Most schools will grant this request or at least seriously take it into consideration when class lists are being made for the following year.
One last part about getting involved? If your child is in a class with the same AWFUL student every year, you can ask for your child not to be with them. It won’t get out to the parents of this child, such requests are considered confidential. Pinkie swear.
Secret #5: Recognition fuels the fire
It goes without saying that everyone wants to feel like they are doing a good job. Teaching is a weird one occupation though, you spend your day with kids, none of who are apt to come to you after class and say “Wow teach, thank you for explaining fractions to me. You really made it easy to understand with those thoughtful diagrams you painstakingly drew at lunch!”. OF COURSE, you seeing your students understanding fractions is the REAL reward, but sometimes recognition is nice. I’m not requiring a parade or you to send out a press release, but a note in the agenda of your child or an email saying “Thanks for helping Claire at recess with fractions!” REALLY makes a difference in the life of a teacher.
This past year was my hardest professional year ever. It had nothing to do with my students (who were brilliant) or the parents (who were dedicated and thoughtful), it was administration struggles that had me really questioning if teaching was what I was meant to do. The parents of my students were the ones who fuelled me to keep going with occasional comments and emails saying thank you for organizing our class bake sale or letting the kids build lava lamps. And it was those comments that I would think of when I left the school at 8pm, wanting bed but realizing I needed to go shopping for baking soda if we were to build a volcano in class the following day. If you want your child to have a teacher who values his/her job, try to remind them that they are valued for what they do. It makes a bigger difference than most people realize.
A few other pointers:
- Label ALL of your kids supplies at the beginning of the year, EXCEPT duotangs/folders. Teachers usually want particular colours for each subject (orange for science, for example) and it’s so much easier to just collect all the duotangs/folders and label them as the teacher.
- Pack more snacks than you think your child will eat. Brains need food to grow, I often supply food in the class for kids who don’t have enough. Parents will tell me “oh they don’t each much”, but I see their kid asking their seat mate for their leftover grapes.
- If you are struggling financially please tell me. PLEASE. I’m not requiring a bank statement and a three hour heart-to-heart, but even an email saying “We are going through a financially difficult time right now”, really is SO helpful. Knowing this, I can quietly (and without fanfare) give your child extra school supplies/lunch. I can also find ways to ensure their field trip/school fees are paid for without your child having to miss out or knowing they are getting these things donated.
- The number one thing you can do at home with your child to increase their confidence and help boost their academic grades is TO READ WITH THEM. You KNEW I was going to say it, but it’s true. Let them pick out their book (a comic book is better than nothing, so just bite your tongue!) and actually be present while they read. 15 minutes a day, every day can do wonders.
- If you want to give your teacher a memorable Christmas gift- please don’t get her a candle. A thoughtful card (written by your child) means so much more. PLEASE. NO MORE CANDLES. OR MUGS. I have enough teacher mugs to give one to every person in India.
Any questions? Anything I missed?