Teachers

  • Quarantine Edition: Communicating with your Child’s Teacher

    Are you having trouble communicating with your child’s teacher?

    Many of us around the country are about six weeks into being quarantined at home with our families. Some families have adjusted well and have fallen into a routine of successfully balancing the new norm. However, some parents are still struggling with helping their children complete remote school assignments. In addition to extra housework, parents have found themselves feeling completely ill-equipped to help their children do their school work and it’s simply just not working for any member of the household. Overwhelmed parents have expressed that they are at their wits end with non-communicative teachers and their sea of seemingly endless assignments.

    So, what is the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher?

    I came across a complaint from a parent expressing her frustration with her child’s teacher. I’ve paraphrased to protect the parent, child and school district’s identity but the gist of her grievance is:

    I’m so over my son’s teacher. I emailed her to contact me days ago and I still haven’t received a phone call. In my email, I stated that I found some of the assignments confusing and told her that she needed to be meeting with my son and his class at least twice a week.

    She finally replied via email and told me that she taught the kids how to complete the assignment while in class so she doesn’t know why I’m confused. Obviously, I wasn’t sitting in class when she covered the subject matter. I’m sitting at my computer and I’m so irate with her condescending tone. I really want to give her a piece of my mind!

    I’m able to see both sides here. I’m a parent, educator and founder of Kid Care Concierge, where a big part of my job is to supervise teachers. Here are 4 tips that will lead to better communication with your child’s teacher while under quarantine.


    Ask very specific questions in order to get a direct answer. Instead of expressing that you’re confused, it might be more helpful to reword your reply to say that your child doesn’t understand x concept and you don’t want to further confuse her so you’re requesting the teacher to either send you step-by-step instructions of how to s/he’d like for you to teach her. You could also email the teacher to request a time to speak with him/her to go over the concept so that you can assist your child with the assignment. As tempting as it may be, cursing the teacher out will do nothing except further escalate the situation. Instead, be firm, direct and intentional in your communication with your child’s teacher.

    A little understanding goes a long way. It’s safe to say that the world has a collective newfound appreciation for teachers. Quarantined parents everywhere are wondering how teachers are able to supervise and educate 25 students at one time, day in and day out. Be mindful that your child’s teacher may be teaching your child while trying to manage to keep his/her own children quiet in the background.

    If the teacher has a “fiery” personality or just has a smart mouth, s/he probably didn’t take too well to the parent demanding how often she should meet with children. I agree that meeting with the child more frequently may clear confusion and there is never a reason to be non-communicative within a professional relationship, but the teacher is not going to make that extra effort if a parent is going back and forth with him/her.

    If the school day normally ends at 3:00, don’t expect a reply from the teacher after that time. Realize that other parents are likely confused, frustrated and have contacted the one teacher numerous times. Some teachers are teaching full classes of students, totaling over 100 students per day. Some teachers are without help with childcare or may have lost a friend, family member or student while being quarantined and are unable to properly grieve but continue to be there for your child and others. Teachers are still required to plan and write lesson plans, grade tests, write report cards and attend virtual meetings with their superiors all while caring for their own children, cooking, cleaning and trying to navigate getting essential groceries after they’ve finished teaching each day.

    Here’s where you woosah, grab a glass of wine or mediate before replying to the teacher.


    School districts provide a service to the school community. Teachers are on the front line so they get the pleasure of having to respond to irate parents who are oftentimes frustrated by a system the teacher did not create and cannot control.

    I’m going to share a little secret with you. Everyone except for teachers and parents who were homeschooling prior to novel coronavirus is winging it. Homeschooling is different than virtual learning. Trust me, I’ve written homeschooling curricula and it requires experiences that parents cannot provide while being quarantined. School districts had no intention of teaching virtually on a consistent basis; therefore, they did not prepare for it. Scaling a half year of a full curriculum into a virtual curriculum in less than two weeks while in the midst of a pandemic without some missteps is unrealistic. So what have districts done? The best that they can. Since I’m being completely honest here, let’s take it a step further and realize that although teachers are true heroes, they are human. Some adapt extremely well to change and will go above and beyond to make the transition as painless as possible for families. Others oppose change and shut down when it’s imposed upon them.

