HELPING CHILDREN BE THE BEST VERSION OF THEMSELVES

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It’s that time of year ….Parent/Teacher Conferences!  As a teacher, I valued the time spent with caregivers to share information about their learner,  while gaining insight into my young student’s life at home.

Some parents were visibly anxious during these meetings, and no matter how carefully I chose my words, there were tears.  I always had a box of tissues handy.   For some, this was the first time learning that their precious 6 or 7-year-old was having  difficulty in the world of  “school”.

It was my job to help a caregiver get past the pain of struggle, and look forward with support and a plan to get their child where they needed to go – and to avoid comparing their child to others.   No matter where they “ranked” in the classroom,  I wanted my students to be proud of their hard work and effort that would bring them continued gains.  It was my job to help the caregiver see the unique gifts their child offered even in the midst of  struggles.  For children who struggle,  comparing themselves to  others can be  a recipe for disaster.  These are the children who will shut-down,  become class clowns, and begin avoiding the hard work that makes them feel defeated.  IT was my job to make sure these children were challenged enough to make important gains, while not overwhelming them to the point of defeat.  I needed their  caregivers to be on our side, to be cheerleaders in this game of school – where so many children’s gifts get lost as they try to be like someone else – to please their parents, or teachers.

One of the saddest parent/teacher conferences I had, was when I was teaching Kindergarten.  I had a child who  was lagging behind their peers in many ways, yet expressing themself through Art was a strength.  They  loved creating. In discussing this with the parent, I was dumbfounded when they told me that the pictures the child were bringing home were terrible, and they ripped them up and put them in the trash.  They were not worthy of being hung on the refrigerator.  My heart broke for this child, yet  knowing this made me work harder to help this young child find their bright light.

All children will shine if we let them do it in their way, in their time – with support and guidance from those who love them best.   Don’t waste time and energy worrying about how your child compares to anyone else  – don’t give your child the message that they should be like someone else – love them as they are.  For in that love your child will become the best version of themself.

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BACK TO SCHOOL

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I have three grandchildren off to school this year. I checked in with my daughters to see how things went and was relieved to hear that the kindergarteners and first-grader headed out happy and excited, and came home the same way.  The first-grader shared that his teacher said  their classroom is like a family – where they all  care for one another.  What a beautiful tone to set for learners.

As a retired teacher, I know what kids need to be successful, and it’s so much more than academics.

So send your child off to school with courage.  Send them with joy and send them with positives.   And when they come home feeling discouraged or rejected, build them up.  Teach them that no one can bully them or make them feel less than……unless they allow it.  Teach them to speak up, and speak out – for they are worth it.  Teach them that their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice.  Teach them that to gain respect, they must be respectful.    Teach them that sometimes things are difficult, but that’s OK.  Set a goal, work hard and never give up.  Teach them that there are always people to turn to when things get tough – find those people.

Communicate with your child’s teachers if you have concerns.  Respect their time but know that good teachers want to know if your child is struggling, and they will work with you to help your child.

Your child needs to know that you will always be there – to listen, share, and support.  So as you send your little ones out to navigate without you, know that you are still their most important teacher and they still need you to fill them up with all that is needed to be independent, self-reliant and confident to navigate their world without you.

 

 

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CHILDS TEACHER WHEN YOU ARE SEEING RED!!

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OK – so let’s be real….sometimes your child’s teacher does something that really makes your blood boil.  For example, one day I came home from a long day at school to find my third grader locked in the bathroom.  She couldn’t talk to me as she was sobbing so hard that it was hard to catch her breath.

“She did really bad on a math test and she’s afraid you’ll be mad,”  her older sis said as she was casually watching tv.

My heart broke a little bit as I didn’t think I was that kind of parent.  I took a very soft supportive tone as I asked her to come out to talk.

She opened the bathroom door and  handed me a math test and all I noticed was a GIANT

F ‘

I assured her that she wasn’t in trouble but asked her if her teacher had given her feedback so she could correct her errors and learn from her mistake.

“No.  She just gave me my test back,” she sobbed.

