Here in Israel, there is both excitement and gloom in the air (depending on whether you are a parent or a child). This Friday, most of the students will go back to school to start the next chapter of their formal education. In the US, most schools will open their doors next week, after Labor Day. The new school year always brings a feeling of unknown to both the students and the parents. This is especially true for a child starting at a new school, where neither the parents nor the students really know what to expect, or how to “work the system.” Regardless of the age or grade, the new year can be an opportunity for all to start with a clean slate and to make the best of the ten months ahead.
So, how do we as parents and educators make sure that our school year go well? Here are a few tips to ensure a successful start:
- Communication — This may seem obvious, but for most students and parents, proper communication can make a huge difference. During any given school year, there is a lot of information flowing back and forth between the teacher, the school, the parents, and the students themselves. Sometimes, this can become overwhelming, but parents need to make sure that we are paying attention to the educational process. In today’s educational world, most schools utilize LMS (learning management systems) platforms which are designed to make communication flow more smoothly. Teachers often post class information such as grades, homework, and announcements, so that parents can know what is going on. These platforms only work if the parents are making the effort to use them. Other schools use email groups and WhatsApp lists to share information. At the end of the day, the information sharing is only effective if parents and students access it. Parents need to know what is happening so that we can support our children. How many times do your kids come home and say that there is no homework? Parents need to know what is happening behind the scenes. In addition, knowing what is happening in school can make your communications with the teacher and principal more effective and to the point.
- Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses — All parents love to point out what our children do well. While part of a parent’s job is to support our kids and to be their advocate, we also have a responsibility to provide help and support when it is needed. If you know your child is weaker in some subjects, why wait until there is a problem to provide academic support? In today’s society, students do not need to be embarrassed if they are working with a tutor. In the US, over 40% of high school students surveyed, receive some type of academic support, either through their schools or privately. Do your child a favor and don’t wait for a problem to present itself. If you provide the extra support from the beginning, your child will start the year stronger. Tutoring is an added expense but there are several online options available that provide very reasonably priced and flexible services.
- Go into the year with reasonable expectations — Every parent thinks that their children are the most important, and there is nothing wrong with that. It would be a problem if a parent thought otherwise. Parents however, also need to be realistic with their expectations of the school. The fact is that most schools are over-crowded with limited resources. Furthermore, most teachers are overworked and underpaid. Knowing these troubling but realistic facts, we need to understand that a school cannot provide everything. A typical school is not going to add a class for one or two students. The average school is not going to be able to cater to all of the special requests/requirements that you may set. It would be nice if this was not the case, but that is not the way most schools operate. Knowing this reality, we can either spend our time and energy getting angry and making unrealistic demands, or we can find ways to solve our issues. Last week, a parent from California called me. She was very upset that her daughter’s school was not offering a certain AP course, and she had some very negative opinions about the school’s administration. She was perusing private options, as her daughter really wanted to take this course. As I spoke to this mother further, I could understand her frustration, but at the same time, AP Microeconomics is not a standard course offering in most schools. The school which we were discussing has a solid reputation, but they are a small school with a limited budget. In the end, the school agreed to allow this student to take this special course, but at the parent’s expense. Some would argue that this is not fair, as the family is already paying a hefty school tuition. On the other hand, parents need to understand that there are some things that are just not possible. Setting realistic expectations from the beginning can make everyone involved more productive. In addition, most schools really do care about the needs/interests of their students, and are open to working together to find solutions.
Every school year has its “ups and downs” and there are times when emotions can boil over due to frustrations. While there are times when we should fight for our children, we also need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure their success. At the end of the day, both the parents and the school have the same basic goals. Both sides want every child to do well and to grow both academically and socially. If we can work together in partnership, these efforts will be much more successful, benefiting all involved.
Wishing every student, parent, and teacher a successful new school year!