Back to school: Teachers share best advice on how parents can help children

Those new backpacks are ready to be filled. Students start returning to school next week. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Those new backpacks are ready to be filled. Students start returning to school next week. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

With an estimated 1.7 million Georgia public school students starting school in the next two weeks, here are some tips for helping kids succeed. And most of them focus on the role and attitude of parents, something that research increasingly affirms can be a game changer in student performance.

Last year for a story for the print newspaper, I asked <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span> on Facebook and Twitter for their best <span style="color:#000000;">advice</span> for <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span>. In 24 hours, 125 responded, sending us notes at 4 a.m., in between planning meetings and while waiting for their own kids to finish band practice. Some wrote the equivalent of book chapters, illustrating the most important piece of <span style="color:#000000;">advice</span> to <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span>: Realize your children's <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span> want them to succeed. I never shared all their good advice on the blog, but decided to do so this year.

As an elementary school music <span style="color:#000000;">teacher</span> said, "We are on the same side. We're not in teaching for the fabulous salary or fame. We're here because we love children and we love teaching and we want the world to be a better place (sounds cliché, but it's true). Please let us know the important things about your child, and listen when we do the same."

Here is <span style="color:#000000;">advice</span> by grade:

Elementary school

Bedtime for k-2 students should be no later than 7:30-8 p.m.; 3rd-4th grades no later than 8-8:30; 5th no later than 9 p.m.; middle school no later than 10 p.m., and high school no later than 11 p.m.

Children must eat breakfast.

Read with your child daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Make it fun and interesting; use funny voices, read different types of books --- fiction, nonfiction, magazines.

Reading to your child is wonderful, but take it a step further and have your child practice reading using fluency, phrasing, and speed ... you read it, and then have your child copy your voice.

Check over homework. If it's not done correctly or neatly, have them redo it. Doing their best work at all times carries into their adult lives and jobs. It needs to be a habit.

Spend time with your child. Too often, <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span> hear from <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span>, "I was just too busy ..." Unplug. Go outside, play a board game, cook in the kitchen ... you never know where your child will lead you.

Ask your child, "Teach me something you learned today" rather than ask about "What you did at school today" (usual answer --- "nothing").

Make connections between what kids are learning at school and your life at home and work --- how you use fractions, what you wrote to your relatives in Mexico this week, something you have read, past or present, that has a similar issue to a book your child is reading.

Look at all the papers we send home. We try to use other forms of communication, but that weekly folder is still our go-to method. It breaks my heart to go on a field trip and have to leave a child because his or her <span style="color:#000000;">parent</span> didn't send the permission form after repeated tries on our part.

If you agree to do something, please follow through. Your children are watching everything you do. If you sign your child up to attend a performance or science fair or athletic event or curriculum night, then bring your child. We understand emergencies. But in 20 years, I've only had one <span style="color:#000000;">parent</span> tell me about a real emergency. The rest of the time it was, "I forgot" or "We had something else we wanted to do."

Middle school

Your child does not enter a classroom wanting to fail. You do not want your child to fail, and the <span style="color:#000000;">teacher</span> does not want the child to fail. We all want the same results. We need to figure out how to get there.

The older kids have to read as well, so ask questions about what they are reading. I always asked my son what his favorite part of the day was and his pit of the day. All <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span> should be doing this, including ESOL <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span> who can ask their children these things in Spanish.

Teach your child to respect their <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span> and any adult in the building. The talking back and plain disrespect is disheartening.

Monitor student progress carefully and get help early rather than later. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Know your child's <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span>, friends, where your child is at all times and their grades. Don't worry about whether your kid likes you. If a <span style="color:#000000;">parent</span> of a teenager is doing the job right, most teenagers will say they don't like you most of the time. I teach teenagers and have raised two sons to adulthood and have a teen still at home. They don't have the brain maturity to make good choices at this age --- you have to limit their choices.

High school

When my students complain of being tired or can't stay awake in class, I ask them if they slept the night before. They usually have slept only a couple of hours due to use of electronics.

For high school students (especially those taking honors and AP classes), let them struggle. Encourage and support them, but don't give them an easy out. Success feels better when it's won through hard work. Help them study, quiz them over vocabulary, ask them to teach you, let them know that you understand how difficult it is.

Many incoming ninth-graders and their <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span> do not realize ninth grade may be the most important grade of all their high school years. Not only are ninth-graders making many decisions that will impact their future, they are also undergoing many significant physical, emotional and social changes.

Ensure students are fully participating in academics. Kids should be required by their <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span> to study, complete assignments, and ask for help when they need assistance. <span style="color:#000000;">Parents</span> should also keep up with their children's progress through online programs and portals where <span style="color:#000000;">teachers</span> post grades. Full participation by students and <span style="color:#000000;">parents</span> is an essential component to student success.

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