Five back-to-school tips from teachers

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Back-to-school time can mean excitement and stress for the whole family. To lighten up the latter, I asked teachers from around the country to dish out some back-to-school advice for parents. Their answers were sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and always served with a dash of insight only teachers can offer.

1. Be caring, but not overbearing.

Overwhelmingly, teachers stressed the importance of keeping a delicate balance between being involved with your child’s education, while also affording them freedom to grow.

Teachers encouraged parents to keep in touch via email, read the syllabi sent home in the beginning of the year, and familiarize themselves with online grading systems. Parents should try their best to stay on top of daily assignments and activities.

But teachers stressed that it’s equally important to allow your children to make mistakes and learn from the consequences that are given to them.

As one high school history teacher put it, “Support them in their efforts to be successful, but allow them to feel the sting of disappointment when they fail to execute. Failure feels bad! Success feels good!”

2. Be positive.

Maybe math was not your favorite subject. Maybe you can’t speak a lick of Spanish after four solid years of high school classes. Who says that will be your child’s experience with the subject?

Many educators I spoke with encouraged parents to stay positive with children about their classes, even if they had a negative experience themselves with the subject. One foreign language teacher says, “It’s okay to share struggles but too often I think students think their parents’ trouble areas in school are genetic and feel defeated before they even start. Let your child form his or her own experiences and be positive as much as possible!”

3. Praise the struggle, not the smarts

If you see your child struggling, try to view it as a good thing, rather than an uncomfortable state that you want to prevent. One teacher advises, “Let the student struggle sometimes. It is good for them to go through a little adversity.”

As parents and teachers, it makes sense to encourage a “growth mindset” from a young age, which emphasizes the value of struggle and challenge to the education process. On the other hand, simply complimenting a child on how intelligent they are, without any emphasis on the necessary effort and work, might lead students to avoid failure at all costs to maintain their sense of being smart.

4. Sleep

Back-to-school time can easily become a whirlwind of long to-do lists, extra-curricular activities, and staying up late doing homework. But the teachers I spoke with emphasized the importance of balance and rest. One teacher said with a smile, “Sometimes this means saying to a child, ‘Put down Harry Potter, it’s time to turn off the light.’”

5. Want the Wi-Fi Password? Not so fast.

When all else fails, use your leverage as a parent to help your child stay focused. One particularly clever teacher advises, “Change your WiFi password daily/weekly. In this new age of social media, it’s an immediate incentive point for parents to leverage!”

Do you have any back-to-school tips to share? Sound off in the comment below!

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