Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Back to School Week!

This is the first week of school for us. And, from what I’ve been reading, it’s the first week of school for lots of people around the country.

Unless you start next week. Or even after Labor Day. In which case I don’t know whether to be happy for you or to cry for you. Let me know how you feel about that.

Anyway, earlier this week I read Melanie’s touching and hilarious post about her daughter going to first grade.

And then yesterday I got the sweetest picture of my nephew’s first day of first grade from my sister-in-law, Julie. I have to admit, it made me a little teary-eyed because he looks so grown up. And I know that from now on time will begin to spin faster and faster and faster until he’s in high school and things move at warp speed until he will be suddenly flung out the door and out into the world.

Not that I’m feeling any of that or anything. Ahem.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about those early days of putting my kids in school. How big my kids suddenly seemed. How innocent they were. How, as a parent, I felt like a new student as well as I learned to navigate the waters of “School” . . . just from a different perspective this time.

Oh, the mistakes I have made. Like the day of kindergarten orientation when I asked the kindergarten teacher if she used a phonics-based curriculum because I had heard about the horrors of whole language. And how the teacher looked at me blankly and said, “Ma’am, this is kindergarten. We don’t teach reading.”

Oh. . . . Yeah.

And how, when Kate was in first grade and I could still pick out her clothes in the morning, I sent her to Field Day in a dress. Hey, in my defense, I didn’t know what Field Day was, but she still won’t let me live that one down.

Like I said, I’ve made many a mistake in my day.

So I got to thinking about moms who are new to this school thing, and I thought of a few bits of advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

1. These years go fast; enjoy them. When “older” moms used to tell me this when my children were small, I used to roll my eyes and think Yeah, right. That’s easy for YOU to say. You're not living the hell that is my life right now. And I’d get kind of mad about that statement, to be honest. I wasn’t enjoying much of anything when my kids were younger, and I couldn’t get through the days fast enough.

Today, with two in high school and one in middle school, the days absolutely fly by.

But they didn’t always. When my girls were younger, all at home all day long, the days dragged for me. Don’t worry about that if that’s the stage you’re in. Things will change overnight once your child goes to first grade. Suddenly you’re bound by calendars and schedules and sports and recitals. And before you know it your child will be a senior in high school and time will be whizzing by and in less than a year they will be out your door forever.

Not that I’m experiencing any of that. Ahem.

2. Be your child’s advocate, but also support the teacher. Sure, there will be disagreements about stuff that happens in the classroom, but remember that the teacher is the authority (and, I might add, the expert in her field). If your child has a complaint about her teacher, check into it and be proactive, but also remind your child that you support the teacher too. It’s really important in the early years to teach your children, by example, that you respect their teacher’s authority and that you expect your child to respect authority too.

3. Get involved. Sign up to be a room parent. Volunteer with the PTA. Offer to assemble the school newsletter. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, try to do something.

There are so many good reasons to be involved in your child’s school, but here are just a couple of reasons I’ve been a very active parent, especially at the elementary school level. First, you get to know the teacher so much better if you serve in the classroom, plus you can keep an eye on what’s being taught. Those little “disputes” I talked about earlier probably won’t seem like such a big deal if you know what’s going on in the classroom.

Second, you also get to know other parents through serving at the school, and it’s always a good idea to know your child’s friends’ parents. It usually explains a lot. Enough said.

4. Pray for your kids and their teachers. I can think of no better way to support your child or her teacher than by taking time to pray for them. For many years I was involved with a group called Moms In Touch where we would meet for an hour each week to pray for our children, the school, the staff, and the teachers. You may be thinking, An hour? How on earth did you pray for a whole hour? Believe me, that hour flew by each week, and I still consider some of the women from that group some of my closest friends.

If you have a Moms in Touch group at your school, join it. If you don’t have one at your school, start one. And if you don’t have other moms to pray with, find just one and get on your knees. There is nothing—NOTHING—better you can do for your child.

And, you know, on those really bad mornings when Susie runs out the door in tears yelling that you're just about the worst mom in the entire world, you can throw up a prayer or two for yourself as well. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything . . .

5. Recognize that teachers have lives outside the classroom. You know how kids kind of freak out when they see their teacher in a public place like a library or in a restaurant? Maybe you even remember that happening when you were a kid. I think kids kind of imagine their teachers saying goodbye to them at the door at the end of the day, then going back to the classroom and unrolling a sleeping bag. Sometimes we just can’t imagine that teachers have anything to do other than sit at their desk thinking about school all day.

Believe me, they are thinking about other things. They may be worried about a loved one who’s sick or a wayward teenager. Heck, they may just be wondering what’s for dinner, just like you are. In the 10 years that we were at our elementary school, I knew teachers who dealt with the death of a child, rebellious teens, infertility, marital problems, and health issues.

Teachers have a life just like we do, and sometimes that life creeps into their thoughts while they are teaching our kids. Give them a little slack if they have an “off” day and certainly don’t expect them to be perfect.

We chose public school on purpose (I’d be happy to talk about that in another post if you’re interested), but when we did, we also knew that our level of involvement would have to be very high. From my experience, these are just a few simple things you can do to help your child—and you—have the most positive school experience possible.

What would you add to this list? What would you change? I’d love to hear your thoughts on school, teachers, kids.


  1. Great post, Shelly! Good advice. Thanks!

  2. Hi Shelly,

    This was a great post. I need to be reminded often how fast the years go, because mine go so slowly right now.

    I agree with all of your points. And would love to hear why you chose public schools.


  3. Thanks girls.

    Sandy, I'll have to work on that public school post. Anybody else interested??

  4. I still can't get over that my son's backpack is almost as big as he is!!! He looks so small walking into school. His big sister is being awesome though and making sure he knows where to go and what to do.

    Great tips on the parent/teacher relationships. We have had to tread carefully and respectfully, yet firmly due to the kids' ADHD/ADD. Can be a challenge!

    And yes to the public school post, as we are currently talking about moving them to private Christian or (BIG GULP!!) homeschooling. Interested to hear your thoughts!