Back to school advice for parents: Let kids deal with mistakes

As school begins this week, I am delighted to share this back-to-school piece by Coweta County teacher Susan Barber.

Barber chairs the English department at Northgate High School in Newnan and has written some great columns for the Get Schooled blog in the past. You can read them here and here.

You can read her on a regular basis at her blog.

By Susan Barber

Teachers will make mistakes. I make mistakes daily. I have approximately 90 students in a day for which I am responsible for their learning, safety, character development, and I am making split second decisions everyday all day. Does this kid really have to go to the bathroom or does he just want to go text his girlfriend? Should I take longer explaining a concept no one gets or do I move on because I know they just don’t want to go deeper in a lesson and get more homework? Did the dog really eat the homework or is someone trying to pull the wool over my eyes? This is a typical five minutes of my day, and I operate in this mode all day, every day. Please understand that I am doing the best I can and believe the best in me.

Your student will make mistakes. Unless you’re Mary the mother of Jesus, your kid will make mistakes. Some kids don’t work as hard as they should; others will make mistakes which reflect poor character. I generally avoid giving parenting advice to parents of my students.

My blog friends are a different story so here goes. Allow your kid to make mistakes and accept the consequences of his or her mistakes. I am so tired of getting emails from parents of 18-year-olds explaining why they didn’t do their homework or asking them to extend a deadline because their kids were (insert ridiculous excuse here). Learning to deal with mistakes is part of growing up.

I have a life outside of school. Even though many of my students think I pull a George Costanza and sleep at school, I do a lot outside of work. I have a family, attend church, exercise regularly, and just do lots of cool and fun things.  I also do mundane things like cook, clean (I just said this to be relatable to my readers), and drive my kid to and from practice, etc. As much as I love your kids, I don’t want to have a parent-teacher conference in the middle of Publix; I just want to buy my salted-caramel ice cream and leave.

Learning is a process. Reading comprehension and writing are skills which are built over time through practice. I have no magic pill to replace hard work over long periods of time. When I find the worksheet that increases SAT scores by 500 points, I promise not to hold out on you (unless you are standing between me and the salted-caramel ice cream).

I teach more than English. If I am only teaching commas, reading strategies, and A Tale of Two Cities, I would go home and cry every night. (Random fact – I hate A Tale of Two Cities. I’m sorry Mrs. Bilon, but it is always the worst of times reading this book). I teach confidence, responsibility, generosity, perseverance, authenticity, community, organization (well, some teachers teach this, not me), grit, compassion, citizenship, and the list goes on and on and on.  I am on your side in helping you raise a well-adjusted adult in today’s society.

I love your kids; I really do! I would not do this job for the paycheck; it’s too emotionally exhausting. Trust me that it’s not the testing that keeps me coming back every year.  I come to work every day because I believe in the next generation and want to help prepare them for the future.  I will spend my time and money on students and pray for them individually during the year. These things are not burdens for me but rather a joy. I genuinely am concerned for their well-being. Thank you for trusting me to invest in your students! Happy New School Year!

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.