    Some districts are telling teachers how often and how to meet with students. Others leave it up to the teacher. Some school districts are requiring students to log in by 9 and work throughout the day, while others are simply requiring students to complete under two hours of work per day. In the example above, I’d email the teacher during school hours to request that s/he virtually meet with the child to clarify questions one additional day per week for extra help. Most teachers normally hold some form of office hours to provide extra help to students, so it’s not unheard of for a parent to make such a request.

    If the teacher is flat out non-responsive, contact the principal/district to gain clarity on how often they expect teachers to meet with students. Make sure that you keep a log of time and dates that you’ve attempted to reach out to the teacher and the nature of their reply. If the teacher is not doing what s/he is supposed to by district standards, then you’ll have an email thread to share with her supervisors showing that you’re a concerned parent who is not getting the help your child needs.

    Educationally speaking, we’re navigating uncharted territory. Clear communication is the only way we’re going to make it through this unprecedented time. We are all stressed out for a variety of reasons. Venting to a teacher and directing them how you want them to virtually teach your child may fall upon deaf ears. When contacting your child’s teacher while under stay at home orders be specific regarding requests and understanding when it comes to limitations, also keep in mind that the parent-teacher relationship is professional in nature and correspondences should be sent and recorded accordingly and be realistic.

    xo, Natasha

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  • Benefits of Volunteering at Your Kid’s School

    Stay-at-home Mom, work-from-home Mom, work full-time, work part-time, running a business, starting a business, full-time student or any combination of work schedule; we’re all so busy.  How many of us are guilty of finding a week’s worth of old notices from the teacher about upcoming events at the bottom of the child’s backpack days after the event has passed? I’ll raise my hand high for this one.  It seems like the children are having some kind of class event every few weeks. Bake-sales, class trips, pizza parties, and book fairs, oh my! It’s overwhelming and expensive.  

     

    It seems like someone from the school is begging for us to do something for the class, every five minutes, right?  Yes, this is true, but I’ve been on the other side of planning such events and I’ll share some insight about why you’re being contacted so often regarding class events.  Teachers are with our children day-in and day-out. Even if we’re asked to send in the 1,000 boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer at the beginning of the school year, most teachers easily spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket each year.  It adds up quickly too. Most districts provide the basics. Teachers get to know our children’s learning styles and emotional struggles intimately. It’s not unheard of for them to selflessly pick up a game or manipulative that will solidify the concepts that the group has been working on for the past several weeks.  Class parties are likely not calculated into the district’s school budget when discussing finances at board meetings. Here’s where the notices found at the bottom of the backpack asking parents to donate time, money or both come into play.

    I know how busy you are and I understand that it may be nearly impossible to be at all school events.  There are; however, huge benefits for us as parents to volunteer at the kids’ schools. 

     

     A first-hand glimpse of how your child’s teacher engages with students. 

    It still tickles me to think back to when I used to work at schools and would run into a family while shopping in the same community. Students, and oftentimes their parents, would treat me like a local celebrity and be seemingly amazed that I shopped for my own groceries too.  The wide-eyed look, the pregnant pause while they’re deciding whether or not to approach in public. Unless running into the store after work, I’d notoriously be looking my worst as if I were making a quick run to the dumpster to throw out trash, but I digress. After the chance encounter, the dynamic of my relationship with the student would usually experience a slight shift as they realized that I, too, was a human who ran errands in sweatpants and not the usual “teacher clothes”.  

