It’s back to school time for most families in the USA, and that first day of school more often than not, comes with a Back to School night or open house where you, as a parent, can meet your children’s teachers, hear roughly what their curriculum will be, and maybe even get a look at their text book. Last night I attended Amusing Artist’s Back to School night, and it made me think about how I could make eighth grade as good for her as possible (because really, it’s eighth grade).
For any of you helicopter parents, the purpose of back to school night is NOT to discover to whom you should complain when your kid gets a B on an assignment.
Did I just shock you there? Well, here’s what else you aren’t going to complain about: Assignments that are given to all children that you think your child shouldn’t have to do, whether you think the teacher is teaching ‘the right stuff’ (sadly, she doesn’t like what she’s teaching either, but she has to prepare the kids for a certain test by a certain date – it’s out of her hands, people, just accept it!), and what date and time the back to school night is. (Last night I saw parents complaining to the orchestra teacher – yes, the orchestra teacher – about the time and date of back to school night. Because in a school of 1300 kids and 15 administrators, clearly, the orchestra teacher is the one in charge, and taking up the 8 minutes during which she can explain uniforms, practice grades, and concert dates is the best thing a parent can choose to do. Not.)
Here’s what Back to School night is for:
- Getting the teacher’s email so you can give them a heads up on potential learning speed-bumps for your kid. It really is nice for them to know if your child just lost a beloved family member, is on a new medication, has severe ADHD, is having trouble sleeping, etc. No, it’s not an excuse for egregious behavior or special treatment, it’s just something that will help the teacher teach your child.
- Looking through your kid’s text book or finding out what they’ll be studying. Last night in Amusing Artist’s classroom, the teacher had not only the algebra textbook out, but a pre-assessment she had given the kids to remember how much math they remembered previously. I tried a couple problems and didn’t always even get one of the options on the multiple choice, so clearly, I don’t remember much math. Why is that important? First, it’s to develop empathy. If my child is struggling in something, I need to recognize that it is hard, and they might be doing the best they can do. It isn’t so I can blame the teacher, the textbook, the school system, or my child’s work ethic. Second, it’s to remember why they are learning things and trying to get good grades. Why are we trying to learn things and get good grades? If you answered ‘to get into a good college’, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. They learn things so they can use this information – as building blocks to learn other things they may want in their future lives or careers, and the good grades part is simply an assessment of how much they have learned and whether they have mastered the content.
- Another reason to attend Back to School night is to gather helpful nuggets of information that teachers probably don’t want to throw into the syllabus or the ‘how I do my grading’ explanation that I suspect is now becoming standard for the helicopter parents out there. Last night, for instance, the gym teachers at the Middle School mentioned (after running through the conventional uniforms/curriculum/how many years I’ve been teaching speech) that due to the slightly more free-form nature of PE, they are often the first ones to notice if a child is being bullied or is becoming a bully. They don’t just say that so you can think “good for you! What nice teachers!” They say this because if you suspect your kid is having a problem, they want you to feel free to ask. Most teachers teach because they like kids. They remember being kids, and watching a kid spend their day (at least 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) absolutely miserable is not their idea of a good time. They want to teach healthy, well-adjusted children, and they are happy to help you get your kid to that place.
- Lastly, this is where teachers will ask if they need volunteers for field trips or school events, but by the time your child is in middle school, no one really needs a ‘room mother’. If your kids have made it to 7th grade or higher and you still want to assign other parents potluck categories for holiday parties, take your organizational talents elsewhere. Chaperone a trip, ask the office if worksheets need to be copied, help the band director distribute the uniforms or raise money for the band trip, but a teacher will only need so much help. This is also when you really want to develop your own interests – a hobby, a job, strengthening your marriage or your friendships or finding other ways to help your community, because those kids are going to go off to college in just a few years (really, the slide from 7th grade to senior year is steep and fast) and if your kid has been your whole life since birth, you are in for some serious trouble when they leave – teachers know that. Be the parent with their own life – trust me, if you can’t stay out of your kids classroom, the teachers otherwise might label you as ‘one of those’.
It is possible to empathize, engage, and parent with your child’s school without over-parenting. Back to school night is just the first place to find out how.