Dear Parents Series: I’m introducing another series called, “Dear Parents,” where I discuss ideas and topics from my perspective as a former teacher to parents of school-aged children. My hope is that it will help teachers and parents have more understanding toward, greater respect for, and a better working relationship with one another. With that in mind, here is the first post in this series:
Dear Parents: Please Stay Positive
As you begin preparing for the commencement of the school year, I wanted to ask a favor on behalf of all the teachers out there. Please talk about school positively.
Even though it’s been years since I’ve lovingly and painstakingly set up my classroom and planned my lessons, I still mark the rhythms of the year not as they occur chronologically, nor even in seasons, but in the quarters, semesters, and breaks of an academic year. I still feel a sense of anticipation when August rolls around. That is why I also feel a little stab of pain each time I hear parents or students talk about school or learning in a negative light.
I see education as a gift, I think working hard and growing as learners is a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor, and view academic challenges as opportunities to become a better version of ourselves. I’ve come to believe that school is a place where all of these things can come together in remarkable ways. Please partner with all the dedicated and passionate teachers out there to help foster this view in your children.
How? By (1) reflecting on your own perspectives about school, (2) working to adopt a more positive perspective, and (3) being deliberate about how you talk about schooling to and around your children.
First, try this exercise: Reflect on your own schooling experiences and how they might have shaped your overall perspectives about school. Did your parents, siblings, or friends talk about school as a mandatory chore that had to be completed before more enjoyable things could be engaged in? Did you have a negative experience with one or more teachers or school personnel? Did you struggle to connect to the things that were being taught in school? Discuss with a partner, spouse, or friend, or journal your thoughts. Try to think about each individual view about school (e.g. the school work, teachers, school year, tests, etc) and critically evaluate each view. Do you think your experiences are true for all experiences, all the time, for all children? Or might they have been something that impacted you deeply, but aren’t necessarily the same for all people? When I was in middle school, I really began to dislike school. There were times that I felt bullied, I felt stupid, I felt overwhelmed and lost in the crowd. I dreaded going to school. I felt that I couldn’t learn math. Fortunately, due to a family move resulting in a smaller school with attentive teachers, I began to look at myself more positively as a learner and school as a place where I did enjoyable and meaningful work. In college I realized that the differences in the way I learned math would enable me to reach other learners more effectively, so I became a math teacher.
Because my schooling experiences took a turn for the better, my resulting perspectives about school were largely positive. I find that most negative perspectives about school are rooted in unfortunate experiences in our own histories. When we can take them out and look at them objectively, we can see how our biases might be influencing our views about school overall. It’s important that we encourage our children to see and reflect on the positive aspects about their own schooling experiences.
Second, helping our children remain positive in the face of our own disappointing experiences is challenging but most certainly do-able! There are aspects of every job everywhere (even our dream jobs) that are not as enjoyable, just as there are things that are meaningful and engaging. We can help our children find the purpose and meaning in the less pleasant tasks and help them think about how these tasks enable them to be better prepared for the more enjoyable aspects of school. We can empathize and redirect them to look at the silver linings. We can encourage them to appreciate the simple gift of education when many children and families are not able to provide a basic education in some countries. We can help them see how some rules or boundaries in the classroom, even as they come with unpleasant consequences at times, are there to create a better place to learn for all children and mirror some of the laws and courtesies in the adult world. Simply put, if children are frustrated with an aspect of school, empathize sincerely and briefly, and then help them see the silver lining with you.
Finally, be watchful about how you talk about school to and around your children. Be deliberate in talking positively about what is to come and what is happening. Here are some examples of language changes:
- Instead of: “Aw man, only one more week of summer vacation and then we have to go back to school.”
- Try: “I’ve really enjoyed having extra time with you this summer! We’ve had fun, but I’m also excited to learn new things with you as you go through your fifth grade year! I wonder if you’ll learn some of the same things I learned as a fifth grader?”
- Instead of: “I hate getting up early and the rush of early mornings as we get everyone off to school.”
- Try: “It’s challenging to change our schedule and add in early responsibilities after we’ve gotten used to a more relaxed schedule. Let’s brainstorm what we can do to work around the speed bumps so that we can really look forward to our before-school mornings!”
- Instead of: “We have no time for anything fun during the school year evenings because of so much homework.”
- Try: “As a scholar, you have extra responsibilities, so we’ll have to get creative about how to fit in family time and individual down time. Let’s think about this together as a family and come up with some ideas.”
Use car rides, family meal discussions, and bed time chats as additional opportunities talk with children in ways that help them look forward to school. Share a favorite memory from the things you learned, the best friends you made, and the teachers you loved during school. Ask your children what they most look forward to about being in that grade. Ask them what they hope to learn that year, what they think it will be like to be in that grade, what areas they want to grow in, etc. You can even ask them what things they think will be challenging and discuss all the support systems that will be in place to help them tackle those challenges.
Understanding the root of our own biases against school can enable us to develop more positive perspectives and be intentional about fostering positive school perspectives in our children. Deliberate changes in the ways in which school is discussed will make a big difference in the overall emotional climate leading up to the new school year. These habits are also beneficial to develop in the long term. Whether our children get their dream jobs or need to work in a less-than-appealing job for a period of time, having a positive, can-do attitude will always be an asset. At the very least, it will perk up everyone’s spirits a bit.
Happy school year preparations to all!
Still-a-Teacher-at-Heart at www.educationalcompost.com