Back to School — How to Get Off to a Successful Start

Summer is coming to a close; the sun is setting earlier; it’s time for back to school!

Here are a few simple tips for getting off to a successful start and on into the school year.

1. Build a strong rapport with your child’s teacher(s) right off the bat. Introduce yourself in person, make sure to attend Back to school night (often called Curriculum Night) and then send a follow-up email letting your child(ren)’s teacher know that you and your family are excited for a great year. In your email, share the best way for the teacher(s) to get a hold of you and a little bit about your child that may be good and/or helpful for the teacher(s) to know. And for those of you with middle and high school students, this tip is still very much valid. Be sure to include the specialists (ie. PE teacher, Art teacher, etc…) Taking the time to connect lets teachers know that you’re serious about supporting them and your child in having a successful year.

2. Notify your child’s teacher of any special needs that are out of the ordinary. For example, if your child is deathly shy in a large group, this would be good to let the teachers know in advance so they can be sensitive in engaging your child.

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What a Teacher Really Wants, Not Another Mug

During the course of my career as a teacher and school administrator, I’ve received my share of memorable gifts from students. And one of the first things I learned as a teacher is to appreciate each gift, regardless of what it is; although honestly, that didn’t keep my teacher friends and me from having a little fun with some of the more unusual gifts we received.

Since most of the gifts were given to us on the Friday before the winter holiday break, the other grade level teachers and I agreed to wear any and every gift that was wearable on that day. We did this every year.

One year, my colleague pinned on a 2 inch long, 1-inch tall rhinestone “JESUS” brooch and tried really hard, albeit without any success to put on the pants that a student had given her. They were dark green jeans. I put on a pair of the biggest gold-plated hoop earrings I had ever seen along with a vest (the kind that buttons up the front).

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Should I Hold My Child Back Part 2

This is the time of year when some parents may be wondering: Should I hold my child back a grade? It is a difficult and challenging question for any parent to grapple with.

Back in June, I wrote a post about retention, and it has been by far, the generated the most commentary, questions, and dialogue. I thought it would be helpful to write a follow up that summarizes some of the points I have been conveying to individual parents who have contacted me.

NOTE: I do not unilaterally disagree with retention. While I generally do not support retention as an intervention to help students succeed, I do believe that every child is unique with his/her own circumstances and needs. Because I do not know the intricate nuances of each child’s situation, I do not, in good conscience, attempt to provide explicit answers so much provide guidance for parents to ask the right questions, look in the right places and seek the best direction for their child.

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Skin Color According to a Five-Year-Old

Children begin to notice the difference in people’s skin color fairly early on. They innocently make comments that an adult would never get away with. Sometimes those comments about skin color are ironically spot on. This is the current understanding of skin color according to our five-year-old.

We watched the second presidential debate together as a family. Although my husband and I typically vote for opposing candidates every election and our kids are still very young (probably too young to truly understand the election process), we thought it’d be a good idea to try to watch at least some portion of the debate and use it as a teachable moment.

While we were watching, we explained the election process (very briefly and simply). We also explained that our last president was Barack Obama, the candidate running against him was Mitt Romney, and a debate was an opportunity for candidates to share their views.

I paused the debate when Barack Obama was on the screen.

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Progress Reports

The school year is in full gear, and by now, most schools on a traditional school calendar are hitting the halfway point of the first quarter. That means it’s about time for progress reports. Progress reports used to be mailed out around mid-quarter (or mid-marking/grading period) to students who were at risk of failing. However, these days progress reports are more and more common for all students, not just those at risk.

With the advent of online grading technologies such as Powerschool (my favorite) giving parents and students daily access to grades, attendance, and various other records, it may seem that there is less need for formal mid-quarter progress reports. On the contrary, I believe there is still a value add for official progress reports.

1. Even though online technologies offer parents and students a daily view of progress, not all parents/students access the records. So a paper progress report is still a useful tool for communication.

