Getting your children organized and ready for school can be a real challenge. Believe me, I know. In addition to being an elementary school teacher for 13 years, I am now the mother to one crazy toddler. Before I was an educator or a mother, I worked as a private nanny for six different families. I’ve dealt with almost 400 children ranging in ages from newborns to teenagers.
Still, before I became a mom myself, I could be a little hard on the mothers of my students. I wondered how they could forget supplies or send their child to school with unbrushed hair. Now I get it. I’ve forgotten to pack my son’s water bottle for preschool so many times, they’ve given him his own cup. And if he has a tantrum because he wants to wear his Spider-Man suit out of the house, I just let him wear it.
So I know it seems unfair when I tell you there’s a chance you may just be annoying the crap out of your child’s teacher. But I'm only trying to make things right. It's not hard to bypass these irritations and come out looking like the coolest parent your kid’s teacher ever had to deal with. First, however, you must know what you're doing wrong.
1. You resemble a packhorse
Even in the earliest grades, teachers are trying to instill autonomy and independence in children. One of the ways we do this is to insist kids carry their own belongings. So when we see you, dear parent, accompanying your kid to school with a child-size Dora the Explorer backpack in one hand and a water bottle, homework, lunch bag and various items your child has demanded accompany her in the other, it makes us a little crazy.
It’s not just too much stuff. I have spent countless hours helping students to fasten and unfasten clips and buckles that weren’t age-appropriate.
Of course, teachers are here to help students with tasks, but imagine if every child in the class needed help with their clothes, backpack, water bottle, lunch items and supplies — we wouldn't have time to teach!
Pro tip: Reorganize the bag so that it’s light enough for them to carry themselves and make sure they can handle all buckles, clips and various accessories themselves. Practice at home as needed.
2. You neglect the basics
Bathroom hygiene must be taught at home (unless your child has special needs and provisions have been made). Many school boards will not allow teachers to assist with these tasks. In emergencies when a child has been sick, I have wiped them if they couldn’t do it themselves, but this really isn’t part of an educator's job.
Pro tip: Provide your child with their own bathroom bag with wipes and hand sanitizer to make bathroom time speedier and cleaner for all.
I get it; parents are busy. So are teachers! When parents ignore important school communications such as permission slips or homework records, they create additional work for the teacher, who has to chase them around.
This is especially important for school concerts or plays. It can cause the teacher a lot of undue stress when parents don't respond to deadlines or respond to requests for help with costumes or other preparations. I’ve spent hours writing concert scripts, allotting similar numbers of lines to each child so that everyone feels involved, crafting and buying costume items, only to be told by a mom the day before that her son wouldn’t be attending. It’s enough to make me want to tear my hair out!
Pro tip: Every night, go through your child’s bag with your child and separate the paperwork into important and not-so-important. Now, take the important stuff and input the due dates on your calendar, highlight information and stick it somewhere prominent, like on the fridge.
4. You think your child is perfect
Parents who recognize there are two sides to every story are remarkably few and far between. It’s understandable to feel protective of your child, but when the teacher tells you there is a problem either academically or behaviorally, hear them out.
There isn’t a school-wide conspiracy against your child. If a pattern develops in which different teachers are reporting the same problem to you, please believe us. I have had parents deny there was a problem with their child even as I showed them written records from multiple teachers.
Pro tip: Try to remember that your child’s teacher cares about them and is in a unique position to see how they interact with others all day long. Give their opinion the appropriate weight it deserves.
5. You don’t follow the rules
If the teacher says she can only talk about your child’s progress at lunchtime or after school, believe her. Don’t monopolize all her time before class. If she asks for communication to be by phone call, don’t email. If the school rules state no plastic containers/nuts/candy/soda in lunches, abide by the rules. When parents rebel, other students and parents start thinking they can break the rules too, and all hell breaks loose. Like many things in the classroom environment, little habits can seem like no big deal, but once everyone starts to adopt these practices, they add up to a major disruption to the teacher's main job.
Pro tip: If you can’t remember the rules and don’t want to bother the teacher, ask the school office! They are a fount of knowledge.
6. You’re too familiar
Sure, I like you. Maybe in another lifetime we would be friends. But please, don’t bring me coffee — it can look like you’re trying to curry my favor. And definitely don’t try to friend me on social media. My radio silence will embarrass us both.
Pro tip: If you really think we have the makings of a beautiful friendship, at least wait until the end of the school year when your child is out of my class before you make any moves.
Parents don’t have it easy, but neither do teachers. They deal with ever-increasing demands from administration and government directives, inflated class sizes and a general public perception that they just play duck, duck, goose all day. Help ease the load and strive to be a partner in your child’s learning, and everyone will benefit.
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