Lessons For Parents From The Front Lines

As we enter this school year, please remember that care and empathy matter -- for teachers, for administrators, for other parents/ and yes, for ourselves.
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On Labor Day Monday, the last day of summer vacation for many who returned to school this year, an online friend of mine posted an excellent bit of information for her parental friends in Chicago. Chicago is at a crossroads in terms of escalating violence, apparent lack of fiscal control, and, as usual the myriad of problems that plague the Chicago Public Schools. Veronica wrote the following message on her Facebook page as a guide to parents.
  1. Talk to your kid's teacher. They aren't scary, even if your kid says they are. Most of them like other people. I can't guarantee 100 percent there, though. But talk to them one-on-one and ask them for strategies to solve issues. I find teachers are mostly defensive due to parents who start off by berating them. A teacher friend says that well-written emails are just as good for communication. I say, meet in person first. That helps you remember there is a human at the end of your emails.

  • Even though we, especially CPS, operate in a hot house, we need to teach our kids that a B is FINE. Don't blame teachers for a grade lower than an A. Remember to praise the effort, not the grade. Our kids are well aware of the pressure they have on them to be perfect. Create safe space for missteps.
  • Homework. Ugh... I've already seen a few friends ask for help on this point (the inspiration for this post) in other school districts.
  • If you dread homework, your kid will pick up on it. Stay cool and calm.
  • If your kid starts to squirm...Let them. That means they need a break. Have a list of quick exercises or activities for them to do. Just like you bring crayons to a restaurant, maybe do that for homework.
  • Most teachers will say the homework will only last X minutes. But you think it is lasting way longer? I found that keeping a time diary to give as evidence to a teacher as to how long homework is actually going helps in those one on one talks.
  • Teach your kids that no one has all the answers, so if they get stuck on a problem and you can't figure it out, just write a note to the teacher and in my experience, it'll be fine. Kids want to please their teacher and do it all...and perfectly. Don't teach them to spin their wheels in mud if they just can't figure it out. (PS: YouTube is your friend in math)
  • And since I'm tired, I'm going to ask more veteran parents to chime in on this. What advice do you have for parents just starting out?

    1. One of the best pieces of feedback I received included acknowledging the pressure teachers are operating under. In Chicago that means going back to work for the second fall in a row without a contract and with a lot of pressure to do far more with far less. One parent vouched for bribery. M&Ms, screen time, whatever it takes to keep your child plowing through homework.
  • Some parents will want to opt out or boycott homework, especially for the younger ones. I know in my daughter's selective enrollment school that would not had been possible. I do think that starting out young got her in the groove to handle the large workload as she got to middle school. But there were many stress-filled nights that helped inform my words of wisdom above. Looking back at her early years, it was really about getting her to realize that leaving something blank was okay. But here we are at the start of eighth grade, still working on perfecting the homework puzzle as we added in soccer and dance commitments. Have patience, breath and if it helps, grab some M&Ms for yourself.
  • Veronica's recommendations and suggestions are all excellent. As the father of a kindergartner who just started in public school this year, I too have a few tidbits of advice for parents. As someone blessed to be an educator for close to 20 years, my lens is not just as a parent but also as an educator/researcher. Briefly, here are a few of the things we identified when we visited my son's selective enrollment public school back in the spring. 1) The energy of the teacher. She was still extremely encouraging and motivating with her 23 Kindergarten/1st graders in April. For those of us who have been in the classroom, we know what a challenge it is, at times, trying to get to day 180. What was so encouraging is not only did she remember him, she was excited for him to be in her class this year. 2) The classroom rules and expectations were clearly posted, and even though there is some controversy in the application of positive behavioral intervention systems (PBIS) the chart was clearly visible and most, if not all of the students were behaving well. 3) From the first time we entered the school, we saw an environment that was extremely receptive to parental support and input, and most importantly was friendly. That matters.

    Regardless if you are a veteran parent with 3 college-aged children, or if your child is attending full-day school with older age groups for the first time, there is trepidation because you are sending your child out into what appears to be the "unknown." As Veronica said in her examples, and what research confirms, the better relationship a parent(s) or guardian(s) has with the school, the greater likelihood of positive academic and social outcomes for children. Let me be clear, parental involvement does not always mean participating on the Local School Council or Parent Teacher Organization, nor does it mean showing up for every bake sale, reading day or fundraiser. Being an involved parent, in short, comes down to caring. How that care is demonstrated can be a very individualized thing.

    As we enter this school year, please remember that care and empathy matter - for teachers, for administrators, for other parents/ and yes, for ourselves.

    Have a great school year!!


    Contributor to this post Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, writer, and mom. Veronica is contributing to Bitch Media's Campaign 2016 coverage. Her writing has also be featured in outlets such as USA Today, New York Times, and the anthology, "Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox." Veronica's blog, Viva la Feminista, has been named a top political blog by Blogher and LATISM. For ten years she worked on diversity issues at the UIC Women in Science and Engineering Program. Veronica now coaches authors and academics on efficiently using social media and serves on the board of directors for Bitch Media.

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