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School Days

September 14, 2012

As the back to school ads began appearing a few weeks ago, I remembered the days when my son was in elementary school and how we greeted each new school year with hope, determination and some anxiety.  To say my son was an “active” child is putting it mildly.  Except for the growling, he resembled the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny cartoons in terms of his activity level and his attention span.

Preparing for school meant shopping for clothes and the long list of supplies and special teacher requests for tissues and hand sanitizer to supplement the classroom budget.  It also meant preparing to meet with the teacher for what I came to think of as our own version of THE TALK.  I wanted to begin each year by connecting with the teacher and discussing how I could support them in teaching my son, fully understanding that he was not the easiest kid to teach.

My husband and I attended back to school night and then shortly afterwards, I would make an appointment to sit down with the teacher before or after school.  I found these meetings very productive.  I was able to get a picture of the particular challenges the teacher was facing.  I was also able to form an alliance with the teacher so that we were both pulling in the same direction.  And, most important to me, I felt like I was able to give the teacher a positive but realistic picture of our son and his needs.

I found it helpful to keep these things in mind:

  1. Teachers absolutely do have a hard job and some parents give them a really hard time.  I heard some wild stories about parent responses to calls or notes from teachers.  The first thing I did when I met with teachers was to thank them for being a teacher—I wasn’t just sucking up here—I really do admire people who are willing to spend their days trying to share knowledge with a whole gaggle of kids.
  2. I was respectful of their time.  If we set a twenty minute appointment, I was on time and kept the appointment to twenty minutes.
  3. I was honest about my son’s strengths and needs.  I shared that he was funny, charming, respectful, bright and really good-hearted.  I also acknowledged that he could be stubborn, distractible, disruptive and frustrating to work with.  I let the teacher know that we understood he had ADHD and some learning disabilities.  However, I also let her know that we never wanted him to use his challenges as a way to get out of work he could do or get away with behavior he could learn to manage.
  4. I asked what methods or interventions had worked for the teacher in the past when he/she taught kids with similar needs.  I got great ideas on how we could approach his learning differently.
  5. I asked for the best way and best time to contact her and let her know the best way to reach me.  As my son got older, teachers got school e-mail and that was often a great way to communicate.
  6. I asked the teacher to contact me at the beginning of things going awry. I explained that my son was someone who pushed limits and it helped him to know that his father and I were up to date on his school performance and behavior.
  7. I tried to be helpful by replying to requests for empty paper towel rolls for a project, agreeing to chaperone a field trip, supporting the book fair and the school carnival.
  8. I wrote a thank you note to his teachers at the end of every school year.  Kind of cheesy but I was truly grateful for their work.  Plus, I’m from the south and we pretty much write a thank you note if someone lets you go in front of them in traffic!
We were fortunate and I can say our son had mostly great teachers all the way up through high school.  I was surprised at how much even his high school teachers appreciated our communication to check on assignments and generally touch base.     When he had a teacher that wasn’t his favorite, we talked with him about learning to work with all kinds of people and shared some stories about our experiences with tough bosses.

My son just turned 20 and he’s gotten nostalgic for the good old days of his childhood.  As he’s been going through CD’s and playing the Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears, we’ve reminisced about some of his teachers and his school adventures.    Each teacher contributed something to his learning—not only school learning but life lessons.  I remember them with respect and genuine fondness.