Real Talk: School Preparation
As parents, children, and educators prepare for an upcoming school year, or to attend school in general after an extended break, there are a few details that I believe should be addressed. I am often asked by parents: “What can I do to best prepare my child for school?” I am also often on the receiving end of frustrated questions like: “How come I wasn’t notified?” or “How do I know what is going on at my child’s school?” So, I have compiled a list of what I consider to be important but often minimized considerations that most school officials may never fully address in their Back-to-School paperwork:
1. Classroom Materials and Supplies
Most parents, especially those with elementary-aged children, receive materials and supplies lists from teachers. Many college students may also see such sections on their syllabi. I am going to be brutally honest: Despite the amount of funding that school systems report they spend per pupil, the reality is that most of those funds go to salaries and “special programs.” I have witnessed content area departments, with between 7 and 8 teachers per subject (English, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc.) receive between $500 and $1000 as a department for supplies for the YEAR (to share). Thus, expendable supplies like paper, pencils, tissue etc. are expected to be procured at the teacher’s expense. Education is the only industry I can think of where the labor force is not supplied with the basic office supplies they need to complete their work. Additionally, none of these personal expenses are able to be written off our taxes as that is legally capped by the tax code (teachers are allowed a flat credit for personal expenses, last I heard it was $250).
Consequently, we ask, nay beg, for help. The average American family has between 2 and 4 children while the average elementary class has 26 to 27, the average middle school class 25 to 26, and the average high school class has 24 to 25. If you take into account urban areas specifically, the numbers increase dramatically (I have personally worked in or observed classes of over 30 to 40 pupils). And even though students are notorious for losing or misplacing items like pens, pencils, or paper (or just plain don’t bring them), and we are all aware of this fact, schools are still expected to provide supplies for them (a task they have quietly and happily thrust upon us, often retorting “you know what you signed up for when you decided to teach”).
So, if you receive a request for supplies or suggested supplies to bring the class, perhaps do what you can. Your child may be the very one who benefits when they “forget” their supplies at home or in their lockers.
2. Parent Communication
As previously stated, the number of students in an average class greatly outnumbers the number of children in the average home. These numbers compound in secondary schools where teachers are responsible for multiple classes. Thus, the biggest issue that plagues parents—communication—can be greatly improved with simple proactivity.
Due to the quantity of people with whom we must keep in contact, teachers have begun to use outlets like social media and specially designed school communication platforms to communicate basic information to parents. However, if you are a parent who wants more than the standard, basic updates, it would go a long way to make attempts to keep the contact on a two-way street. Instead of waiting for teachers to contact you, make it part of your routine to reach out to them or even stop by as you pick up your child from school to chat with them. I have met very few colleagues who made it a habit to blow off parents or guardians who are genuinely interested in their child’s progress. Many of us relish the opportunity to speak with you and keep you informed. However, our days are filled with more than teaching classes, we have meetings, clubs, and other duties as assigned that often keep us bogged down and unable to send individual communiques to parents on a regular basis.
3. Student Schedules and Routines
The easiest way to determine if there are personal issues going on with a person that they are not talking about is a marked shift in their normal routine or mood. For school-aged children, the easiest ways for parents to notice if there are things they should be discussing with their children and their teachers is to take note of their ability to adhere to their schedule and routines. Likewise, when teachers are aware of students’ study routines or schedules outside of their class schedule would help them to provide more appropriate homework assignments. It may seem small or rather insignificant to many, but success in school and work is usually quickly deterred when a person is unable to understand or adhere to a simple schedule. Many college freshman have failed out simply due to their inability to wake themselves up or report to classes on time. This is not only a strategy, but a skill that needs to be reinforced.
Despite all of the work and headway that has been made to ensure that schools provide students access to properly balanced meals, there is a reality that is truer than not (especially in high schools): Most students don’t eat school food if they can avoid it. Even if the meals are balanced, growing and developing children are often left hungry and unsatisfied. If they can, many will go to corner stores or carry-outs and get the snack and food items they really want—processed sugar and salt with absolutely no nutrients. Furthermore, many children and adolescents refuse, flatly, to drink water. Thus, we have classrooms stacked with malnourished and dehydrated growing children.
Many people would report that when they are hungry or thirsty, they become “hangry.” My speciality is working with students with challenging behaviors as well as learning differences, and the number one thing that I have noticed is that attitude problems are first and foremost the result of hunger and thirst (they look identical). Homes and schools can address this head on through simple education. We need to talk to our children about diet and nutrition and what their growing bodies need. We need to make sure that the snack and food items are optimal for body and brain health. If we were to compare the physical health of students to school success and academic achievement, we might see that many students who fail may be at a disadvantage that could be addressed with a simple change in diet and regular access to water (opposed to the gallons of milk shipped daily to schools across the country).
5. Bathroom Etiquette & Hygiene
This may seem silly, but many people completely underestimate the value of explicit hygiene and bathroom etiquette. At many schools, the bathroom is a social spot, and many things can occur in them that teachers may not be aware of. Likewise, there are very specific hygiene issues that must be addressed with adolescents and not taken for granted that they will just “pick it up.”
I, as a male teacher, have been forced to attempt to explain and deal with various issues that affect female as well as male middle and high schoolers. I am not saying that this is outside of our purview, but when the objective is reading, writing, mathematics, etc., and a child unexpectedly experiences her menstrual cycle, AND there is no nurse on staff, what options do we have if we are inexperienced?
Lastly, there are many discussions going on about gender and sexual orientation. The bathroom is becoming an increasingly more hotly debated subject. We cannot continue to downplay the need for discourse on this topic, and the more homes and schools can align their messages the more simple issues can be avoided and bigger issues be more substantively addressed.
At the end of the day, it is important to ask questions and model communication for our budding adults. So many—parents, teachers, students, etc.—are afraid to sound or appear ignorant. Based on what many of us face on a day to day basis, I would say that we should fear acting on ignorance than on appearances. Discuss and openly talk about what is going on and needs to be going on. It’s the best way to model if for your children and students and to get them to do the same in an adult manner.
©2017 Kevin J. Quail, II. All rights reserved
Kevin J. Quail, II is an experienced, certified Special Educator and Advocate. For over a decade, he has worked as a direct hire and independent contractor in public, private, and charter K-12 as well as college school environments in various capacities, including: Test Prep teacher, IB Librarian/Media Specialist, Tutor, Substitute, ESL teacher, Humanities/College Prep teacher, English, and GED prep teacher. He currently works as an independent research-practitioner and service provider serving in both the Honolulu and Washington, DC metropolitan areas to provide tutoring, homeschool support, test preparation, substitute teaching, special education services, curriculum design, advocacy, professional development and coaching for students, parents, schools, and other independent educators.