• Back To School: Checklist For Parents

    August 15, 2023
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    When I was a teacher, I hated the month of August. August meant leaving behind vacation and getting back to the routine of the school year. I also loved August. August meant getting ready for new students, new classes, a new school year.

    Now that I am retired, August is just another hot month in summer. But it is a great time to remind parents of what they should do to prepare for the next school year.

    In case you are getting out your supplies lists to add items etc.; don't. I'm not here to tell you what to buy or not buy at local stores.

    This is much more important. This list of questions has to do with determining if a school or teacher are right for your family and child(ren).

    Most school systems bring teachers in one to two weeks before the children start. Usually it's a staggered start, new staff reports prior to experience staff. The early start for new teachers is to prepare them to teach in the district, covering such things as planning lessons, curriculum taught, resources used, rules, etc. They get time to prepare their classrooms, get to know other staff, and acclimate themselves to a new school and community. Experienced teachers come in later, get mandated training, and learn about any changes in district policy, new curriculum, and new administrators. They spend most of their time getting their classrooms and plans ready for their students.

    I remember thinking there wasn't enough time to get it all done.

    Systems usually build into that time "Meet the Teacher" or "Back to School" nights. These events are structured as cursory events and are not conducive to one-on-one conversations with teachers or administrators. Parents should go but should not expect anything more than a chance to meet staff and hear a generic spiel about what will be taught during the year.

    Parents should still attend. You can find out so much from these glimpses into the classroom. Here are some things to look for during Back To School Nights:

    1. Check out all the wall decorations/flags in the room. Are they all focused on academics? Are there flags, posters, etc. that may be of an inappropriate political/ideological nature not related to the subject(s) being taught? If so, make note.
    2. Is there a classroom library? If so, make note of the books there. Do they seem age and content appropriate? Are there whole class sets of books?
    3. Does the teacher seem professional yet approachable? Does he/she seem confident? Is the teacher appropriately dressed?
    4. Is the class well organized?
    5. Does the school seem well organized and well maintained? Are room numbers and offices clearly marked?
    6. How are the desks arranged? This may be especially important if you have a child with a learning disability who needs special seating. Even children with no disabilities can benefit from the right seat in the room.
    7. Is the staff professionally dressed? Do they act in a professional manner? Are they friendly and helpful to staff and parents? Does staff seem happy to be working in the school?

    TEACHER/STAFF Conferences: I recommend you arrange a time before or right after the school year starts to meet with your child's teacher AND the administration of the school individually.

    Reminders: Teachers and school administrators are not the enemy. Most of them want to do what is best for children. During this time when we hear of teachers and other school personnel doing ridiculous, harmful things in the classroom across the country, we have to remember that they are a minority.

    As a parent, you need to know what your teachers and administrators will be teaching and promoting in their classroom and school. None of them should mind answering these questions, especially if they know that you are interested in helping them educate your child in the best way possible. Teachers love working with parents!

    1. What are the syllabi and curricula for your class (course)? May I get a copy of it or see it online? If not, why not? How can I get access to it?

    2. How can I help my child achieve in your class? 

    3. What is the best way to communicate concerns or questions to you?

    4. How can I monitor my child's progress throughout the year?

    5. What do you see as your primary mission as a teacher? 

    For Administrators:

    1. What staff development and/or training did teachers participate in this summer? Who provided the training? What was the goal of the training?How do you think it will help them teach my child? Is there somewhere where I can learn about that staff development and who provided it?

    2. Is it the policy of this school to hide any information (grades, counseling, behaviour, mental issues) about my child from me?

    3. Can my child opt out of surveys or data collection?

    4. How can my child opt out of controversial lessons I deem as inappropriate or in violation of our family's beliefs, particularly those in Health and Sex Education? What will my child do instead if he/she opts out?

    5. What is the school/district policy on flags other than the U.S., Maryland, and County Flag in the classrooms? Are individual teachers allowed to put controversial signs in their classrooms that have no academic purpose?

    6. What is the policy about teachers revealing their personal political, sexual, or gender beliefs to students in or out of school? What is your social media policy for teachers, staff etc. and contact with students?

    7. What is the process for addressing any issues with classes, teachers, content, books available. to my child or any other problems in school?

    8. What are the discipline policies of the school? Are all students disciplined in the same way for the same infractions?

    9. What can I do if I believe a teacher is not compatible or successful with my child? Can I ask for a change of teachers?

    As always, use your own discretion when asking questions. However, when staff is reluctant to answer, this could be a red flag that the school/teacher may not be right for your child.

    This list of questions is not all inclusive nor does it guarantee that you will get honest or accurate answers. In some schools and with some teachers, there may be negative consequences for asking these questions. Always keep a record of any conferences with a teacher or an administrator, date, time, and what was said. You may need this information.

    What do you do if you don't get answers that support sending your child to that school or having your child in that class?

    The simple response is to get your child out of that class and/or school. You still are the parent and have rights. However, be prepared from pushback from the school/district. Each district has its own process and procedures for transferring students. Most would rather acquiesce to your request to change teachers or schools than cause an uproar. But, if they don't, then be prepared to take the battle up the chain of command all the way to the school board. That's where all that information comes into play.

    Be prepared for other options. That means private school or homeschooling.

    It used to be a bit easier to send our children off to school each year.

    But, it is a positive thing that parents now know being involved is critical!



    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
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