by Douglas Palacios
Warning (legal disclaimer): There is no research behind the following recommendations/claims. The author takes no responsibility for whatever results from your use of these “recommendations.” Each child’s performance in school will be determined by many factors, including, but not limited to, how you (parents) raised your child and what he/she got stuck with in the genetic department (the old nature vs. nurture thing). You may experience slight dizziness or cramping while reading this. If your symptoms become too painful to bear, please stop reading immediately and quit searching the internet for ways to improve your child’s performance in school: you obviously can’t handle it.
So heeeeeere we go….
#10. Ask your child’s teacher if there is something you can do to help him/her. Even if you think there is NOTHING in the world you can do to help a teacher (which is usually never the case–teachers can be quite creative and may figure out a way for you to help), just ask. Some suggestions: “Can I help you post work on the bulletin board?; straighten out the cubbies?; feed the cobra?; maim that pushy parent so he/she won’t be able to walk up the stairs to your classroom to tell you what a bad teacher you are in comparison to last year’s teacher?; come read to the class or help with “centers,” etc.?” Teacher’s appreciate your time and see the offer as a sincere attempt on your part to be involved in your child’s school experience. Your child will see that you care about her/his classroom and that you value the space and people he spends much of his time with during the day.
#9. Even if you decide that you don’t like your child’s teacher (chances are the teacher hates your guts as much as you hate her/him already), have a conversation early on in the year in which you explain to her that you want to support her as much as possible so that your child can have a good experience and be the best he can be in her class. NOTE: this doesn’t mean, of course, that your child will get the grades you want him to get. Most teachers I know are in the profession because they love being with children and because they care. Ideally, they want every parent to see them as advocates for their children. So do your best to make it clear to the teacher that you’re both on the same team even if you don’t always agree with/like her modus operandi.
#8. Schedule playdates with other children in the class. A good idea is to ask teachers who your child plays well with. Often, parents end up setting up these playdates with the children of parents they “like,” such as neighbors or people they have things in common with (socio-economic background; car make; wardrobe; political persuasion; sexual orientation). This works and is convenient, but your teacher’s recommendation may turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Children don’t care about the superficial stuff we adults get stuck on when choosing “who we play with.” Think about it this way: Would you let your parents choose who you “played with” on any given day?
#7. Make sure your child does his/her own homework! (Otherwise, teacher assumes she is brilliant at home, but somehow, once she’s in class, the lights go out inside her brain and her IQ drops significantly. If the homework is too hard for your child, write a note to the teacher asking him/her to help your child–an email would work best as, no matter how responsible your toddler is, she is likely to lose the note!)
#6. Communicate important messages by e-mail. Your child is not the only one in the class. Teachers have tight schedules, tons of preparation to do, children’s emotional fires to put out, administrators’ loops to jump through, pushy parents to deal with, etc. (some of these teacher are parents too!) Telling a teacher that Johnny doesn’t understand what the hell is going on in Math class this week and that he’s been crying his heart out because the homework is too difficult is not a good idea. By the time class starts, the teacher has forgotten the whole thing and Johnny will not get the help he needs in spite of your morning’s strong and direct “Message.” If you send that e-mail (and please don’t expect a reply by lunch-time. Give them at least 24 hours to reply), the teacher knows they have to reply. If you want to make sure the teacher will reply, cc the message to the Principal or the teacher’s direct supervisor.
#5. If your child tells you that they are not enjoying school, ask questions and share the information (e-mail again with a cc to the principal is a good idea). Usually, if a teacher knows that one of his/her students is having difficulties, they will ask colleagues/staff to keep an eye out for him/her. I often noticed that many of the students I taught had difficult days (weeks even) when things at home were out of whack (parent was away doing business travel; dog was about to be euthanized; a relative was in trouble; grandma was ill and wasn’t coming by as often; parents were divorcing, death in the family, etc.).
#4. Anytime time there is unusual change/hardship/stress at home, please let your child’s teachers know. Let the Principal know as well (again, e-mail with a big URGENT!!! heading). Last year, our family went through some trying times. In the space of six months, our 10-year-old had to deal with a new sibling, the loss of the only house he had ever known (we were foreclosed, the house was sold and the new buyer showed up at the door with a 3 day eviction notice) and loosing his best friend because the boy’s parents could not resolve a problem they had with us in a mature manner (they tried to involve the children…). The result could have been disastrous for our son. Fortunately, I communicated our situation to his teachers and the school counselor and maintained communication with them throughout the duration of the ordeal. The support we received was incredible. For them, it was important to know what our child was going through so that they could address any behavioral changes appropriately, in a way that would support him and help him do his best in school. Life happens, and regardless of how difficult your problem is, letting your child’s teacher know that things are not going well at home (you don’t need to share the details) will make his/her teachers more sensitive to your child’s need.
#3. Stop asking your child “How was school?” or “Did you have a good/bad day today?” on your drive home. If you do, be ready to hear “Fine; good; or bad” in response to your question. Chances are they will be tired at pick up. The last thing they want to do is “revise” what they have just “completed.” Give them a break. A colleague of mine suggests the following exercise: during dinner or once they are relaxed and ready for bed, ask them to list 3 things they enjoyed about the school day that day; and 3 things they would change. If you get them to list 1 for each category, consider yourself lucky. The idea is that you do this repeatedly, like a game. You should also play the game by doing the same (about work or staying at home). It’s a great way to reflect on what went on during the day and is quite productive if you focus on the positive. “What would you change?” is certainly a healthy, hopeful approach to life’s setbacks and gives children the comfort of knowing that setbacks or bad experiences are not permanent but can be surpassed. On the other hand, “What was bad about your day?” forces them to “re-live” an unpleasant experience without any beneficial purpose. This will help you identify aspects of school that your child is enjoying and having difficulties with, so that when meeting with your child’s teacher, you can highlight both the positive things that the school is doing and the areas where you feel there could be improvement. As a rule, we all like to be recognized for some positive aspect of the work we do even as we are being asked to make some improvements in other areas.
#2. Vary your child’s lunch and make sure he knows what’s for lunch. Last minute surprises suck–especially if she’s starving mad and, upon unzipping her lunch-bag, she finds that you packed her the one thing she had mentioned she was getting sick of. (I’m guilty of not doing this, by the way. The consequences? a) Food comes back looking quite ugly b) Child comes home looking/feeling like crap c) You’ve thrown food/money away d) You’re not very happy because of a) thru c) and end up feeling/looking as bad or worse than your child.)
#1. Make sure your child is getting 10 to 12 hours of sleep… Really: 10 to 12 hours of sleep. Let me repeat that: 10 to 12 hours of sleep. Let me write it on the board for those of you who will forget it by the time you leave the room you’re in: 10 to 12 hours of sleep. You get extra points if you search the web for sleep and its impact on school performance. You get SHARING points if you share this post with other parents who may find this helpful or funny, or who have too much free time on their hands!!!
Doug Palacios has officially defrocked and no longer teaches. He is now a Realtor in the Piedmont and Berkeley/Oakland Hills and sells beautiful but expensive homes to the parents whose children he miseducated. Now that he is done teaching, he claims to have learned more from his students than he ever taught. In 2011, he co-wrote and published a satirical novel on prejudice, ignorance and the politics of immigration in the USA.