Making Life Good For Your Kids' Teachers

You know what really annoys an internet advice columnist? Not being able to connect to the internet to post her column because her internet just didn't seem to work. Grr.

OTOH, not posting this last night or this morning gave you guys a chance to really work over the toenail polish issue, which I'd thought was just a "let's not think of anything to stressful on a Wednesday" topic. 45 responses! And I can't believe I never thought of using blue or green polish.

But now for today's post, which was supposed to go up this morning:

I want to pull out a comment from frequent commenter Maura, who used to be a classroom teacher. I'm just going to repost her advice, but the whole comment is here.

Back to School Thoughts for Parents from a Former Teacher:

1) If your family can afford to eat out once a week, please consider doing a good deed and buying an extra set of school supplies for children who can't afford them at the same time that you buy your child's school supplies. Drop them off to your child's teacher. There WILL be a child in your child's class who can't afford the supplies. Your child's teacher spends hundreds of dollars of her/his own money every year on class supplies, and anything you can donate discreetly will be greatly appreciated.

2) Please don't be upset or feel slighted if you spontaneously stop by after school and your child's teacher doesn't seem to want to talk for 45 minutes about everything that concerns you about the upcoming year. The first week of school is impossibly busy for teachers - I'd take home at least 5 or 6 hours of work every night and still not come close to finishing. If you want to stop in and introduce yourself, that is great! If you want to have an extended conversation, please make an appointment so your child's teacher can schedule his time and plan accordingly.

3) Please, please, please thank the teachers who take the time to meet with you for extended conferences. I usually taught a total of between 125 and 140 students a year. I only got one 45-minute planning period per day, and that was for all of my lesson planning, evaluation, grading, recordkeeping, and parent communication. Just spending one hour with every parent eats up my entire year of planning time. Teachers who show that much dedication are volunteering their time for your child. Please appreciate that.

3) Please do not treat an A- or a B as a crisis. A B is GOOD. A C is AVERAGE. If your child receives an A- on a paper, that is a great achievement. Please do not demand a conference and bring your educational diagnostician to argue that your child deserves an A.

4) If your child has 50 books in his bookcase at home and he only really loves 5 of them, please consider donating the other 45 to your local school. Every classroom is enhanced by a classroom library. If your child is not rereading a book regularly, another child would love to read it.

5) If your child is assigned a creative, fun, and interesting project that you think is educationally valuable, it probably took your child's teacher many, many hours to create it and prepare it. Teaching is a lonely profession with few extrinsic rewards. A quick email saying, "Hey, that was such a cool project! My son really enjoyed it!!!!" takes 2 minutes to write and will be remembered by your son's teacher for years.

6) Teaching your child to be polite, honest, and compassionate is the greatest gift you can give to a teacher. Forget the cheese balls and #1 Teacher! mugs at Christmastime. If your child says, "Please", "Thank you", and "Excuse me" and "I'm sorry" on a regular basis, you've already given us priceless gifts

7) If your child really wants to give a gift to his or her teacher, that is a wonderful thing. And believe me, we appreciate it. The greatest gift your child can give is a handwritten letter -- something like, "Ms. Maura, this is my favorite class. I really loved the project we did on X. I'm always going to remember you because of X. Thank you for teaching me X." Once I got a phone call from a student a year after I taught him from across the country where he had moved, just to thank him for teaching him grammar. That was one of the best phone calls of my life!

8) If you really want to buy a gift, please please please no cheese balls and teacher mugs or tchochkes or ornaments. The most appreciated gifts I ever got were books, office supplies, or gift cards to Borders and Staples. I spent so much on books and school supplies that those gift cards were very, very, very, very much appreciated and put to great use.

8) Again, if you can afford to take your family out to dinner on a regular basis, and you often purchase books from a bookstore rather than go to the library, please consider picking up an extra book of the same type and donating it to your child's school.

9) A lot of really awesome, incredible, motivated, inspiring teachers become burned out, dispirited, discouraged, and less enthusiastic over the years because their effort and hard work is not noticed or seems to be unappreciated, and the undone work, the staggering weight of the unmet needs of students and the problems in a school system become overwhelming. Worse, most parents only call school to complain, not to praise. If your child has a great teacher, someone he or she loves, someone who inspires a love of learning in your child, please help to invest in that person, not just for your child's sake, but for the sake of all the children that person might teach in the future. Go to school board meetings and advocate for better schools for your child. Support the efforts of teachers to improve learning conditions in your child's school. If your child's teacher takes the time to call home and talk to you regularly, thank them. If they call to tell you good news, thank them. Tell your child's principal when your child's teacher does great work.

10) Your child's teacher is a partner with you in caring about your child's learning. Treat them as a partner, not a boss or a servant.