I was a middle school teacher for 15 years. The one year in fourth grade counts in my teaching, but I got back to middle school as quickly as I could. I have taught some of the most unloveable people you can imagine. I also have taught some of the most fantastic people you can imagine. Sometimes those characteristics inhabit the same eighth-grade body.
After basically 17 years in eighth grade (if I count my own one-time-through as experience, too), I was promoted to high school. But if you have a kiddo in middle school/junior high or even high school, here is what every teacher wants to say:
Be the parent in your house.
What does that look like? You set the schedule. You set and enforce the boundaries for … technology, phone usage, doing homework, not quitting, dating, not dating, or even how your student speaks to adults. You hold your child accountable when they drop they ball. Research shows that one of the leading indicators of student achievement is a supportive and accountable home environment. He is the best thing you have to send to school every day. Encourage him to remember that every day.
Homework deadlines are actually deadlines.
I have three teenagers of my own. I get that you are busy. I get that you have to be the taxi-cab driver all over creation to get them everywhere. Me too. But as a teacher, I have a fairly strict timeline that to which I must adhere. My deadlines are set so that I can give your student the proper amount of feedback. You may know the “hard” deadline for the six weeks grade is at 4 pm the Friday before the report card. This does not mean I am willing to take a pile of work from the previous four weeks so that your student remains eligible for his/her sport.
Partner with your child’s teacher, please.
You are your student’s biggest cheerleader. Believe it or not, your student needs to become his own best advocate for his own learning (because learning doesn’t end when that kiddo walks across the stage to get a high school diploma or even a college degree). As a teacher, I am your partner to help your student become the best she can be. I am not your adversary. I am not the sum total of every negative teacher experience you had when you were a kid. By the way, I am very sorry that you had a negative school experience. Your experience doesn’t have to be you child’s. Let’s help each other and partner in helping build a great person.
Your struggle in school is not your child’s just because it was yours.
As a math teacher, I have heard “I was never any good in math so that’s why RayRay struggles so much.” Not necessarily. While you may not be able to offer any help about what step to do next in a math problem, you can encourage your child to remember what they learned in class. Ask questions like “What did you write in your notes?,” or “Do you think we can search for some help online?” or — even better — “Do you have a friend in class you can call?” If all else fails, sit down and have your student teach you what they learned.
Give me your most current contact information and always update it.
Teachers use class websites, email notifications, phone calling trees, etc. to keep parents up-to-date on information. One of the most frustrating experiences to to continually be unable to contact a parent about their kiddo. Most teachers truly want to be pro-active in helping students curb bad habits and establish good study and work habits — just like you want for your own child.
Blame is not accountability.
After so many years in middle school, I’ve seen plenty of middle school girl drama. I’ve heard and learned plenty about bullying. Blaming someone else for your victimhood is not holding them accountable to anything; it gives them more power. And if your kiddo seems to bounce from drama to drama, please carefully consider the possibility that the drama originates from her. Blaming everyone else is not holding her accountable to her negative choices and acting out. As a teacher, I can give you feedback on what I see about your child, not anyone else’s child. I can give you facts I know about a situation. I cannot provide boundaries that are yours to set. And just because it looks like “nothing ever happens” at the school in terms of discipline, that is likely not the case. I am not allowed to give you any information because of federal privacy laws, and neither is anyone else at the school. Bottom line, your child is the one who controls her own behavior. No one else can be blamed for that, but she can certainly be held accountable for it.
Attendance does matter.
Seat time — time spent in that class — does matter. All those important doctor appointments and other things that have to be scheduled should be moved around throughout the day so your student doesn’t miss one class consistently. This is particularly important for a class like science or math. As your child progresses to high school, this becomes even more important as (in Texas at least) state attendance requirements become more stringent. So get your kid there to the school, and keep him there. And just as important as your child’s attendance, your attendance — to games, open houses, parent conferences, PTA meetings, or even lunch — is just as important.
So as school is gearing up for the fall semester, be open to it being a different experience this year (especially if it’s been a bad one in the past). Let’s make it the best year ever: at home and at school.