A+ Advice for Parents

What to Ask Your Child's Teacher the First Weeks of School

Q: I took my second-grade son to his classroom on the first day of school to explain things about him to his teacher. She waved me off and said she was really looking forward to having him in class and that it would be a good year for him. She suggested I make an appointment to discuss concerns. I felt dissed. Don't teachers want parental involvement?

A: Oh, they do! They just can't engage quite that deeply on the first day of school in a room buzzing with 20 unaccompanied kids looking for their desks and cubbies.

Don't feel dissed. Your son's teacher handled you very professionally, says Frederick Lilly, a retired California principal who made strong communication between home and school a priority.

The teacher sent important messages: One, a new year is a fresh start -- a time to think "success"; two, she'd done her homework on her incoming class; and three, she said she'd happily work with you when she could give you her full attention.

Perhaps most important, she was also encouraging you to allow your son to make his way on his own. Teaching your second-grader to function independently is an important parental job, says Donna Adkins, an Arkansas educator and greatschools.org adviser.

Adkins suggests establishing daily routines your son can follow. Typical independence goals for second-graders include knowing how to get ready for bed and for school, where to go when entering the school, and what to do when arriving in the classroom.

For more advice from Adkins on second-grade expectations (and grade-level expectations for kindergarten through grade six), go to greatschools.org.

If you want to get off on the right foot with your child's teacher this school year, ask the $64,000 question: "How can I help you help my child succeed this year?"

Many primary teachers will respond by asking parents to read with their children regularly. "This is essential," says Massachusetts reading expert Keith Garton. "Young readers need lots of practice to become fluent, and there's no way to provide kids enough practice time during the school day."

Parents expect that a child learning a sport or a musical instrument needs to practice. "It's no different with reading," says Garton. He began writing "Funny Bone Readers," humorous stories about character development, in response to parents' desires to read short, whimsical books with a message with their kids. (Go to redchairpress.com.)

In upper elementary and middle school, teachers may suggest helping your children develop study and organizational skills or limiting TV, gaming or other screen time.

"Whatever the teacher's response," says Lilly, "listen and take it to heart. You'll have learned something about the teacher's priorities."

By asking how you can support the teacher's efforts, you will have signaled early in the school year that you want a good working relationship.

You'll have opened the door to ongoing communication and set the stage for the first parent conference. And you'll have launched a partnership that will pay off for your child all year long.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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