1. Communicate, listen and meet your child’s teacher(s) VERY early in the year. There is going to come a time when open communication is necessary to assist the child. The team does not operate well if one of these components is missing. Please do NOT believe everything your child shares with you about their teachers and go investigate the information for yourself. Ask the teacher does he/she have a monthly newsletter, web page, school Face book page, that would give you valid and critical information? Please attend the school “Open House” and listen to what your child’s teacher is sharing with the audience. If you have further questions, ask the teacher if you can meet them during their plan time and arrive on time. And once you arrive, parents please listen closely to the information that is shared and take notes.
2. Remember that teachers are not superhumans. One time I was attending a student’s birthday party and two parents asked me what their child’s grades were at the party? One parent wanted to discuss her son’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) at the birthday celebration. I told all the adults’ present that I was not there to discuss school work and refused to have those conversations. You know that my building principal had received e-mails about me that Saturday night and called me into the office on Monday. I stood my ground, as I am NOT on duty at birthday parties, out to dinner, Great America, etc. Parents may make an appointment and meet with the teacher to discuss pertinent matters regarding their child. And please, do not “drop-in” on the teacher or try to stop them, at the end of the day, unless the educator is fine with that approach. After being at school since 7am (and up at 5am), I am not open to anyone following me to my car to discuss your little darling.
3. Please follow the calendar and/or syllabus. One year, I watched a senior and his mother walk into the main office with a medium-sized cardboard box. The box contained his missing assignments for the year! The mother begged my high school principal if she would allow her son to graduate and my principal refused. The student was sharp in his turquoise blue at the prom, but looked pitiful on graduation day with all his missing assignments. He attended summer school. Some parents want to take those late papers to a higher level, when a teacher does not accept them, but the bottom line is that most due dates in high schools are not negotiable, unless there has been a funeral, a long-term illness or an emergency.
4. Know when to draw the line in the sand. No, the teacher does not have to share their personal cell phone number, Face book page or e-mail with any parent. I usually call parents’ during my planning period, but I am not juggling phone calls at home. Home is off-limits. Once a parent called me and woke me up, after I had suffered half of the school day with a migraine headache. After finally being able to fall asleep, he woke me up after 8pm to ask me about his daughter’s test grade. I said, “Who gave you my unlisted phone number?” And he said that he called around for it. I told the parent that I would call him from school the next day and do not call me at home again. “Why would you assume that I am grading test papers? I have my own daughter to prepare for school.” So, when a parent asks for those seven digits, I just give the office number. Period. End of discussion. Please understand that your child’s teacher has a life outside of the school building. I also remember a young, very talented musician who served as a music teacher in an over crowed building. He was happy and energetic at 25 years-old and quit at 28 years-old. In fact, he was the first person to resign and move out-of-state that school year. What happened? Let’s count how overworked he became…he taught five classes of 45 to 50 children daily, had band practice before school, choir practice after school and in-between worked with the orchestra children. And parents would call him to inquire if their children had a solo or would shine at the concerts. It was overwhelming for the young music teacher, yet he would not complain and allowed the school, the children and the parents to burn him out. They had to hire two people to fill his positions and the new teachers draw the line in the sand.
5. Do not shy away from excellence. Why should a teacher want more for your child than the parent? When I was an education reporter, I met a teacher who took several little girls from a small Illinois town to NASA’s space camp. One of the fathers thought that his daughter was a liar. He said that he did not believe that the teacher would do something like that for his child.
This superb educator was known for planning projects, competitions and other exciting memories for her classes. Sadly, this educator died from cancer during the prime of her life. It was a very dark day when she made her transition, but she gave those children a trip to remember for their life. I had great difficulty understanding why the father thought so little of his own child, but today I realize that he probably had poor experiences in school. He probably did not have a teacher to build a bond, build his self-esteem and believe in his intellect. And in later years, I have learned that some adults want to prevent their children from having better achievements than they had in school. Sometimes the child’s cheerleader is their teacher.
6. A library card and/or access to the public library is the best school supplies that a child needs. Free book give away and access to free resources are a great way to keep your child engaged in education. There is a resource called “Teachers Pay Teachers” that is not just for teachers. Many educators are selling their ideas, work sheets, practice tests, and games. However, many people are giving away FREE resources. One of the best free pages that has student activities and educational information is “Woo! Jr.” The Women’s History page is one of the best pieces that offer concrete knowledge about women scientist. All one needs are access to a computer and a printer. In Chicago, the library offers a FREE tutoring program at the local branches. The program is staffed by retired teachers, who work from 2 pm to 6 pm daily. So even if you are working during after school hours, the public library sometimes offers the necessary assistance that a child needs to complete their projects.
Ms. West-Williams is a Golden Apple Winning educator who is entering her 26th year as a public school educator. She looks forward to teaching sophomore literature this month, with 180-young people daily. She also is raising her five-year-old grandson, who is entering first grade later in the month.