We’re about one-month into the school year, and so far we’re off to a great start. I’ve only gotten two e-mails from teachers concerning my children’s behavior. Oh, and one call from the principal because a certain child told his classmate he had a gun in his backpack and wasn’t afraid to use it.
This year, I have an 8th grader, a 5th grader and a kindergartner. We’ve been at the same private Christian school system from day-one. While overall, we’ve had a very positive school experience, some years have been better than others. Some teachers were a good fit. Some, not so much. But every year, I’ve had full confidence that my kids and their teachers would survive, false gun-threats notwithstanding.
How do I pull that off?
1. Every year, I pray that God will direct our steps as a family regarding school choice. I love the school we’ve chosen for our kids, but I’m open to other options. By “open” I mean, God would need to burn a bush and possibly turn a stick into a snake to get me to move them. But I’d send my kids elsewhere, if it was best. I realize God’s plan may include public schools or *cough* home school. And I trust God to give us that familiar “gut” feeling, should we at any point need to consider these options.
2. Long before our school determines teacher/student assignments, I’m praying about teacher/student assignments. I pray for the school staff to hear God’s voice and follow His leading, even if they don’t recognize it as such. I pray God would place my kid smack-dab in the middle of the class where he or she will best thrive. I truly trust God has answered my prayer and He’s got our best interest in mind, even if the teacher assignment isn’t what I hoped.
3. I prepare my kids for the school year by telling them I’ve prayed. I assure them God’s got their back—because He does. I may sometimes forget about their summer reading until two weeks before school starts, but I do remember to tell them God’s got their back.
4. I approach each teacher enthusiastically and warmly. I introduce myself. I respond promptly to e-mails. I sign up to volunteer in the class as often as I can. I let the teacher know how excited we are for the upcoming year. I tell her we believe our child is in the perfect place—in this school, in her class. This communicates to her, “I believe you can do this and I support you.”
5. I let my kids start out with a clean slate. Some struggles arise simply because of the teacher/student dynamic. When the teacher changes or the child matures, many of last year’s struggles become history. Why put a negative image into the teacher’s head concerning my child and create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Struggled with math last year? Doesn’t matter. Had a difficult time getting class work completed? It’s a new day. A bit chatty in class? Let’s have a fresh start. I refuse to allow my kids to enter the new school year with a negative label, but rather allow the teacher to discover my child’s strengths and weaknesses on her own. (And that goes both ways—I refuse to let my older students corrupt my younger students with horror stories about their teachers. I allow my younger students to enter the school year with only positive information about their new teachers.)
6. If my child struggles afresh, I keep the lines of communication WIDE OPEN. I offer information concerning my child’s temperament and I approach the teacher with probable solutions. One year, Elijah had a terrible time completing his class work, which made it difficult for the teacher to move through her lessons at a reasonable pace. The teacher’s solution was to make Elijah sit on a bench during recess (!), doing school work. And then send him home with any uncompleted work. Every night, there were tears and frustration—for hours. Elijah cried, too. It was terrible. I knew the teacher was doing the best she could. But I also knew she was cutting her own throat and making matters worse for Elijah with this approach. My little boy couldn’t complete his work because he had a hard time sitting still and staying focused for so long—the last thing he needed was to be working through recess! What’s more, I knew he responded better to positive incentives than he did to threats of punishment. So, I went to the parent/teacher conference armed with tried and true suggestions to motivate Elijah—which included recess and a sticker chart. She implemented my suggestions and he finished that year with all A’s and B’s, and fewer tears.
7. I don’t rescue my child from every difficult teacher or class. One year, my straight-A daughter was failing math. She came home every night in tears and spent no less than 2 hours trying to understand her math homework. She begged us to let her switch classes, change schools, move to a new state—anything to ease the burden of this math class. Jon and I met with the teacher—and then decided to let her ride out the year, in the same class. Sure, we could have moved her. We had that option. But instead, Rebekah learned a bit about dealing with difficult circumstances—a skill that will serve her well for her entire life. Jon became “Math Guy,” which deepened the father/daughter bond. And Rebekah learned that she’s a lot tougher than she thought. She didn’t finish with an A, but instead with valuable life-lessons and a deeper relationship with her Dad.
8. I remember that they (the teachers, the school) work for me. In a literal sense: I pay a lot of money to send my kids to private schools. But also, in a figurative sense: Even if I chose public schools, I see the school as an extension of my home, not the other way around. I am the one who will stand before God and give an account as to how I raised these children. It is my job to surround them with people who will teach them what I can’t–Lessons and skills they need so they can grow and be what God created them to be. When I view it that way, I feel empowered by God to make good choices. I am not a victim of a difficult teacher or an incompetent school. I am a Spirit-filled believer who hears and obeys God’s voice for my family. And, therefore, I trust Him completely that He’s got our backs.
Q4U: Has your child had a difficult school experience? How did you handle it? If you are a teacher, what can parents do to get you off to a great start?