Back to school

10 things teachers wish parents knew before the school year begins

Aug. 12, 2014 at 2:00 PM ET

Todd Nesloney, uses Skype to teach in the classroom. This year Nesloney starts his first year as a principal.
Stacey Huffine
Todd Nesloney uses Skype to teach in the classroom. This year, Nesloney starts his first year as a principal.

(Editor's note: As school begins this week in some parts of the country, we begin a back-to-school version of our "Things I Wish I'd Known" series, where parents — and this time, teachers — reflect on things that could have helped before every stage of schooling.)

Your kids may be set to tackle another school year and all the assignments, projects and tests that lie ahead. But as parents, are you ready?

To help bridge the gap between home and school, TODAY.com asked educators what they wished parents knew about the work they do. To add a dose of fresh perspective to the daily, all-consuming grind of school, here are 9 things teachers wish parents understood. 

1. Happy parents make happy teachers.

“Keeping parents happy is definitely the hardest part of the job for teachers,” said Adam Scanlan, who teaches fifth grade at E. W. Luther Elementary School in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We have 25 sets of parents in our classes, many of whom want different outcomes from one another.” The need to please parents, more than anyone else, he says, is “constantly in the back of your mind,” he said. “I think a lot of parents expect perfection from teachers but in reality, we’re humans, too, and we do the best we can.”

Kristina Hambrock, with students Jordyn (left), Zoe (right), worked extra hard as a new teacher last year.
Courtesy of Kristina Hambrock
Kristina Hambrock, with students Jordyn (left), Zoe (right), worked extra hard as a new teacher last year.

2. Give new teachers a chance.

Have you crossed your fingers wishing your child would not get the newbie teacher? Kristina Hambrock was nervous as she made her teaching debut a year ago. She was often still working in her classroom until 9 p.m., hoping to create an environment where parents would be happy to send their children every day. “What I lack in experience, I can make up in the amount of time I can dedicate to your student,” she said, adding that newbies like her bring enthusiasm, motivation and excitement to their jobs. “Trust them, give them the benefit of the doubt,” she urges parents. “As hard as it is, they’re going to work twice as hard to earn your trust and respect.”

3. Embrace new ways of teaching.

The way kids are taught today is different from how it was even several years ago, let alone how different it was when their parents went through school. Teachers wish parents would embrace the changes more. “Our kids don’t bring home folders because they’re all on the computer,” says Laura Kerrigan, who teaches at Bay Lane Middle School in Muskego, Wisconsin. Supporting your child today means reading a classroom blog or checking your child’s Google Drive. “Embrace those avenues of learning,” Kerrigan says. “Sometimes it’s hard for parents to wrap their minds around.” She urges parents to “get comfortable with this changing environment. It’s not going away.

4. It's okay for kids to fail (especially in middle school). 

Parents don't want kids to fail, period. But teachers say there is time and place for that: middle school. “This is a safe place to fail because we’re here to support it,” Kerrigan said. “Let’s teach them how to get back up for when they don’t have as many support systems in places like high school and college.” But just as kids need to learn to pick themselves back up, they also need to speak up for themselves more often. Students “should be the ones to ask the questions or tell me they’re stuck, instead of the parent because the parent has already gone through seventh grade.”

5. Testing is not the end-all be-all.

As a former teacher who is starting his first year as a principal, Todd Nesloney wants parents to know that for him, education is about much more than a test score. “Sometimes, with the constant conversation of testing and scores and accountability, parents begin to think that we are just here to get their kid to pass a test.” Yes, the principal of Navasota Intermediate School in Navasota, Texas, does want his students to do well on state tests. But his overall goal is to encourage kids to enjoy learning. “We just want parents to know that we deeply care about their children, and we are trying to prepare them for a crazy world out there, and that’s not all about this testing.”

6. Be a good listener.

Adam Scanlan and student, Bri, at South Milwaukee High School.
Grace A. Schneider
Adam Scanlan and student, Bri, at South Milwaukee High School.

It can be hard for parents to hear that their child is having a social or academic problem, but Scanlan urges parents to be willing to listen. “Know that every child and adult, myself as well, needs improvement and not to come in thinking it’s teacher against parents,” he said. “It’s not a battle. It’s trying to work together to help the child succeed.”

7. Your child’s homework is not your responsibility – it’s theirs.

Scanlan heaps on the praise when his students take responsibility for something like forgetting to bring their homework, rather than shifting the blame. He urges parents to stop making excuses for their kids by saying things like homework didn’t get done because of football practice. “You’re not modeling good acceptance of responsibility,” he says. “You’re telling your kid there’s always an excuse for something.” 

8. Stay involved, even when your kids are in high school.

Parents may have dutifully attended every back-to-school night and stayed in close contact with teachers when their kids attended elementary and middle school but find themselves pulling back during high school. Don’t, advises Michael Woods, a special education science teacher at Santaluces Community High School in Lantana, Florida.

High schoolers may tell their parents they don’t need them, but Woods says, “That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Everything in high school is credit-driven, test-driven,” Woods says. “It’s a lot of pressure, and they need a team — the parents and teachers.” He urges parents to meet the teachers and get in touch before progress report or report card time. “I celebrate when a parent calls me or emails me,” says Woods, who is starting his 22nd year as a teacher.

9. Teachers get sick, too.

No parent is happy to hear that a child’s teacher was out — again. But teachers need to be operating at “110 percent,” Hambrock says, and don’t take sick days lightly. “It’s way more work to get a sub and plan for the sub because you want your kids to be taken care of,” she says. “When we get sick, we’re really sick.”

10.  Shhhh  don’t let kids hear negative talk.

When you’re dishing about school, make sure your kids are out of earshot. “Your child’s opinion is affected by yours,” Weidmann says. “So please make sure that if you discuss any negative feelings toward classmates or teachers, that your child is not listening. We can always tell when it’s coming from the parents."

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