My last child was born when I was in my 40s. My oldest children have all left for college, and I am still packing school lunches and arranging playdates for their baby sister. Being an older mom definitely has its drawbacks. Occasionally someone asks me if my little one is my granddaughter, and no matter how I try to laugh it off, it is a little awkward and even annoying.
As I attend the back-to-school gatherings and mingle with the parents who are not much older than my oldest son, I can see that perhaps I do not have the energy or quite the excitement that the younger parents do. But I have something that is pretty valuable and is probably worth a lot more than youthful energy. I have experience. As this school year gets underway, I would like to share some practical thoughts with parents just getting started with public-school education.
1. Teachers and administrators, like everyone else, need encouragement. Don’t wait to email them until you are upset about homework-loads or anything else. Email them and tell them what you like about them. Take them a cupcake once in a while. Teachers like small tokens of your appreciation. You tip your waitress and they do far less for you than your kid’s teacher does.
2. Teachers are as individual as the students they teach. Some are very experienced, and some are not. Some are more creative and fun than others. Some are yellers, and some will never speak in anything but a soft voice. Some teachers are good communicators, and some will never return an email. You can make the best of almost any situation and help your child to do the same. Some school years are going to be great, and some are going to be less than great. Hang in there.
3. Some things are just not worth getting upset about. Failed spelling tests will not keep your child from going to college one day. Your child is a child. Do not cause them to have anxiety over small things.
4. Some kids are mean. It seems every class has a bully or two. The best advice you can give your kid is to ignore and avoid. That’s easier said than done in a small classroom of only 25 to 30 children, but there is not much else you can do. Go ahead and call, email and complain about the child that is mistreating yours, but in the end, that kid has as much a right to be in that classroom as yours. Teachers cannot see everything, and they cannot work miracles.
5. Look around. Find a couple other parents from your child’s class you know or can befriend. Exchange phone numbers. There are going to be nights when your kid comes to you because he forgot what the homework assignment is. Or maybe there is a field trip tomorrow he forgot to tell you about, and he needs a lunch, and he’s supposed to wear a red shirt. Or your kid tries to convince you it is pajama day on a day when school pictures are being taken, and you are not sure what to believe. You will be glad you have another parent or two you can call and ask for confirmation.
6. Educate your child about their classmates with disabilities. These children will often teach your child invaluable lessons. Make sure your child is making life easier, not harder, for children who need extra help. Compassion and empathy are taught at home. Your children need you to set an example.
7. Take your child to meet the school custodians, lunch servers, secretary, librarian and all the other support staff. Your child needs to understand every adult in the building is to be greeted and shown respect. In turn, your child will be one of the ones recognized by the staff. Your child will be more likely to seek help from someone they feel comfortable approaching.
8. Life’s not fair. You may as well teach your child this early. Your kid may sing sweeter than the kid who gets the solo in the winter concert. Your kid may spell like he’s a genius, but the school administrator chooses someone else to represent the school in the district spelling bee. In the end, your child’s resume will not be tainted because he did not get to do these things. Save your angry emails and phone calls for things that will really matter. You will not be sorry in the end.
9. Volunteer. Volunteering often gets you a front-row seat to your child’s day. Ask the librarian if you can help shelve books. Ask the secretary if she needs someone to change a bulletin board. Ask the principal if there is something they need in the building that you might be able to help with. Let the music teacher know you can help with sets for the music programs. Volunteer to send cookies and juice to a classroom party. Volunteering gives you a glimpse into the way things work at school. You can watch your child from afar and see how they are interacting with their peers. You can get to know the staff and learn so much. Volunteering has often been more beneficial to me than it was to the teacher I was helping. Volunteering keeps you “in the loop.”
10. If you do not want to participate, it is possible to just say no to fundraisers. For years, I helped my kids sell magazine subscriptions and assorted junk nobody wanted so my child could get a keychain or a Frisbee they desperately “needed.” Then I quit. There is no penalty for not participating. Send the administrator $5 and buy your kid a “prize” for not participating if you would like. Go ahead and make a donation, but you do not have to knock on every door in town if you do not want to.
When my older kids began school, I had a few ideas that proved to be impractical. I am glad I knew the ropes as school began this fall. I was ready.