20 Things Elementary School Teachers Want Parents To Know

by Lisa Sailer
A young elementary school teacher presenting the alphabet on a blackboard

Now that the integrity of public education is on the line, I’ve started to reflect on the past seven years I’ve worked as an elementary school teacher. I’ve dealt with some awesome parents, and I’ve also had to bite my tongue from letting a few F-bombs slip out when dealing with others. As I’m taking a break from teaching for the next few years to be a SAHM with my first child, I thought now would be an ideal time to pass along what all teachers wish we could tell parents.

1. Homework is dumb.

I only ever assigned homework because it was required by my district. Reading is important, but forcing kids to do it makes it seem like a chore they will come to dread instead of a hobby they will love. I also never saw a significant academic difference in kids who religiously did their homework and those who never did it. I think elementary-age kids learn a lot more from the social skills they develop through playing with neighborhood friends than by spending their evening killing and drilling math problems.

2. No one becomes a teacher to be mean to kids.

No one becomes a teacher for fame or money. It’s a career chosen based on a passion for children and a belief in the importance of education. If your child thinks I’m “mean” or am singling them out, it’s probably because they are singling themselves out by not following the rules of my classroom and has received a consequence as a result. Setting expectations and having consequences in the classroom shows that a teacher cares about their students and their success in learning, not that they spent four years in college to purposely make your 9-year-old’s life a living hell.

3. Kids lie.

Yes, even your perfect angel will probably exaggerate or tell a lie at some point to stay out of trouble. My 5-month-old will do it as well someday. Please don’t demand a conference with your child’s teacher and accuse them of allowing another student to cut your kid’s hair when your kid cut their own hair and is scared to tell you. Asking for details about a situation is fine, but accusing your kid’s teacher of not having control of their classroom is like a slap in the face. I always tell parents when they come to me fully believing an outlandish story their child has told them about something that happened at school, “If you don’t believe everything your child says happens at school, I won’t believe everything he says happens at home.” Teach your kids that it’s OK to make mistakes. I always told my students that if they were honest about making a mistake they would be in a little trouble, but if they lied and I found out, they would be in a lot more trouble.

4. Only about 10% of our job involves teaching.

When I became a teacher, I imagined my days would be spent sitting around tiny tables with my tiny students as I watched their eyes light up as I delivered flawlessly engaging lessons. The reality is that teachers spend the majority of their time in meetings—data meetings, meetings about kids who aren’t performing as well as the state says they should be, meetings to discuss other meetings, meetings where someone reads a PowerPoint that could have been sent in an email, and meetings about nothing where the word “rigor” is used about a gazillion times. When you request a conference and your kid’s teacher gives you their first available date and it’s two months away, it’s because their planning period is booked with ridiculous meetings about nothing other than to say a meeting took place.

5. A principal can make or break a school.

Just like any other job, if teachers are happy, they’re happy to be at work. A good principal can make a teacher excited to come to work every day. A bad principal can make you wish you’d contract malaria just so you won’t have to go to work. Unfortunately, I’ve worked for both.

6. You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.

Teachers are much more likely to want to help out a parent who is nice rather than one who is an asshole—it’s as simple as that. I never quite understood why so many parents had the mindset of teacher vs. parent when we both have the same goal of success for their child. We get that being a parent is tough because most of us are parents ourselves. Sometimes you drop the ball, sometimes your kid drops the ball, and sometimes you don’t even know if there’s supposed to be a ball. Whatever the situation may be, we will usually do what we can to help (when you ask us nicely). Demanding that your kid’s teacher allow extra time for a project you forgot about will get you nowhere but frustrated. Asking nicely will probably get you a few more days with a few points knocked off for lateness.

7. Elementary school grades will not affect your child’s college future.

Really. A 92 in math in the second grade has not ruined your kid’s Harvard hopes. Neither will a “Satisfactory” in conduct instead of an “Excellent,” for that matter. I’m fairly sure that college admissions counselors assume that their applicants are capable of elementary math and don’t need to check their report cards from 10 years ago.

8. Teachers drink — a lot.

If you see a teacher out at happy hour, buy her a drink because I guarantee she’s either dealt with a frustrating principal, a difficult parent, a student eating a glue stick, a mind-numbing meeting, or all of the above. We also appreciate Target gift cards for Christmas because we can get wine with them.

9. We have our own families.

Most teachers do live, breathe, eat, and sleep their job. But we also like to spend time with our own families. You wouldn’t expect your lawyer or non-emergency doctor to respond to an email or call you back at 11 p.m., so you shouldn’t expect your kid’s teacher to either. I had to remove my school email from my phone last year because every time it would ding with a new message, no matter where I was, I would feel obligated to respond. “Yes, Mrs. Smith, lunch on Monday will be pizza with a side of peach slices. Have a great Saturday!”

