Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PARENTING: Old school tips for a new school year

by Sharon Watkins-Jones

According to the television commercial for Staples office supplies, it’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! It’s time for our little darlings to go back to school. Can I get a collective Tiger Woods’ fist pump? Yesss! 
You’ve taken full advantage of the Texas Tax Free Weekend to purchase school gear, packed healthy lunches, given those sweet babies instructions to “be good” and shoved them out the door this morning. Now what?  Two words: GET INVOLVED.

I was fortunate to have been raised by two educators. If I didn’t recognize that advantage as a child, I certainly do now, as a parent. If you didn’t have parents who were active in your schooling, review these pointers from my old school upbringing for some tried and true tips to help your kids start the school year off right:

1.       Visit your child’s school early, visit often and visit unexpectedly.  Remember when your parent or grandparent would just show up at your school and not on a special program or field day? Remember how embarrassed you felt that your nosy mama would just come and have lunch with you or look in on your classroom, sometime for no apparent reason?  Why did she always want to chaperone the school dances and such?

Who knew that her unexpected visits were designed to keep you and your teacher on your toes? Check on those wonderful children of yours as often as your schedule allows. Let the school know that you have a vested interest as a parent, and taxpayer or tuition payer, in campus activities and will be around to check on your investment whenever the mood strikes you.

2.       Examine the contents of your child’s backpack daily.  I hated it when my parents got all up in my business! I was not planning to study for that history exam a whole two weeks before it was scheduled. But, no…somebody’s mom had to go and read that teacher’s note, balled up in the back pocket of my Trapper Keeper, advising of the exam date and providing an extensive, yet voluntary, review worksheet. I was so busted and so busy doing that worksheet when I so obviously had other plans for my “free time.” 
     Our kids deserve that same due diligence, and it’s so much more fun now that we’re the bossy grown-ups.  If you’re not meticulously and regularly checking your kids’ backpacks, pockets and folders for school correspondence, you could miss out on notifications as minor as picture day, or as major as standardized testing days or parent conferences. If you ignore the daily grades, you might be blindsided by the grade on the report card. 

Don't be afraid to turn those angels upside down and shake out all the loose change, playground gravel, homework, progress reports and/or important notices they may have failed to bring to your attention.

3.       Keep your child’s teacher’s phone number on speed dial and his or her email address on your Blackberry.  Not sure of the specific details of that volcano science project? Didn’t write down the due date for the research paper? No problem. Mama was on the case. She had Mrs. Green on the phone before you could fix your lips to say, “Wait! I found my notes!” 

These days, it’s too easy to find the answers to all your educational questions. Email the principal, the teacher, heck, even the superintendent, just to say, “Hi, my name is Mrs. Jones and I can (and want to) be reached at any time for any news, good or bad, relating to my child.” As a former teacher, I know for a fact that parents who stay in touch are an educator’s best ally.

     Don't let your first contact with Mr. Crabapple be an unpleasant one.  Call him now before he has to call you for a negative reason.  Let your teacher know early that you intend to partner with him for your child's success. 

     Whether your child lives in a  single or two-parent home, each parent should make every effort to make contact and show face regularly on campus. Not all teachers make racial or socioeconomic assumptions about their students at first glance, but in case you get one who does, make sure your school knows that both parents (and grandparents, too, if they live in close proximity) can and will do whatever it takes to ensure a wonderful educational experience for their child.

4.       When an educator suggests a behavior problem, listen, and consider your child’s point of view in your deliberations.    When I and my best 4th grade buddy decided to try out some 4-letter words on a note passed between us during math, my dad was immediately summoned to St. Alban’s to speak with the principal. After reviewing the smoking gun, Dad apologized profusely for his juvenile delinquent and assured the principal that such language was neither used, nor acceptable in our home (I tried to hide my shock). In the car, Dad asked me why I had chosen to “cuss” with my friend on paper. My explanation fell way short of reasonable, so Daddy shared a few more of those 4-letter words with me along with the promise of a thrashing from Mom later. I knew that my punishment was well deserved and I was henceforth more careful in demonstrating my swearing skills to others. 

Fast forward four years to St. Mary’s Middle School. Sister Pat called a meeting with my dad to discuss my smarting off with her in religion class. My father insisted to Sister Pat that I had certainly been taught to be more respectful and that I would be dealt with accordingly. Sensing there was more to the story than had been told by the teacher, my dad asked me for details in the car. Upon learning that Sister Pat had singled me out and ridiculed me as the only non-Catholic student in the class, Dad understood exactly why I pointed out that Sister Pat had a mustache. We fist bumped and stopped for ice cream before going home with our bad Baptist selves.

Bottom line, if you are asked to intervene in a disciplinary action, listen carefully and make no assumptions. Sometimes your kid is a knucklehead, sometimes his teacher is one.

Hug a teacher this week (he or she really needs it), and have a wonderful school year!  If you have tips (or old school recollections) to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section, below.

Sharon Watkins-Jones, Author
Sharon is a community college administrator, former special education teacher, wife of 17 years and mother of two school-age children in northwest Houston. Her primary interests are family-inclusive culture and arts, travel, politics, historical literature, Texas Longhorns and all things Disney.

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