That was it.  I saw RED and guess what???  We lived across the street from the school and it was still early enough that her teacher might be there…so I hopped on my broomstick and off I went…..test in hand.  

You might say that what I had to say to her teacher was not very calm….but done with great respect mind you – after all I was a fellow teacher.  BUT as a fellow teacher my question for her was:  “How could you simply hand her a test with a big fat with no concern at all to find out what her thought process was as she completed these problems – and no help to teach her the correct way so she would understand this process??? NO feedback??? NO remediation??? Just a big fat F???”  She understood my point and so did her two colleagues whose classrooms were connected by a few floating walls.

Should I have waited to speak to her until I had calmed myself?   Yes I think so.  Should I have brought this up to her at all?  Absolutely.  

Doctors have an oath,  “first do no harm”  and I believe educators should follow this same oath.   A teacher’s job is to teach, evaluate progress, and remediate or reteach as needed while always keeping the child’s esteem intact.   I don’t feel there is EVER an instance where a child should get a paper with a BIG FAT “F”. EVER! Do children fail?? Well – not if we are teaching them well and teaching them at their zone of proximal development.   Are all children learning at the same level and rate?  No. This is a simple fact.  Each child has different strengths and weaknesses and should be taught accordingly.  School should never be a place where children feel like they fail.

So – when you start to see RED, take a deep breath, do some thoughtful reflection on what it is that is making you angry and take some time to figure out the best way to approach the situation.   But don’t ever be afraid to advocate on behalf of your child.  That is your job.  Just try to do it without flying in on your broomstick.   You’d think as a teacher I would have known better….but when it comes to our children….well….sometimes we don’t think straight.

HELP! WHEN TO CALL THE TEACHER

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Parent-teacher communication is important in helping your child throughout their education.  I loved getting to know my first grade students, and the more communication I had with their families/caregivers, the better equipped I was to support my young student.  Many times a note or email  sent to your child’s teacher will be sufficient to share or ask for information.  Sometimes, a note isn’t enough and a phone call is needed.  Here are some good reasons to call the teacher:

1.Your child has anxiety that interferes with their normal at home routines and doesn’t want to go to school.  Something that may seem trivial to you can be huge to a child – so always take their concerns seriously and if they don’t improve with your help, contact the teacher.

2. Homework is a constant battle and I helped many parents understand the expectations of homework and sometimes we worked as a team to make a child more accountable and make homework time more manageable and pleasant.

3. There is a major life change such as separation/divorce, a death in the family, a pending move,or a new baby.  Many caregivers are reluctant to share personal sensitive information, but it can help the teacher and school staff support your child as they are going through a difficult time or big changes at home.  Children’s learning is impacted by their personal lives.  If something is bothering them, some of the energy they use for learning/socializing is not available because they are  distracted. Most schools have a social worker who can help your child through a difficult time.  The school can be a great support to families in times of change or need.

4.  You have heard some gossip from your child or other person  about school or your child’s teacher, and it is really bothering you. Go straight to the source for accurate information and save yourself a lot of worry and frustration.

5.  You are worried your child is behind academically. This is a tricky one especially for young children.  It’s normal to want to talk to the teacher to know how your child is doing but  the first few weeks of school are all about settling into routines so don’t expect the teacher to have a lot to share right away.  Usually by the time the first conference rolls around the teacher  will have a wealth of information to share.  Consider that if your child’s teacher was concerned, they would have contacted you.  If the teacher has indicated your child is struggling, ask the teacher to communicate progress periodically so you are  all moving in the right direction working towards the same goals.

6.  Your child is being bullied.  Don’t wait on this and expect your child to handle it.  The teacher and administration always need to be aware of bullying behavior, whether it occurs on the bus, classroom, or playground.  Our kids need to feel safe at all times and need to know adults will intervene on their behalf when necessary.  Expect the school staff to investigate and remediate the situation.

Keep in mind that the teacher may not be able to speak with you when you call and will have to return your message after they are done working with their students or during a break in their day.  Be respectful of their time but know that they value your input. You are a critical partner in the education of your child!

Be respectful and positive and keep those lines of communication open.  Your child will thank you for it!