     

    Similarly, volunteering in the classroom enables parents to see the more “human side” of school personnel, the good and the bad.  You’ll learn how compassionate and caring the teacher might be when a student falls or how short-tempered he/she might be when a kindergartener has an accident, how often the other teachers gossip, how much the teacher seems to enjoy or perhaps dislikes their job.  The more regularly the parent comes to volunteer in the classroom, the more comfortable the teacher becomes being themselves. Think the first time a guest comes to your home versus the 50th time. I think it’s important for me to get to know the teacher making a life-long impression upon my children beyond back-to-school night and the last day of school.  I also think it’s equally important for the teacher to know that I will “show up” for my kids and not just when I want to complain. So, when I can, I volunteer. Some years, I was class mom, working side-by-side with their teachers to plan all class events. In other years, I wasn’t able to miss work as much and was only able to volunteer once the school year for an hour or two. Should you feel horrible if your schedule, financial situation or both don’t allow you to volunteer?  Absolutely not! But, I’d encourage you to find another way for you and the teacher to get to know each other as “humans”, as I believe it helps build a foundation for mutual respect between parent and teacher. 

     

     

    A view of how your child socializes with peers.

     

    The elementary and middle school years are so challenging.  I’ll be frank with you. SOME kids can be jerks. I don’t fault them because they are children.  They’re learning and growing. Some developing and maturing faster than others. Also, having been a counselor in schools, I’ve been privy to the confidential information shared with me by my students. While I won’t dare share specifics, I will tell you that you have no idea what some children have been through at a young age.  Regardless of zip code or type of school, dysfunction and mental illness are prevalent in the homes of children and the effects oftentimes manifests itself it the only place the child can feel safe, school. Their class bully has likely learned his/her behavior and is either modeling what has been seen, responding to what has been rewarded at home or is coping with the trauma he/she has experienced thus far.  As a parent of a child who has “the bully” as a classmate, there’s very little you can do. However, what you can do is teach your child how to avoid or respond to the other child’s behavior.  

     

    Our children won’t learn how to deal with difficult personalities unless they are taught.  While it’s inappropriate for us as parents to go into the classroom and make another parent’s child feel bad or scold them, even if they are “a bully”, it is very appropriate for us to engage in a dialogue with our own child at home about how they should have responded to an incident that we may have witnessed while volunteering earlier in the day.  One of the best ways to gain a bird’s eye view of how our child socializes in school is to be present. A quick trick from a veteran parent is to multitask.  Kids act differently when you’re there. Be 95% engaged in helping out while the other 5% is discreetly taking note. Work every time.

     

     

    The opportunity to engage with other class parents.

     

    If your child has never been the bully but has been bullied or harassed by a peer, you’ve likely had the thought, “who raised you?”  Here’s your opportunity to engage with the families whose children are helping shape your child’s daily experiences. I don’t know about you but I like to have some insight into their values and perspectives.  Working with other class parents has revealed why the kids might be so darned pushy, as their parents are the same way. Sheesh! 

     

    Likewise, I’ve formed some relationships that have turned into life-long friendships because I’ve learned exactly how much the family has in common with ours.  There comes a point in time where our teens will wake up and believe that we are not wise, we were never children and we know absolutely nothing. Around the same time, they will come to believe that a kid their own age, possessing the same exact amount of minimal life experience as they’ve acquired thus far, knows everything. Parents- let’s roll our eyes in unison. All the more reason to have a clue about how their peers are being raised because like it or not, “those kids” are making an impression.  

     

     

    The chance to steal a few moments with our child during the school day.

     

     

    If you have more than one child or more than one job, you might feel pulled in several directions.  If you’ve ever had to “choose a kid” because your kids have different events in different places, at the same exact time, I feel your pain. Volunteering at my child’s school allowed me to specifically designate uninterrupted time to one child.  It allowed me to be able to steal moments and create precious memories that we’ll hold forever. It sounds cliche, I know, but it is true. I made fruit shish kebabs for my youngest daughter’s kindergarten class trip about seven years ago and it was a hit with the kids and teachers.  My daughter still mentions that trip occasionally. Every time she brings up the event, I recall that I wasn’t going to go but rearranged my schedule at the last minute to accommodate. In the blur of her early years, this stands out to her. I’ve worked a lot and I’ve missed a lot. So stealing the moments that I’ve been able to “figure out”, means so much to both of my girls and me. 

