As if summer didn’t commit its disappearing act yet again, here we are, facing down November, and I haven’t published my back-to-school post. No, the dog didn’t eat my homework (at least not this time), and I don’t really think of myself as a procrastinator (my fault usually lies in being the opposite). Honestly, it’s been tough adjusting to the new school year, and it still, a whole quarter down, feels like we are settling in. Looking back, it was a bad omen when we shopped for the usual cache of No. 2 pencils (sharpened!) and three-ringed binders (four different colors, please) at the eleventh-hour. We’ve been scrambling ever since, trying to get a foothold on the routine we established with homeschool last year (and failing to resist hitting the “snooze” button) . Then, to ice the proverbial scholastic cake…the electric pencil sharpener went missing. Guess it was a good thing we invested in the pre-sharpened No. 2’s.
At least we didn’t misplace the pencils. (I could politicize and insert a Betsy DeVos joke here but that’s not what Pulseonparenting is about…). Because this year we made a big change; we enrolled one of our sons in public middle school. He is our extrovert, our child whose batteries recharge with social interaction, and his friends talked up how great it would be to have him in the mix of middle school mayhem. So after our son begged, and begged, and begged, he headed to 7th grade at a local…large…middle school. Which terrifies me. The school is so big that each grade has its own wing, and there are enough kids to fill both a band and an orchestra. There’s an auditorium. This situation is a far cry from the middle school my husband and I attended which had no wings, definitely no auditorium, and had a band that barely filled the science classroom.
So those were the details we had about the school when we registered our son. And that the athletic teams are called the “Angels.” (Someone has a sense of humor regarding middle schoolers.) But there was something more intimidating than sheer size and the potential for getting lost in the crowd: not my son’s ability to get a social foothold but my own hangups regarding the academic system. Which I realize is not very fair. But given the woes of fifth grade, my husband and I promised ourselves if and when we sent our kids back to public school, we would be proactive and inquiring. Which is not easy. Because kids of any age, but especially middle-school-aged boys, are not terribly forthcoming about school:
Parent: How was school today?
Kiddo: grunt or (a barely intelligible) “Fine.”
Parent: What did you do at school today?
Kiddo: Nuthin’. (grunt)
Parent: Did you have Spanish today?
Kiddo (clearly not paying any attention): Nuthin’.
It’s like trying to squeeze OJ from a rock.
This is a tricky age and stage. It’s a time when kids need to learn the self-reliance, discipline and responsibility for themselves and their schooling that will be required of them in high school and beyond. But we parents can’t help them learn these skills, or help out academically, if we can’t get information. And that information may not be completely evident or provided by the school, because the teachers themselves are trying to train the kids in these skills, too, and of course expect their students to follow through.
So then what?
It was time to shamelessly let our inner Helicopter Parent shine. We set up an appointment with our son’s teachers.
Ugh. My husband and I are so not “meeting” people. But our son is so not a fountain of information, like any typical 12-year-old boy. So eight days in to the school year, we sat down with our son’s teachers. In hand we had a list of questions we’ve neglected to ask teachers in the past when the answers were not freely given. We’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that these particular inquiries would help us support our son’s school experience and the skills his school is teaching. So I’ve outlined below some of the questions we found helpful to ask when we find ourselves feeling “out of the loop.” And not just with middle schoolers, but with elementary-aged students as well. Given we are well past day eight of the 2017-2018 school year but expecting the first quarter report cards, these questions are still relevant and the answers can help shape the rest of the school year:
- If you have sons: Boys have different needs in order to succeed in school. How do you approach these differences in your classroom? (Does the school in general have a strategy in place?)
- Do you assign homework? (Important if the answer is “yes” and your child hasn’t brought any home. Boy, have we been there!)
- If you give homework, do you collect, grade and return it? (Seems like a dumb follow up question, but it’s worth asking.)
- What coaching strategies do you use to help students self-organize? As students head to middle school, more responsibility will be on their shoulders and self-reliance will be expected. Do teachers employ strategies to help kids learn this skill?
- So if my son/daughter struggles in a subject, what supports/interventions does the school provide? Will we as parents be notified of these struggles? If a school has after-hours tutoring, you need to know about it. If your school doesn’t fund interventions, you definitely need to know about that, too, so you can explore other options.
- As parents, how can we best support our child’s education? The answer may be reading at night. Or checking the homework. Or practicing math facts. Whatever it is, set that routine early with your children.
- How do I best contact you if I have concerns or questions? Find out what that avenue of communication is and don’t be afraid to use it.
Getting the answers to these (and any other questions you can think of) inquiries has helped us start off on right foot with school, and asking them at parent-teacher conferences or any time during the school year is never too late. Earlier is better, but don’t ever feel you’ve missed your chance to support your child’s/children’s education.
Here’s to a great school year!