To Read If You Have Kids. Or Ever Plan To Have Kids.

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.

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?

26 comments to For Parents, from a teacher. (AKA: Read if you have kids, want kids or know someone who has kids)

  • Nichole

    Yes, yes, and yes!!!!!

  • I don’t know how I only just found your blog today but WOW. You are fantastic! And a fantastic writer!

    Props for you and all you’re doing. Teaching is so incredibly important and I really admire the heart that you put into your job. You rock!

  • If I had a kid, I’d want you to be their teacher.

  • Can I add a few? I’ve taught several grades ranging from 1-9, and here are some bits I wish parents knew:

    *Teachers love gift cards, especially ones from VISA. They don’t, however, like random fashion accessory or door stops or stuffed animals or mugs or boxes of chocolate that end up in the staff room.

    *Please volunteer in the classroom. Ask for a time when the teacher might need you, and how they could be blessed by your service. Teachers only have 24 hours in a day, and sometimes there’s 72 hours’ worth of work in a day. Your help is appreciated.

    *Birthday treats are great, but only at lunch and after school. Discuss with the teacher when/what you can bring prior to the day of, please.

    *Teachers like phone calls about as much as you do, so please email them when it’s nothing major. It’s easier to keep a paper trail, it’s easier for teacher to remember what was discussed, and it’s faster. Oh, and it is the 21st century. ;)

    *There are three sides to every story: your kid’s, the other kid’s, and the truth. Please don’t leap to emotional reactions but seek to understand first.

    Off the top of my head, that’s what I can think of. :)

  • I mean, I always love it when you write about being a teacher, but I REALLY love this. (Pretty sure I say that, at least to myself, every time you write something related to education. Anyway.)

    I had to look up what the heck a duotang is.

  • I teach senior grades, but was definitely nodding my head along to all of this. Thank you! And I hope you have made the most of your well deserved summer rest.

    Much love from Australia (where I’m deep in second semester).

  • SnarkyBaker

    This post seriously makes me happy to read.

    Growing up, my mother was always (ALWAYS) communicating with the teachers and administration. Suggestions, questions, you name it. And it wasn’t always in my favor – if I wasn’t doing something I should have been, she supported the outcome. It was embarrassing t the time, but now? It’s made me Have higher standards now that have a child and he’s close to starting school. Hell, even with daycare/preschool I’ve had to get involved.

    I worry, though, that you may be in the minority of wanting parents to be involved. Or maybe the teachers at my son’s preschool are just really crappy. Because whenever I stick around to “chat” with them about something I get the feeling they’re thinking “not her again”. Maybe it’s the eye roll… I’m not sure. Do you have any suggestions for parents on HOW they can communicate with the teachers? I know Ive always hated causing a ruckus or “rocking the boat” but when it comes to the safety and education of my son, I will do both. But if I can figure out how to do it without being “that parent”, then I’d prefer it.

    Great post. Love it!

  • SnarkyBaker

    Also, I second the comment of wanting you to teach my kiddo. I kinda want to move to Canada so you can teach my boy when the time comes. I’ve seen what you do with your class and you are truly a one of a kind teacher.

  • Love your blog – and I read it all the time. (just don’t comment much) I wanted to add a couple things, though as a parent of a child with some behavioural/learning issues that I’ve learned. (my son is going into grade 3).
    I work full-time and don’t do school drop off. I felt like I was missing out and nothing worked for me because interview times were during my work day and I was having major issues getting the time off – until I realised teachers are also working parents and have the same problems.
    1) I realized a couple years ago that if I was willing to make something work the school would help. We do lunch time conference calls – something I can easily do from work. We do more regular check ins and it seems to work for everyone.
    2) I agree with you on feedback. One day I sent matt’s teacher an email because he was super excited about a science unit and kept calling his teacher awesome. She sent me a note back saying she never hears that, and it meant a lot.
    3) as a “special needs” parent (I hate that term) I’ve made myself available to other moms. We went through the whole assessment medication thing with our doctors and the school. Teachers can’t recommend meds in our school board. They can’t diagnose, and have to be really careful. There have been a few times I’ve been asked to speak to another mom about what the process is like – and how I became okay with a diagnosis.
    ANyway – thanks! I loved this post as a mom :)

  • My son is just starting school this year, and I have to thank you for writing this. I love understanding from a teacher’s perspective and getting an idea of what I should do as my son moves through his schooling.

