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Staying Involved

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In a recent conversation with the headmaster of a local school, he mentioned his frustration that as kids progress through the grades, he sees less of the parents. So I thought it time to revisit one of my most important tips: if your student is in middle school or high school, you should be more involved than you were in elementary.

In elementary school, parents typically go to the classroom to drop off or pick up their children. That often results in some type of conversation with the teacher. It provides a view of the classroom. It gives students a sense of security and consistency. It allows for communication. And it sends the message, “This is something important.”

Parents typically become less involved when their children begin middle school, largely because their students push them away. They claim it will humiliate them. They announce they are with different teachers in different rooms and need to deal with these changes themselves – “I’m not a little kid anymore.”

I am not suggesting that you walk them to class, at least not immediately. I do suggest the following:

1.Provide each teacher with your contact information: cell phone, e-mail, current address. If it’s okay to contact you at work, provide that information. If you work nights, provide a time frame for contacting you.

2.Find out your teachers’ preferences for being contacted, including the best time to reach them. Most teachers like e-mail, but some prefer phone calls.

3.Know how to check your students’ grades online. Most schools allow parents to access students’ grades. Many teachers post assignments on their webpages. If you see anything that concerns you, contact the teacher. Your student, I’m sorry to say, won’t necessarily be forthcoming about bad grades.

4.Plan a time to visit your students’ classes. You could follow their schedules for a given day, or you could visit classes over the course of several days. High school and middle school students are likely to beg you not to do this; they will claim it will ruin their lives, result in constant teasing, destroy all dating possibilities. It won’t; they’ll be fine. They’ll forget you’re there and most of the other kids won’t have a clue whose parent you are. The point of this kind of visit is to get to know “the lay of the land” – the teacher’s routine and expectations, the class dynamics, a little about curriculum. You’re not there to judge or criticize or participate. Just like your student, you are there to observe and learn. If you do decide to go to classes, you must sign in at the office and I would check in with the teacher to be sure you don’t end up watching 30 kids take a test.

5.Attend parent-teacher conferences even if your student is “doing just fine.” Again, you are sending the message that it’s important to you. It says you’re proud of your child. It gives you an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. You can learn more about curriculum and expectations. It simply says, “All this matters.”

Get involved in the school. Even though you’re not baking coolies anymore, the school and therefore your students, need you. Join the PTO/PTA; volunteer to help with school activities such as plays, sports, clubs; help struggling students with their work; ask the teacher if he/she wants help grading papers or setting up a lab or proctoring a test; work in the library; “hang out” in the cafeteria.

All of this involvement results in your having a better understanding about your students’ “life in school,” and your students are reminded that it is important and you care.