Ever wonder what teachers are really thinking and feeling?
They have a lot on their minds as they start the school year. We found a handful of K-12 educators willing to spill their expectations for families.
Back to school tips from teachers, for parents
The biggest thing? Communication.
"It's a two-way street," Colorado middle school teacher Zander Epps tells TODAY.com. "We have a responsibility and the expectation to reach out to parents about grades, assignments, and any behavioral issues, but we also like knowing anything important that might affect students' education."
"We care about kids — and their families," he adds.
Here are 5 things your teacher wants you to know this year.
Back-to-school tip #1: You can invite your child to parent-teacher conferences
Kids don't have to dread those closed-door meetings between parents and teachers. They can actually tag along.
"We generally want students at parent-teacher conferences," Todd Bloch, a middle school science teacher in Detroit, tells TODAY.com. "That way, kids and their parents can hear feedback at the same time and nothing gets lost in translation."
Students can usually handle honest conversations, says Bloch. He suggests asking teachers for permission to include kids in conferences.
"When you email the teacher, include a line like, 'Unless there are topics you only want to share with us,'" he says. For parents tentative to discuss certain topics in front of their children, they can email concerns to teachers before the conference.
According to Bloch, it's also OK to include students in part of the meeting, then ask them to step outside for a few minutes. "I have seen this work many times,” he says.
Back-to-school tip #2: Got a problem? Tell the teacher (not the principal or other parents)
If your kid is experiencing conflict at school, don't call the parents of the other child (especially if you're angry). Instead, contact the teacher first.
"Teachers not only have a (documented) history of children's behavior, they can provide a safer space for everyone's voices to be heard," Edia Rivens, an elementary school teacher in Queens, New York, tells TODAY.com.
Unlike parents, teachers spend lots of time with both children and might have important context, says Rivens.
Teachers do appreciate insight from parents. "Teachers are aware of social dynamics but a lot of conflict happens on social media," Shadonna Robinson, a special education teacher at a middle school in Georgia, tells TODAY.com.
When a child comes home upset, Rivens says parents should become "information seekers" — listen without leaping to assumptions, taking sides or giving advice.
Some concerns might need to be escalated to the administration.
But before you loop in the principal: "Some principals are overwhelmed and may not be able to give legitimate attention to the problem," she notes. “As a general rule, teachers first — they're a resource for both students and parents.”
Back-to-school tip #3: Stop calling or texting kids at school
"We know to pay attention to how much kids are on their phones, but sometimes parents are part of the problem," says Bloch.
According to Bloch, many parents text students at school "all the time."
Block says teachers appreciate a heads-up before parents text or call students at school, and advises limiting unnecessary conversations during the day.
“Parents don’t want schools to eventually ban phones, but that might be where we’re headed due to disruptions,” he says.
Shadonna Robinson, a special education teacher at a middle school in Georgia, agrees.
"Sometimes students (call or text) their parents to fill them in on a problem before the teacher has an opportunity to do so," she tells TODAY.com. "The parent might not have the correct information, which can be problematic."
Robinson curbs cell phone use in her classroom by offering kids a charging station near her desk — one that's out of reach for students.
Back-to-school tip #4: They hate when you take kids out of school for planned vacations
Do your best to book family vacations around the school calendar.
Depending on the district, illnesses, family emergencies or funerals are excused differently than, say, weddings or vacations, says Epps.
"A family vacation or an important life event may theoretically count as an excused absence — and with enough advanced notice — but parents should check with their individual district or school handbook," says Epps.
Public schools may allow a certain number of unexcused absences before a student is considered truant, but that number varies by state.
Remember that teacher vacations are also dictated by the school calendar.
"Teachers support family vacations, including for ourselves," says Epps. "The problem comes when families don't communicate their plans."
Back-to-school tip #5: Let them know what you did this summer
“Some students stayed up until midnight every night and others (had more structure) by attending camp,” Raphael Bonhomme, a third grade teacher in Washington, D.C., tells TODAY.com.
When teachers are familiar with how students spent the previous few months, says Bonhomme, they can better tailor education to children’s specific needs.
Children are still dealing with the social and emotional after-effects of the pandemic, he says, and that's important to keep in mind: Just getting kids to sit in chairs can be challenging at times.
"Many people assume the effects of the pandemic are gone, but they are still very prevalent," says Bonhomme. "Kids would often flop out of their seats and end up on the floor" this past year, he says. "They didn't have the same attention span and weren't accustomed to sitting for longer periods of time."