The beginning of the school year can be overwhelming. There will be shopping for supplies, packing lunches and planning that all-important first-day-of-school outfit — by the time you meet your kid's teacher, your brain may be running on empty. Here are 10 questions you should ask to start this year off on the right foot.
1. "What are you classroom expectations?"
Aside from the obvious behavioral expectations, it will be helpful to ask your kid’s teacher what will be asked of students. Will they need to complete required nightly readings or participate daily in class? Sometimes participation can even affect your kid’s grade. Preparing your student for these requirements ahead of time will be valuable, especially at the beginning of the year when they may become overwhelmed with a variety of classroom requirements. Give your child a heads-up about what they’ll be responsible for.
2. "How can we work together to support my child’s success?"
Your child’s teacher might have 30 or more students in his or her class. Although we hope to address each student’s individual needs, sometimes this is nearly impossible. It’s essential that students see teachers and parents working in collaboration to support them. This might involve reviewing flashcards at home or reading a passage aloud with your child and discussing it. This also could mean explaining the importance of completing an assignment. Ask your kid’s teacher what will be most helpful.
3. "What are things I can do at home to reinforce what you do at school?"
Solicit the teacher about what types of work will be done in the classroom. For example, if your child is averse to working in groups and the class is mainly group-focused, this will surely be a challenge. If this is the case, you might urge your child to share their feedback in a group setting, like with the family at dinnertime. This will reinforce group participation as well as appropriate behaviors.
4. "What types of study habits should I be seeing at home?"
Know up front if you should expect to see a vocabulary list on Mondays or a page of math problems on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ask to look over your child’s work and be specific about the assignment so you can avoid the “I’m done” response. Doing this also reiterates for students that parents and teachers are working in partnership to support them.
5. "How can I encourage my child to work more independently?"
It’s important that parents provide assistance when working with their child, but make sure to also give them room when necessary. Complete two math problems together and then ask your child to do three on their own. This encourages confidence and self-motivation. Are there other methods the teacher suggests to promote independent learning behaviors?
6. "Do you offer tutoring?"
Ask if there are opportunities for practice outside the allotted class time. Some schools offer private or group sessions for topic mastery. If there aren’t school-sponsored options, ask if a friend in class has a firm grasp of the content. You might form a study group at the library or in your home.
7. "How often should I expect communication from you?"
Is a quarterly email sent out or a classroom website updated daily? Understand that some teachers may have more time than others to communicate with families. Usually, as your student becomes older, the amount of communication will decrease. However, if you feel that more communication should go out, feel free to voice that too.
8. "Are there ways I can be helpful to you in the classroom?"
Having parent involvement in the classroom is a dream for most teachers. Is there a particular unit where the class might benefit from hearing your experience? Can you volunteer an afternoon to help prep for an activity? Even just offering to read in class is a huge help. Students seeing parents involved are often empowered to feel connected to the community.
9. "Is there time set aside in class for organization?"
Many students struggle with organization, particularly when they get into middle school and high school and have their own locker to store and inevitably misplace things. If your student struggles with this and time is not provided, set aside a period at home to organize papers. And if you’re looking to win the parent award, assist your kid in cleaning out their locker so that assignments are not misplaced.
10. "Do you have other school obligations outside teaching your class?"
Often, teachers are not only teachers. They are also volleyball coaches, drama heads and department chairs. This will be beneficial information to know in the future when, for example, you’re not receiving an email response the same day. Of course your child’s success is important to us, but if our sport is in season or the play begins this week, it might take an extra day or two to hear back.
Overall, have a conversation with the educator and open the lines of communication. If a problem does arise, you’ll be thankful you began the relationship sooner rather than later.