Q: I just transferred my second-grade son Caeden to a new school. He's easily distracted; in first grade, he got labeled as a troublemaker at his old school. I refuse to have his first-grade problems define him. Should I meet his new teacher right away or wait until parent-teacher conferences?
A: Life doesn't offer many do-overs, but the beginning of each school year gives every child a chance for a fresh start. This is especially true when entering a new school.
If you don't want his previous record to define him, first make sure that he enters the new school with appropriate behaviors -- fix those that may have generated the labels (fair or not) in the first place.
"Second grade is not too young to have a good heart-to-heart talk about how to take advantage of a fresh start," says Allison Parker, a Texas educator with years of second-grade experience. "Sure, teachers look at a child's records to get a sense of how well that student has mastered content and behaviors that will make for a successful school year. But most teachers prefer to make up their own minds about a student: They observe carefully and get to know their new students during the first days of school.
"If his new teacher doesn't see the inappropriate demeanor displayed in first grade, the teacher assumes he's making progress with positive social interactions."
Be proactive about improvement; help Caeden master the comportment teachers expect in school. Can he listen intently, or does he talk or tune out while you're talking? Can he follow a sequence of directions? Does he have basic organizational skills, such as knowing how to gather, store and care for his school materials?
Give him opportunities to practice and be rewarded for behaviors that count in class, such as: respecting adults and other children by listening; raising a hand to ask a question or make a comment rather than blurting it out; focusing his eyes on the teacher when she is speaking; keeping his hands and feet still at his desk; following rules for walking in hallways.
And, yes, make an appointment to see his new teacher soon.
"Don't wait until the first conference," says Marissa Gehley, founder of the consulting group KNOW (Kids Need Our Wisdom). "Tell her you want to meet, so together you can get Caeden off to a great start -- that you want to make sure that you support the teacher's goals for student success."
Ask the teacher to suggest reinforcement strategies to try at home, and be sure to stay in touch with the teacher so that you both can monitor Caeden's progress and know of any problems right away, Gehley advises.
"Make sure you let Caeden know that you're talking to his new teacher and that the two of you will communicate regularly about his good work," she says. "Then ask him to make a list of three or four things that he will do (and that you'll review from time to time) to make sure second grade is the beginning of his best year ever!"
(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.)