Back to School: Working with Teachers and Schools

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1 Back to School: Working with Teachers and Schools Starting school each fall is a challenge for the student and parents. The following article offers some valuable suggestions as your child starts a new school year, regardless of whether the child is entering kindergarten, junior high, high school or any grade in between. Many teachers say that they don't often receive information from parents about problems at home. Many parents say that they don't know what the school expects from their children or from them. Sharing information is essential and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen. The following questions and answers can help you to get the most out of talking to your child's teacher or with other school staff members. Q: What do I do first? Learn every thing that you can about your child's school. The more you know, the easier your job as a parent will be. Ask for a school handbook. This will answer many questions that will arise over the year. If your school doesn't have a handbook, ask questions. Ask the principal and teachers, for example: What classes does the school offer? Which classes are required? What are your expectations for my child? How does the school measure student progress? What are the school's rules and regulations? Is there a newsletter and how often is it sent out? Ask about specific teaching methods and materials. Are the methods based on evidence about what works best in teaching reading or math? Are the science and history textbooks up to date? Ask if the school has a website and, if so, get the address. School websites can provide you with ready access to all kinds of information--schedules of events, names of people to contact, rules and regulations and so forth. Keep informed throughout the school year. If your schedule permits, attend Parent-Teacher Association meetings. If you are unable to attend, ask that the minutes of the meetings be sent to you. Or find out if the school makes these minutes available on its website. Q: When should I talk with my child's teacher? Early and often. Contact your child's teacher or teachers at the beginning of the year or as soon as you can. Get acquainted and show your interest. Tell teachers what they need to know about your child. If your child has special needs, make these known from the beginning. If you notice a big change in your child's behavior, school performance or attitude during the school year, contact the teacher immediately. Report cards are one indication of how well your child is doing in school but you also need to know how things are going between report cards. For example, if your child is having trouble in math, contact the teacher to find out when the next math test is and when it will be returned to the students. This allows you to address a problem before it mushrooms into something bigger. Call the teacher if your child doesn't understand an assignment or if extra

2 help is needed to complete an assignment. You may also want to find out if your child's teacher uses to communicate with parents. Using will allow you to send and receive messages at times that are most convenient for you. Q: What if my child has a problem, such as with homework or not understanding what's happening in class? Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect that your child has problems with schoolwork. Schools have a responsibility to keep you informed about your child's performance and behavior and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand, you may figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages. Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss problems. Tell the teacher briefly why you want to meet. You might say, My child is having trouble with his social studies homework. I'm worried about why my child can't finish the assignments and what we might do to help. If English is your second language, you may need to make special arrangements, such as including in the meeting someone who is bilingual. Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree about something. Don't go to the principal without first giving the teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child. Q: How do I get the most out of parent-teacher conferences? Be prepared to listen as well as to talk. It helps to write out questions before you leave home. Also jot down what you want to tell the teacher. Be prepared to take notes during the conference and ask for an explanation if you don't understand something. In conferences, the teacher should offer specific details about your child's work and progress. If your child has already received some grades, ask how your child is being evaluated. Talk about your child's talents, skills, hobbies, study habits and any special sensitivity such as concern about weight or speech difficulties. Tell the teacher, if you think your child needs special help and about any special family situation or event that might affect your child's ability to learn. Mention such things as a new baby, an illness or a recent or an upcoming move. Ask about specific ways to help your child at home. Try to have an open mind. At home, think about what the teacher has said and then follow up. If the teacher has told you that your child needs to improve in certain areas, check back in a few weeks, to see how things are going. Q: What if I don't agree with a school rule or with a teacher's assignments? First, don't argue with the teacher in front of your child. Set up a meeting to talk about the issue. Before the meeting, plan what you are going to say why you think a rule is unfair or what exactly you don't like about an assignment. Get your facts straight and don't rely on anger to win your argument. Try to be positive and remain calm. Listen carefully. If the teacher's explanation doesn't satisfy you, arrange to talk with the principal or even the school superintendent. Do not feel intimidated by titles or personalities. An educator's primary responsibility is to ensure the success of each and every student in the classroom, school or district. Q: What's the best way for me to stay involved in my child's school activities? Attend school events. Go to sports events and concerts, attend back-to-school night, parentteacher meetings and awards events, such as a perfect attendance breakfast. If your schedule permits, look for ways to help out at your child's school. This is a great way to observe your child in the classroom and to get to know the class routines, rules, etc. Schools often send home lists of ways in which parents can get involved. Even if you can't volunteer to do work at the school building, you can help your child learn when you're at home. The key question is, What can I do at home, easily and in a few minutes a day, to reinforce and extend what the school is doing? This is the involvement that every family can and must provide. The schools also need to take steps so that parents feel good about what they're doing at home and know they're helping.

