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Back to school, time for parents to connect with child, teachers

Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 6:48 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 26, 2011, at 10:24 p.m.

It’s that time of year again — the time of year when students start to prepare for another school year. Maybe this year your student will have new teachers, new classrooms, maybe even a new school. She or he may be filled with a mix of enthusiasm, excitement and a fair amount of anxiety.

As you and your child head out to your favorite store to buy notepads, folders, pens and pencils, let’s not forget the one supply that is most critical to a child’s success in school: parental involvement.

I am an educational technician in RSU 26 (Orono, Veazie, Glenburn) and I am also an adult education instructor there. As an ed tech, I work directly with special needs kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. I am also the proud step-parent of a third grader, so I’ve seen the impact parents can have on their child’s education from both sides of the equation.

Research consistently shows that when parents, teachers and schools work together, students benefit. They earn higher grades, stay in school longer and have greater success in gaining access to post-secondary education and graduating from post-secondary institutions.

This evidence holds true for students at all levels, elementary and secondary, regardless of the parent’s background, educational attainment or socioeconomic status. If learning is valued at home, students will naturally put more pride and effort into their work at school.

Parental involvement in our local schools is a two-way street. Parents need to seek opportunities to be engaged. They need to contact their child’s teachers, introduce themselves, talk about their hopes and struggles with their child, and insist upon ways to be involved in their child’s learning. Any teacher will tell you it’s easy to spot the kids whose parents do just that.

Schools and teachers need to be flexible, accommodating and diligent in working with parents, too. Obviously, many parents work during the hours of the regular school day and miss out on a lot of day-to-day activities. However, there are many other ways to keep the lines of communication open between teachers and parents — e-mail, phone calls or even a simple “communication log” notebook will do the trick.

School districts need to encourage evening activities that bring parents, educators and community leaders together so that everyone is engaged in the education of the community’s children. Schools need to be constantly welcoming of parents and the role they can play in improving student performance.

All too often, parents and teachers wait until a student is in trouble before they finally “connect” with each other. By that time, unfortunately, the connection is built upon the struggles of the child and the conversation often centers around discipline or remediation, thus making it a more adversarial and counterproductive arrangement.

Having an open, honest and positive relationship between parents and educators from the beginning can even help reduce the incidence of troubled behaviors at school.

There is nothing more heartbreaking to me than seeing a breakdown in the parent/school relationship: communication logs coming back to school unsigned, parent-teacher conference appointments going unfilled, phone calls going unreturned. We live in a very busy world, and a great deal of pressure is placed on working parents to juggle our work-demands with the needs of our children. Sometimes the day just doesn’t seem long enough to get to a school function or take more than a cursory look at our child’s homework.

But investing even a little extra time now can pay huge dividends in the future.

We all want our kids to succeed. It takes a lot of hard work from everyone involved in their education. But as I always tell my students — and stepson — we don’t get any better by always doing the easy stuff.

If you are a parent of a school age child, let’s remember that back to school should be a time when we parents get back to basics. Get involved in your child’s education. Become a proactive, engaged parent. Your child and your child’s teacher will thank you.

Joe Knox lives in Bangor.

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