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The First Day of Kindergarten

Months in advance of the start of this school year, we decided to send Lil Pig to the full day kindergarten program at his pre-school. After weighing all the pros and cons given our current family situation (ie. academic needs, class size, our jobs, sister at the same school, cost), this decision made the most sense.

Well, three days ago, Lil Pig started kindergarten. There wasn’t as much hoopla for us since he was staying at the same school with many of the same friends moving into the kinder class. Admittedly, I did little to prepare him or ourselves for starting “real” school. So, much to my dismay when he came home and said that he didn’t like kindergarten because it was “boring”, missed his former teacher, and wanted to return to pre-school, I was surprised and distraught.

We consoled and reminded him that he’s a big boy, ready for the exciting adventure of kindergarten. We asked him specific questions to see if we could get to the bottom of his boredom. After about 10 minutes of talking with our 5-year-old, we managed to conclude that he wasn’t bored, but in fact, he didn’t like the academic nature of kindergarten. After all, there was far less play time in kindergarten than in pre-school. This is a portion of the week one newsletter I received from the teacher:

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Should I Be Allowed to Choose My Child’s Specific Teacher

In the first part of this two-part series, I wrote from the perspective of an administrator who honors parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. For the second part of this two-part series, I’ll share the perspective of an administrator who does not accept parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. There are a number of valid reasons for not allowing this sort of teacher selection to take place.

1. Self-selection makes it nearly impossible to create balanced classes. In other words, a class could end up with 5 boys/25 girls or 10 students with special needs or 15 students who are English language learners. When parents make specific requests and they are all honored, it leaves little room for school officials to balance the classes into a heterogeneous mix as needed.

2. I’m a firm believer that perception is reality and as such, many a teacher has been chosen (for better or for worse) based on general public perception and reputation. The problem with this type of selection process is not every good teacher is a good teacher for each child. Don’t just go by word of mouth as a teacher’s personality/style may not fit your child’s.

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How Are Students Placed In Classes?

Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?

In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year.

Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color-coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender-stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.

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What Happened to Field Trips?

Have you ever wondered, “Whatever happened to field trips? Do kids still go on field trips?”

When I was a teacher a long time ago, we took our third-grade students on several field trips throughout the year. From what I can recall, there were around 5 total, including a big day trip to downtown Chicago, which was the culminating trip for our Chicago unit. (At the time, the history of Chicago was a required part of the curriculum in Illinois.) This field trip was a lot of fun because we took the kids to the Sears Tower (now, sadly, called the Willis Tower) and a bus tour of the city. Although as a teacher I wasn’t a big fan of field trips, simply because they are hectic, I felt they were a value-add to the kids’ learning experience. See also this video about organizing a firld trip:

The fellow grade level teachers and I planned the field trips (where to go and when) together and then ran it past our principal for approval, almost always without any objection. Since our school district was in a fairly affluent area, there typically weren’t any issues with field trip cost or frequency.

Nowadays, field trips are not as often nor as common. There are a few reasons that come to mind:

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How Important Is It to Learn a Second Language?

The past few days have been busy due to the holiday and because as of late, I have been engrossed in watching Korean dramas that stream for free on Netflix. Watching Korean dramas got me to thinking, how important is it to learn a second language? Or maybe more appropriately, I should say how important it is to learn a second language.

Thirty some odd years ago when I was a native Korean speaker entering the school system in the U.S., there was no value-add for knowing Korean or any other foreign/world language. In fact, my school teachers discouraged my parents from continuing our Korean language development and insisted that we solely speak English in order to help my English language skills to develop quicker. Back then, it made all the sense in the world.

We lived in the U.S. and therefore, we should speak English. Nonetheless, my parents were relentless in their belief that although we lived in the U.S., we were still Korean and should learn the Korean language and embrace Korean culture. There was no ESL (English as a Second Language) program at our school so I learned English through the proven teaching method called “sink or swim”. (Forgive my sarcasm. )

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