    Being Parent of the Year doesn’t mean that you have to show up every single time.  It’s unrealistic. Do what you can, when you can. That will be enough for your children.  When you are able to show up, being present and actively engaged makes all the difference.  

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  • 5 Ways to Prevent Bullying  

    Bullying is a serious issue that warrants the immediate attention of all parents, school personnel and students.  For a long time, the gravity of the effects of bullying was dismissed as we used to believe that “kids will be kids”.  We’ve since grown as a society and now know better. We now understand that making a conscious choice to ignore bullying may hold both life-long and life-threatening consequences. So, let us explore the who, what, where, when and why of bullying.

    What Exactly is Considered Bullying?

    Stopbullying.gov indicates that “the current definition acknowledges two modes and four types by which youth can be bullied or bully others. The two modes of bullying include direct (e.g., bullying that occurs in the presence of a targeted youth) and indirect (e.g., bullying not directly communicated to a targeted youth such as spreading rumors). In addition to these two modes, the four types of bullying include broad categories of physical, verbal, relational (e.g., efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and damage to property.”

    Let’s Look at the Stats

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 U.S. students ages 12-18 have been bullied during the school year.

    YouthTruth, a national nonprofit agency, analyzed data collected from nearly 80,000 5th through 12th graders across the country and found the most commonly reported forms of bullying are verbal harassment, social harassment, physical bullying and cyberbullying.

    Their findings further indicate that “when asked why they thought they were being bullied, almost half of all bullied students – 44 percent – think it’s because of how they look. Another 16 percent believe they were bullied because of their race or skin color, and 14 percent think they were bullied because other students thought they were gay (regardless of how they actually identify).”

    The National Center for Education Statistics further found that:

    • 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year;
    • Of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 12% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5% were excluded from activities on purpose;
    • A slightly higher portion of female than of male students report being bullied at school (23% vs. 19%). In contrast, a higher percentage of male than of female students report being physically bullied (6% vs. 4%) and threatened with harm (5% vs. 3%;
    • Bullied students reported that bullying occurred in the following places: the hallway or stairwell at school (42%), inside the classroom (34%), in the cafeteria (22%), outside on school grounds (19%), on the school bus (10%), and in the bathroom or locker room (9%).

    Current research further suggests that there is a strong link between bullying and suicide.  The CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year.

    What We’re Seeing in Schools

    Educators and psychotherapists working with our nation’s students aren’t surprised to learn that the most incidences of bullying occur during the middle school years. It’s a hard time for our young learners.  It’s smack in the middle of the so-called awkward phase of physical growth and emotional maturity. Those of us who’ve directly worked this population of students often term them as big babies stuck in bigger bodies. They typically enter middle school lacking a great deal of self-confidence and if properly nurtured, will graduate more self-aware and self-assured.  Sixth-graders experience the most bullying among all school-aged children.

    Stopbullying.gov found that 70% of school staff have witnessed some form of bullying on the school campus. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month, and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.


    Here are the 5 ways to prevent bullying:

    1  | If you see something, say something.

    Bullying can only be prevented and/or addressed if it’s reported. We must teach children to get away from this protective code mentality of not telling or “snitching” when it comes to serious matters. Our children are being driven to harm themselves through dangerous means like cutting themselves or attempting and committing suicide. If that’s not a reason to report incidences of bullying, I don’t know what is.

    2  | When it’s reported, do something.

    The brain doesn’t fully mature until about the age of 25.  Children are ill-equipped to “handle it” by themselves. This isn’t an issue that we can leave them to resolve without guidance. Adults MUST step in and alleviate the pressure that builds from being a victim of bullying.  We teach children that it’s not nice to be a tattletale, so it takes a lot for a child to tell on their peers, particularly as they get older. As mature adults, we have to stop being dismissive by sweeping things under the rug.