10. We hate having to give every kid an award.

Every kid does not deserve a trophy. Yes, every kid brings something to my classroom, and I’ve always recognized and celebrated this with an awards ceremony on the last day of school. But “Cameron Class Clown” does not deserve a true academic award when he has not done the work to earn it. I believe that giving every kid an award undermines the hard work of the kids who earned their academic recognition, and it makes the kids who didn’t work hard think that they can get by in life with little-to-no effort.

11. Your kid will tell us if you don’t like us.

“My mom said you’re a witch but make the ‘W’ a ‘B’.” When you talk negatively about your kid’s teacher to them or in front of them, it destroys any and all respect they have for their teacher and makes our job that much harder.

12. We DESPISE cupcakes.

We love celebrating your kiddo’s birthday with him, but we don’t love going home with crusty neon icing all over our pants. What’s even worse is sending a cake—that hasn’t been sliced. Fruit snacks, cookies, juice boxes, goodie bags, and the like are awesome alternatives and will keep your kid’s teacher from cursing you under her breath as she profusely apologizes to the custodian for the icing explosion all over the classroom carpet.

13. Standardized tests mean nothing.

Nothing. It means your kid is either really good or really bad at memorizing information and spitting it back out.

14. Let your kid be a kid.

Don’t be such a helicopter parent that your kid asks to go sit in the office for recess because he’s scared he will get dirty. Kids learn just as much through social interactions as they do in the classroom. Making up games and the rules that go along with them at recess, sorting out disagreements without adult intervention, and plain-old running and playing are huge parts of being a kid.

15. No news is good news.

I always try my best to email or call the parents of my best kids just to let them know their kids are awesome, but sometime between a meeting about data, a meeting to plan a meeting, and having to call another parent because their kid stole another kid’s Cheetos, I simply run out of time. If you don’t hear from your kid’s teacher as often as you think you should, it’s probably because you have a kid who is doing everything he/she should be doing at school. But don’t be afraid to ask for a conference or an update because we love meetings where we can simply tell you how great your kid is!

16. Don’t question our professional advice.

Just like a pharmacist, doctor, lawyer, electrician, or any other specialized professional, teachers go to college and then have to pass multiple certification exams. You wouldn’t ask your doctor if he was sure when he diagnosed you with the flu and you wouldn’t refuse to take the medicine he prescribed. If you ask your kid’s teacher for advice, take it. Believe it or not, we know what we’re talking about most of the time.

17. Stop using your kid to compete with other parents.

Just because your neighbor’s kid is identified as gifted and talented doesn’t mean that your kid isn’t just as smart, if not smarter. Gifted and talented, just like special education, simply means a kid learns a little differently and needs a little different instruction. It breaks my heart to hear second-graders talking about how their parent says they “need to be GT.” This also goes for youth sports, awards, grades, etc. Every kid is good at something. Let them enjoy it because there will be plenty of time for competition later on in life.

18. You (or your kid) are never an exception to the rules.

You can’t cut in the carpool line because you are in hurry. You also can’t have lunch with your kid on a closed campus day. Parking across the street and telling your kid to pretend to be a walker so you don’t have to sit in the pickup line just makes you look like a huge jerk. Schools have rules for the safety of the students. When you don’t follow the rules, you’re also teaching your child that they don’t have to follow the rules.

19. Your kid will behave differently around 22 other kids.

I could’ve retired within a year if I had $20 for every time a parent said, “My kid would never do that!” Elementary-age kids are notorious for making bad decisions. These bad decisions are what help them learn right from wrong and how to make not such bad decisions as teenagers and adults. No, your kid probably wouldn’t draw balls and wieners on your bathroom wall at home, but when being egged on by a few giggling boys at school, your child might decide in the moment that this is a great idea.

20. We appreciate involved parents.

Kids love sharing their daily school lives with their parents. Come have lunch with them and let them introduce you to all their friends as you force down a delicious cafeteria lunch and listen to the excited babble of 300-ish kids. Volunteer for a school event so they can show you off to their friends and teachers. Come to open house and “Meet the Teacher” night. Students whose parents are even a little bit involved have a much better chance at being successful in school because they see that we are on the same team with them and for them.

I’ve been blessed to have built some amazing relationships with some amazing kids and even more amazing parents through the years. Teaching is an exhausting and often thankless job, but oh-so rewarding. I like to think that parents are developing a little more appreciation for what we do now that it’s becoming clearer what we stand to lose with appointment of Betsy DeVos to education secretary.