Back to School Guide for Parents

Now that Labor Day is behind us, kids around America are back in school. With so many stories in the media about failing schools or even teachers behaving badly, this can cause concern among parents.

This year there are also new testing guidelines, called common core being implemented around the country that will affect all students.  And as we’ve seen in the past, indoctrination can also become an issue.  While there can be cause for concern in these and other areas, there are steps that parents can take in order to stay informed and hold educators accountable. I hope you’re not shy, because the first three involve talking.

The key to keeping informed is to communicate with your kids.  Asking your child, “how was school today?” will likely only return the obligatory “fine” response. More must be asked in order to find out what’s going on in the classroom and what the teachers are saying. Ask them what topics are being covered, what discussions or breakout groups are happening, and remind them that they should always do their own research rather than just taking everything the teacher says at face value. Be creative, show interest, and remember to remind your child that Independent thinking is key.  Asking them to share two or three of their favorite things that they learned during the day is also a fun way to spur conversation. 

Talk to your child’s teacher (s) often, way more often than the end of semester conferences. Find out about the curriculum as well as supplemental material that is being used.  Are they going to be showing movies, taking field trips or completing special projects throughout the year?  A lot of information can be gleaned just by asking a few of those types of questions.

Make sure the teacher understands your expectations and that you’re part of your child’s education.  If you hear of something happening in the classroom that sets off alarm bells in your head, let the teacher know about your concerns. It’s entirely possible that the teacher has never considered that their actions might be controversial or unacceptable to you.  Your involvement can go a long way to putting an end to behavior that could be harmful to your student as well as others. If you feel that you need to, don’t be afraid to loop in the principal or administration.

Let’s face it, your kids might not always be entirely forthcoming. You might get an eyeroll instead of information when trying to talk with them, or they might not realize there’s something they need to share with you. Because of this, it’s also wise to talk to other parents. Compare notes with others in order to get a more complete look at what is going on in the classroom.  The beginning of the school year is a great time to meet other parents and share contact information.  If your school has a parent-teacher association, attend these meetings whenever possible.  You’ll gain valuable insight from other involved parents, and learn much more about what is going on before, during, and after school hours. 

Finally, you need to look at your child’s homework. Of course, most parents do this anyway, but that tends to wane as children get older.  With technology today, many schools also have online access to your child’s schoolwork, grades and testing information.  Logging in regularly is a great way to stay up to date with what work your child is turning in, as well as staying on top of any missed assignments so they don’t get too far behind. 

Of course, you don’t want to overshadow your child’s enjoyment of learning by questioning everything. They don’t need to distrust their teachers or their experiences in school. However, these days, we can’t take a quality education for granted. Parents need to be ever vigilant to ensure that their children are being educated appropriately. Find the right balance, and have a great year!