Yes, you heard it right. Every parent is an educator by default — it doesn’t matter whether you took courses in teaching or you have a degree in education. Let’s face it, our teachers are wonderful but are limited as budget constraints force them to teach in overcrowded classrooms without the books and resources they need. Teachers really can use our help and we owe to it to our children to give it to them.
So how do you know what your child’s needs are? And once determined how do you find the resources to help them? Anybody that knows me knows that I am the Google Queen so of course I went straight to the Internet. Big mistake! My kids looked at me like I was giving them a worksheet in an ancient foreign language and it proved more discouraging than helpful. Unfortunately school curriculum varies by State, School District, and even individual schools at times, so you also need to know exactly what your child is working on in the classroom. Here are a list of resources that are already available to you that will help you answer these questions.
Parent/teacher conferences – Well let’s just call these your personal tour guides through the “areas of concerns” you will need to actively address at home. Make sure that you keep an open mind. As parents, we often find it hard to have our children’s weaknesses pointed out. The defense usually comes from our own insecurities as we feel like it reflects badly on us as parents. We often look to blame the teacher about what they are not doing. (Remember bad teaching does not give you the excuse to not to help your child.) I encourage you to truly investigate any concerns that your child’s teacher may bring up.
So what if my child excels? Many schools do not require that parents attend conference for those students that are doing well but it’s always a good idea to go regardless. Even a child who seemingly excels in everything has “areas of opportunity” as they need to be challenged — a need that will probably only be met if you take over the reigns and push them further. Attending conferences serves as encouragement to your child. They love to hear all the wonderful things their teachers had to say and the teachers can give you suggestions and resources that will help you further challenge your gifted child. The downside? Conferences are typically only twice a year and a whole marking period or even semester has flown by before this feedback is received.
Report cards – Report cards come out four times a year and usually you will get progress reports toward the middle of each marking period. For those schools that do not have progress reports, do not be afraid to ask the teacher if this can be provided. In my experience, most teachers love a proactive and involved parent and do not mind providing additional information for you throughout the year. Progress reports will help you intervene quickly if your child is having problems and also gives you an opportunity to help them bring up their grade before reports come out. *Remember that learning holds more importance than a grade (I’ll talk more about that in a future blog)!
Homework - Aww yes, that good ol’ homework will let you know exactly what those little darlings are working on. And as they get older the homework will slowly diminish and/or will be completed sometime during the school day — or at least that is what we are told! But even in these cases make it a precedence that you see their homework regardless of how much of “a breeze” it was. You will be amazed of how many mistakes you can find on homework that was so easy they literally flew through it. Identifying these mistakes helps you identify areas that your child could use help on at home and can even give you homework ideas on those homeworkless nights (wink).
Daily Classroom Assignments - While these assignments appear to be nothing more than a wasted tree in our child’s backpack, they truly are indicators of how they are doing. See what grades they received or where corrections were made. Save these papers and, on yet another homeworkless night, work to correct them together. You can also duplicate the problems in these worksheets and give them practice work to help them become more proficient.
Test Scores – Whether you feel your child is a great test-taker or not, test scores are important to pay attention to. If your child does badly on a test, have him retake it at home. If he/she shows a big improvement, you may want to talk to your child’s teaching about the testing environment to see what options you may have to improve scores. One thing to take into consideration is whether or not your child studied. If they studied and did not improve with a home retake, than you have once again identified something that you can work with them at home with. Note: If your child struggles in reading or reading comprehension, give him/her the test verbally at home to see how they do. (Reading concerns will also be discussed in a future blog). Also, many schools give assessments in reading and even math. Make sure you have access to this information to also guide you. Finally, you have State tests, such as the MEAP, that tests your child on what they should have learned. Be sure not to get caught up in comparisions. Just because other kids have scored low in a State or School District doesn’t mean this isn’t something that you should be concerned about. I once had a principal tell me, “Oh don’t worry about the MEAP scores this year, the State made the requirements so most of our students were not proficient.” And I’m thinking that doesn’t ease my mind at all because the material is still something they are expected to know regardless of whether no one in this school does or not. Just as it is important to know what your child is working on in the classroom, it is also important to know what is expected of them for their grade level. Unfortunately, these aren’t necessarily the same. These State tests will, however, give you an ideal of where your child places and also identifies “areas of opportunity” where you can introduce some of those things they have not been taught yet.
Online Tools – My middle schoolers have what is called Parent Connection, an online tool where you can view your children’s individual assignments. Through this tool, you can see their individual assignment grades, missing work and their cummulative grades up until this point. If available, use this tool to keep your child on track, but try not to become that overly obsessed parent that checks it multiple times a day (I only say this because I was once a member of this club!). Realistically, though this tools are suppose to give you an up-to-date representation on how your child is doing, teachers have to input this data and some have different timeframes in which they update.
Your child – Keeping an open line of communication is always your best resource to helping your child. Some children are more in-tune and when you talk to them, will come right out and say what they were struggling with. My daughter came out and told me that she was having difficulty on a certain subject. “How is that possible, you got an A your class assignment. “Yeah, I know but we worked on this together as a class.” Aha…never would have figured that out if I was simply relying on her grade. But then there’s the other child who you have to drag it out of him. When talking to my son, I asked him how his day was. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: Well how was school today?
Me: Well why was it bad?
Him: I missed recess because I didn’t finish my work.
Me: Is this the first time that this has happened?
Me: Well how many times did it happen last week?
Him: Like three
Me: Okay well that’s a problem if you can’t get your work done during normal class time. Do you know why this is? Is it too hard, is the class too noisy?
Him: (Insert confused smiley here)
I did talk to the teacher and in this case, it was more of him being too much of a chatterbug than struggling with the work. But this example just makes the point that this is something that I would have never know, unless I asked.
Overwhelmed yet? Well don’t be discouraged, it’s a lot to take in and I have only scratched the surface. The parent manual forgot to tell us that one of the requirements of being a parent would be to relearn the Properties of Matter or experience a blow to our ego after discovering our math skills are sub par, at best. However, the fact that you are still with me means that you are vested in your child’s education and I am here to give some resources and tools that I have come across that will help you see that investment flourish. Whether your child excels or struggles, is a motivated learner or needs a push, or whether you have the financials means to get outside help or you don’t; there will be something in this for everyone.