    3 | D O C U M E N T

    I cannot stress this enough. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle on this one, folks. I’ve created school policies to prevent violence and coordinated anti-bullying programs at schools for students from prekindergarten through twelfth grade. Moreover, I’ve worked with parents to teach them how to advocate for themselves and their families.  Most importantly, I am also the parent of a child who was a victim of bullying and have felt like my concerns were not only not addressed properly, they were ignored.

    I’m going to be completely honest. It’s one thing to be the professional in the suit with the fancy words lending your expertise to better create an anti-bullying culture within the school district you work. And, as much as you may love your job and students, you’re allowed a reprieve when the workday ends. It becomes next-level, as in Momma/ Poppa Bear instinct when looking into the teary eyes of your own child who’s being harassed at school you presume to be their safe space.

    In either case, documentation is key. Whether sitting on the fancy school leadership committees or in court testifying as an expert witness on behalf of the districts that contract with my company or as a parent who is advocating for my own child, documentation matters.  Parents get emotional when it comes to their children, as they should. Kids complain, parents complain, teachers complain. Everyone has a “side” when things go wrong. The mix of emotions may lead to us vs. them exchange instead of a more productive “let’s fix this” meeting.  Bringing a summary including dates, notes outlining each incident, parent communications and school responses will help all stakeholders see that a pattern of harassment is truly occurring. This approach will likely elicit a swifter response by the anti-bullying team than would a meeting of emotional accusations being hurled from side to side.  

    4  | Know your rights and the rights of your children too.

    Your child has the right to feel safe in their learning environment.  One of the most important components of a good school is being a safe school where children are provided with a nurturing environment that positively regards their emotional, mental and physical safety.

    Children should not feel threatened, harassed, intimidated or bullied by any child or adult while at school, on the bus to-and-from school, or when attending school-sponsored events, trips, etc.

    Every school should have a Bullying Coordinator. The person’s title may differ from district-to-district or state-to-state but the job responsibilities are similar.  They are the person who works at the school that is tasked with preventing and addressing incidences of bullying. Good schools have defined anti-bullying policies and violence prevention programs in place to create a district-wide culture emphasizing the importance of student safety.   

    5  | Know when it’s time to take it to the next level.

    If the school is unresponsive or doesn’t take appropriate measures to intervene, then there is a chain of command in place. Always try to work with the teachers and administrators first, as they work with the children on a daily basis.  The next point of contact would be the office of the superintendent, as they oversee all of the schools within a district. The next level would be the county or regional superintendent’s office followed by the state’s Department of Education. 

    There are also organizations that aim to help families navigate the process.  If the child has documented disabilities and has an IEP, or individual education plan, they then fall into what is called a “protected class’ there are additional laws and teams in place to ensure that they are not discriminated against or bullied because of their disability.  There are parent advocacy networks in place to help parents stand up for their children’s rights. Having worked with various districts throughout my career, I have seen firsthand how parents benefit from having an advocate attend meetings with combative school personnel. There are also Educational Law Centers that specialize in representing families who believe their child’s educational rights have been violated.

    Bullying is everyone’s problem. Accordingly, the prevention and reduction of incidences of bullying must be a top priority for all parents and educators.  It’s important to be clear on identifying what bullying is and to know how to attentively respond to incidences without being dismissive. Documentation alleviates stakeholders from sifting through emotional and verbal ramblings and forces them to deal with issues head-on.  Finally, there is a protocol chain in place to eradicate bullying and school violence that includes working directly with school personnel, partnering with an advocate and ultimately seeking legal action when problems are not addressed.


    Sources

    https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719 

    https://youthtruthsurvey.org/bullying

    https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html

    https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/what-to-do-about-bullying/

    http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

    https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-bullying#fnref4

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