    How much you love teaching is so obvious when you write about it or post on Twitter little things about teaching. It is really inspiring to know there are people out there who are excited to help show my son things I just don’t know how to. Thank you for being you!

  • This is fabulous Brandy! I love it when you write about teaching; I still remember the stories you used to tell about your student, Walter.

    Also, I can’t believe I wasn’t the teacher’s pet. So bummed ;-)

  • I sincerely hope my children have you as a teacher.

    **raises hand** and what is a duotang? Is that a Canadian thing?

  • So, I know that I have a much different teaching experience than all public school teachers and most private school teachers, but this still sums up exactly what I thought point by point. I am, sadly, not teaching again this year, but so many of these points pull at my heartstrings. And you are so right about the student who gets all of the questions right. Definitely not the teacher’s pet ;) But the quirky ones who tell great stories and draw creative and imaginative pictures and maybe can’t stay still in their seats all the time… those are some that keep you coming back every day.

  • I love this. Every word of it. Thank you.

  • As someone who has just graduated with a Bachelor of Education, I’ve only completed two internships (kindergarten and grade 2). Even with my limited experience, I know all of these secrets are true. Bravo, Brandy!

  • Candles and HAND LOTION. WTF is that about? Don’t be creepy, parents.

  • I’m surprised that you say the hardest parts of teaching had nothing to do with the parents- most of the teachers I know say that overbearing parents are what makes their job the most difficult! But this was a great post.

  • Holly

    I always buy my kids teachers Starbucks gift cards. It stands to reason that they have enough Christmas tree ornaments already!

  • Sarah

    Yes! My favorite students tend to be the ones the veteran teachers would rather see at another school, “it’s good YOU like (insert pseudonym here), because very few others do.”. At our school, the phone system is unreliable at best, and I get no notice of messages, or they appear two months late. E-mail really is do much better!

  • eli

    is this really true? because our new principal interfers with parents requesting #3 and insults their parenting ability if they try and take on #4. as a straight shooting individual, i have had more than a reasonable amount of run ins with this snarky tool and he is bad bad news. 1st year as principal, 11th in the school and a total ….

  • I love love love this post! I wish I could put these things on a flyer and pass it out to every parent I know. You continue to win at all things. I especially wish parents would reach out when they can’t get things, like books, for class, because I would ALWAYS tell kids that I would find a way to get them things if they couldn’t, but they would come to me the day after they needed novel and be like “oh yeah, my mom said we couldn’t get it.” Then they are behind when I could’ve easily bought them one with my budget. I would also tell them (especially with HS kids) to know what their kids each for lunch. The amount of kids I saw eating only Flaming Hot Cheetoes and chocolate milk for lunch every single day made my stomach ache. Also, every thing else you said = so so true.

  • Wow, it’s been a while since I was here last. You’ve redecorated! Looking good :)

    Anyway. I thought raising an infant was a challenge, and I’m only 6 months into that. I have hopes for her, including educational hopes, but I guess I need to remember how important teachers will be for her. I hope hers are as committed to the job as you are.

    Also, duotang is a funny word. Duotang. Strange how a single word can send me spiraling back into a classroom, age 12.

  • Awesome list! Having parents who will advocate for you makes such an enormous difference. Sadly the children who often need the most help have parents who have no idea how to navigate the system and/or who don’t care.

  • The last little bits about financially strapped children just pulled at my heartstrings so hard. I’m so glad there are people in the education field like you who see and recognize the power they have to make a difference.

  • I love this! I’m so glad you shared this with us. My mom is a teachers aid and runs the after school program. She has mentioned many of these things to me over the years. She tried the “give me a card” approach to deal with gifts, but it ended up being a card plus a gift. Now she tells the kids how much she loves going to the movies (she doesn’t but my dad does) so now she gets gift cards for the movies. The gift is used and no more tacky bears and mugs!

  • For what it’s worth, the layout is certainly amazing. You are aware how in order to stability composing as well as images/videos. However, I cannot overcome how small you really bring to light here. I believe which everyone’s stated the same thing which you’ve stated again and again. Don’t you think its time with regard to some thing?

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