Authoring Your Child's Owner's Manual
While your child’s teacher may be an expert in education, as the parent you are the expert on your child. Once school begins, it's important that you transition some of this expertise to your child’s teacher. But what information is relevant, what do teachers really want, or even need to know — and what information is just overload?
In the Beginning: The Basics
Sally Brenton teaches at the Parents Nursery School in Palo Alto, California. At the start of each school year, she actively elicits input from parents. "I want to know things like: Does your child have separation issues? How about established friendships? And how best is your child comforted when upset — from a scraped knee to a hurt feeling?"
If your child has a serious health condition — asthma, diabetes, or food allergies, her teacher needs to be aware. At the Pre-K stage, it's also helpful for teachers to know about toileting. Does your child need assistance? How? Does he need to be reminded to use the bathroom? Anything that might cause your child significant embarrassment or that could prove disruptive to the entire class would be good to share with a teacher new to your child.
But there is a limit to what teachers like Brenton want to know: "I don't need to hear about what toys children like to play with, or how much they write or read." Their skills and preferences are just emerging, and most teachers prefer to observe these things for themselves.
Focus on Strength Over Weakness
While you may worry that your son is behind the pack in reading or you think your daughter is too shy, it may serve your child best to point to her strengths. Elementary-school teacher Lisa Schwartzburg wants to know the hopes and dreams of her incoming students — as well as their parents. “In a letter that I send home before the school year starts, I ask parents/caregivers to write down thoughts about their children — in particular, what makes them unique, what they have been successful at, and what they struggle with. Often, the answers reveal more about the adults than the children, and that’s useful too.”
Many teachers find that parents’ own anxieties can lead them to share too much and create misplaced concerns. It might be helpful to put yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute and try to consider what you would and would not want your teacher to know about you. Chances are it will be positive traits — you’re a whiz with computers, you like drawing dragons, or over the summer you discovered you have a real green thumb! Knowing about your child’s interests will help the teacher make connections in the classroom.
It’s almost impossible to keep teachers out of the loop in terms of what’s going on at home. Students very often share — in their writing or in conversation — the intimate details of their home lives. Chances are you don’t need to spell it out. But if your family is going through something major (a move, divorce, or a death in the family) you may choose to alert your child’s teacher. Most teachers will extend extra patience and consideration when they know a child is going through a major change.
If your child is adopted, you may want to make this known to the teacher, as well as how you want her to deal with the issue if it comes up in the classroom. Since everyone deals with it differently, you can’t assume the teacher will know.
The most important aspect of sharing this information at the start of school is to begin a dialogue with your child’s teacher that will continue throughout year. In doing this, you set you and your child up for a successful and cooperative school year.