It was 1999. With fear and trepidation I faced a group of wide-eyed, energetic and intimidating 8 year olds. After years of insisting that I would never teach school, here I was. Third grade. I had lofty notions of doing absolutely amazing things, and a great fear of blowing it. Neither occurred.
I did discover my educator’s heart. And, the experiences of 9 years in the classroom, with children from kindergarten to eighth grade, in both the inner city and suburbs provided me with life-changing relationships, and a wealth of knowledge.
One of the things I learned is how parents encourage success in their children. My first students are now adults- many are college students/graduates, married, parents, and in careers of their own. Some fell into hard times, making poor decisions and their lives reflect the unfortunate consequences of their actions. Parenting played a role in both – children succeeding because of supportive parenting or succumbing to negative influences. Others rose above in spite of negativity, with a commitment to be different.
These parents taught me that amazing children do not come about haphazardly. It takes love, work, effort, tears, time, commitment, consistency, sacrifice and prayer. Lots of prayer.
We have been parents for 5 and a half years now, and just sent our firstborn off to kindergarten. As much as it is up to us, I want him to have a great school career – focusing on one year at a time, one day at a time. So, I’m dusting off a few of the lessons I learned as a teacher, to educate me as a parent, and I share them here with you…
They have expectations and set goals.
Perhaps you have heard of some version of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals through your job. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-bound. This applies to your child’s education as well. Set goals, for you and your child. What relevant, attainable, measurable goals do you want your child to achieve by the end of the first quarter? Semester? Mid-term? What goals can you set for yourself to assist in achieving them? Do not fall into the “It’s the teacher’s job to…” trap. The teacher builds upon a foundation that you lay.
For example, if you want your kindergartner to learn to read 30 words by November, set that as a goal…for both of you. Set a goal to read with her for 20 minutes every night. Post sight words in the home and review them for 5 minutes. If your child struggled with a particular subject or habit last year, set a goal – an attainable one – for both of you, to help him improve. This teaches them the value of goal-setting and the satisfaction received in achieving them.
These parents were in the habit of talking to their children regularly. There were times when I had car pool duty. I noticed that sometimes, by the time the parent and child had gotten to the front of the line, a general overview of the day had already been discussed.
During dinner, my husband often asks all of us to share with him some aspect of our day – the best part, a struggle, etc. At first I thought it was simply a sweet gesture. However, after a year of doing this I’ve noticed that they often do not need to be asked, they just tell him. Prayerfully this is setting a foundation for honest conversation in the future.
Parents should be among the first to know about incidents at school – positive and negative. How she aced this test. How he succeeded in this presentation. How a friend helped her. How he got into a disagreement. Talk. In the car. At the table. In the kitchen. Just talk.
…And keep communicating.
They also keep in contact with their child’s teacher. If you have questions about requirements, want to follow up on a particular habit or character trait, need help understanding an assignment, want ideas to help your child, need clarity on a project (sooner than the day before it’s due – please) – ask. Also, ask the teacher what his preferred methods of communication are – some teachers only have the opportunity to check school voicemail at the end of the day, but have access to email throughout the day. Others prefer a phone call over an email. Ask. Then, as much as possible follow accordingly.
Do not limit your communication to problems. Send a note of thanks. Commend them for something you appreciated. And, if you do have a problem, present it to the teacher first – not the administration and definitely not other parents. If it is not resolved, then, consider bringing in a third party.
They know their child and have an accurate, realistic view of their child’s strengths and weaknesses – and parent accordingly. They discipline their children. However that looks in your home -just do it. Consistently (that’s my struggle). Intentionally. Lovingly. Do it. Your child needs boundaries and rules. He needs an understanding that he is not alone in this world and that his actions (both positive and negative) affect others. So. Do it. They will appreciate it (in the long run). The teacher will appreciate it. And YOU will appreciate it.
They are present.
Get involved. I am not talking about always volunteering to be room-parent, or the resident field trip chaperone, because life, time, temperament (and desire) does not allow for everyone to do that. That is understandable (and it’s OK – don’t feel guilty). However, if there is a parent-teacher conference scheduled – attend. Open house or “Meet the Teacher” planned? Go. Art night that displays your child’s artwork or a musical performance with your child hitting one bell, one time, on one song? Be present. Many times, these events are on the school calendar at the beginning of the year. Get it. Put these dates on your own calendar. Then…Make. It. Happen.
They support the teacher.
In elementary school, the teacher will be with your child at least 5-7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 10 months. Her job does not begin at 8:30 when you drop him off, nor does it end at 3 when you pick him up. In many cases, she is planning and prepping while you sleep. And, if she has children of her own, she is doing the things with her own children that she asks of you. So, ask how you can help lighten her load. Perhaps you have 30 minutes to cut, type or create something at home. Or, if you are in a store, maybe you recall her saying she needed materials for a project – purchase them for her. If you know she had a hard day (teachers do have those, you know), send her a note letting her know you are thinking about her or bring in a cup of coffee when you stop to get your own. Remember everything she does that is school related ( and her mental health) benefits your child.
Have fun! You set those goals and achieved them? Celebrate. They aced that test. They tried something new. Improved in area? Developed a great habit? All As? Went from a D to a C? Overcame a fear or obstacle? Celebrate. Be attentive. Be authentic. Be present. Keep it simple, but celebrate!
Yes. I said, pray. I cannot tell you the number of times I had parents tell me that they prayed for me. That mattered. They prayed for their children. Pray for your child, his classmates, and his teacher. Pray for the educational process. Pray for their friendships, character and decision-making. Pray for that difficult child. Pray for the school year as a whole, and every day that they face the unknown. Life has shown us that school can be unpredictable. Pray when you know exactly what needs to be done, and when you haven’t got a clue. Pray.
May the God of peace be with you this year…