3 Building and Maintaining a Good Relationship with Your Child s Teacher Your child is your number one priority, and in a perfect world you could give them everything they need. But let's face it you cannot do it alone. The best way to support your child's needs is to build and maintain a strong, positive relationship with all the people at school who play a role in educating your child. And, make sure your child knows that this is a team effort you're all working together to help him or her succeed! Here are some tips on how you can foster a sense of partnership with the teacher and administration to support your child's education. Connecting Before the School Year Starts Begin your relationship with teachers and other school staff members by letting them know that you look forward to working with them as a partner in educating your child. Exchange addresses with your child's teacher and agree to keep in touch at least monthly, even if your child is doing well. Share information about your child that they might not otherwise learn during the course of the school day, such as: o Your child's favorite books, movies, hobbies, and interests; o o Learning activities and techniques that seem especially helpful for your child Positive stories and anecdotes about your child, or important events in his or her personal life that may affect how they interact with others. Maintaining the Connection During the School Year Share information about events or situations that may impact your child s focus at school (a new baby brother; a grandparent s death; sleep problems, etc) Stay involved! Make a point to show up and participate in events such as the annual science fair, back-to-school night, and open house. When your child tells you something they particularly liked or disliked at school (e.g., classmates, activities, etc.), share this information with the teacher. Be on time, positive, and prepared for school activities and meetings! Offer to volunteer your time in the classroom or as a chaperone on class trips. Consider donating classroom supplies or a gift certificate to a store where teachers can purchase materials for the classroom. (You'd be surprised how many supplies teachers buy with their own money!) Contribute fun extras to the classroom like prizes, disposable cameras, and extra snacks, and look for ways to help the teacher maintain a fun learning environment.

4 Remembering that the Teacher is a Person First Send cards for special events in the teacher's life, such as birthdays or the birth of a child or grandchild. Don't forget to say "thank you" for both the big things and the little things a teacher does for your child. Respect the teacher's schedule what might be a good time for you to talk may not be such a good time for the teacher. Don't forget to acknowledge the teacher's co-workers classroom aides, lunchroom and playground supervisors, secretaries and school nurses, custodians, and security personnel, bus drivers and crossing guards anyone who helps to keep the school running and safe. Sharing Your Appreciation with Others Let the administration know how much you appreciate your child's teacher: Stop by the office and speak to the principal or vice principal in person or send a letter to the superintendent, director of special services, special education coordinator or supervising teacher (with a copy to the teacher). Nominate your favorite teacher for Teacher of the Year! Many community newspapers offer contests like this. Your teacher may receive a reward! Ending the School Year on a Positive Note Volunteer to organize an end-of-the-year art and writing project for students to introduce themselves to their next year's teacher; Send handwritten notes of thanks to all your child's teachers (and members of the IEP team), telling them once more how much you appreciated the special attention they gave to your child, and Keep in touch send a card every now and then to let your child's teacher know the lasting impact they had on your child's future. When you take your child to school in the morning, you're not dropping them off you're handing them over to a trusted partner who is dedicated to making sure that your child has everything he or she needs to be successful now and throughout the rest of their educational career. And as with any partnership, communication is the key to success get involved and stay involved! Permission to print from National Centre for Learning Disabilities

5 Losing the Fear It can be hard to acknowledge that your child is having difficulty in school let alone a potential learning disability. Perhaps you have worried that by calling attention to your child's learning problems he might be labeled "slow" or a "discipline problem," or sent to the wrong class. What many parents and their children don't realize is that most kids with learning disabilities are just as intelligent as their peers. Their brains are simply wired differently for learning. They need to be taught in ways that are best adapted to how they process information. And, scientists and researchers are learning more every day about learning disabilities. Their research provides hope and direction. From research we now know that: Receiving help in the early grades greatly improves the chances for these kids to adapt learning strategies that will enable them to succeed in school. Among children who struggle with basic reading and language skills the most common learning problems 75% of those who do not receive help until the third grade will struggle with reading throughout their lives. But if those same kids receive appropriate help by the first grade, fully 90% of them will achieve normal reading ability. By identifying what is causing your child's learning problems, you are one step closer to getting the help you both need. Your child can still have hope for a wonderful future if given the proper tools and learning strategies. Don t Delay If you suspect that your child's learning difficulties may require special assistance, please do not delay in finding information and support. The sooner you move forward the better your child's chances for reaching her full potential. Maybe you have wondered if you are overreacting, or if the situation will work itself out over time. The truth is, you know your child better than anybody else. And regardless of who may tell you that it's a "phase" or "nothing to worry about," only you know how much your child dreads Monday morning. You have watched the impact of her daily struggles on her selfconfidence. Deep down, you know something isn't right. The good news is there are things you can do. In fact, the only "wrong" thing to do is to do nothing. If you wait to seek help for your child, her frustration and sense of failure will continue to erode her self-esteem, while the window of time for meaningful intervention narrows. Since you are one of the best observers of your child s development, you will be able to recognize potential problems early. But, in order to spot problems early, you ll need to know the warning signs!

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