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The 10 Commandments of Back to School

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A retired teacher’s advice on how to make the most of a new school year

The first few days of school are important ones for children. Meet and greets, new rules and expectations, a few queasy tummies — they’re all part of getting a new year underway. For parents, it’s a time for fresh starts too, sometimes burdened with a few doubts and fears. Did he get the right teacher? Will she learn to read?

Relax, parents. You can get this new school year off to a great start.


I taught school, mostly first and second grades, from 1967 to 2007, and then retired. I had a few years off (for good behavior) while I raised my two children. I loved teaching. I especially loved fall, when everything in the classroom was fresh and new. Crayons had sharp points, and glue containers were full. Desks were scrubbed and boasted beautifully printed nametags atop each one. Children arrived that first morning all put together, wearing smiles of anticipation.

I often met a few parents that day as well. They were the ones who couldn’t quite allow their children to ride the bus yet—they needed to see them safe and sound to the classroom. I understood. I cried the day my eldest boarded the bus for first grade, later telling me it was like “a ride at Disneyland.”

Read and follow the 10 commandments of back to school, and you’ll be well on your way to a wonderful school year.

Thou shalt set a proper bedtime.

It can be difficult to transition from the long, fun-filled days of summer to the more rigid schedule of fall. Start a week or two early. Get back into the habit of going to bed early and rising at the appropriate time. Maybe add 15 or 20 minutes to the morning scramble time to ease the pressure. Select clothing the night before. Eat breakfast together. Your children will arrive at school ready to begin their day.

Thou shalt do the dreaded paperwork.

Teachers and administrators take advantage of the first week of school to get all their ducks in a row. They want current address and telephone information. They need to know who to call in case of illness or emergency. And teachers want to get a handle on the children in their rooms. They want to know which parents will be available to help them and who has special health conditions.

Even though the sea of papers coming home threatens to spill over into the trash can, don’t let that happen. Take the time to complete the paperwork and find a safe way to transport them into the teacher’s waiting hands.
The teacher will love you for your thoughtfulness.

Thou shalt wait a week or two before making changes.

The one and only time I intervened in selecting the teacher for my son, I was dead wrong. I got him the older, more experienced teacher, and we were both bored for the rest of the year (my son and I, not the teacher.) Trust the system. Children are placed with a certain teacher based on the needs of both the child and for balance in the classroom.

The ratio of boys to girls, the number of special needs children or English-language learners, for example, have been taken into consideration.

If you suspect that a change may be necessary, wait a bit and see how your child adjusts. You may be surprised. (Of course, in any situation that has potential for serious problems, you as the parent must act in your child’s best interests.)

Thou shalt volunteer.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough about the value of giving something to your child’s classroom experience.
If you work during the day, you can still send in cupcakes or take time off to chaperone a field trip. If you have young children at home, arrange child care trades and volunteer to listen to children read, play reading and math games or provide any other help the teacher needs. One-on-one attention is very valuable in the classroom, and you can offer that with no training in education. Children are very aware of their parents’ attitude toward school and learning in general. Be the parent who shows up, supports and gives.

Thou shall attend open houses and school performances.

See commandment number four. Show up. It matters.

Thou shalt make an appointment for imparting important information.

Open houses and other large school gatherings are wonderful for a positive group experience. But if you have a question about what happens in the classroom, your child’s successes or needs, behavior issues and the like, please make an appointment to visit with the teacher before or after the school day. Teachers are encouraged by parents’ concern and interest in their child’s performance. They want to give you their full attention to discuss important topics.

Thou shall be part of a team effort.

The school, the family and the child make up a learning team. There may be other teaching specialists involved in your child’s learning experience—speech therapists, social workers and reading specialists. Speak positively about your child’s teachers and the school program. While no system is perfect, most educational professionals want to cooperate with parents and address their concerns. Your child will know if you’re unhappy with the school and it will reflect in his or her attitudes and behaviors. Keep it positive.

Thou shalt pay attention to changes in attitude and behavior.

If your child displays changes in behavior or attitude, pay close attention. The problem may be as simple as illness or mild discouragement, but it could be something bigger such as bullying incidents or fears of failure. Talk and take action.

Thou shall feel free to communicate with the teacher.

Teachers are busy, and they may give the impression they don’t have time to talk with you. That’s wrong. They have time before the bell rings in the morning, after school and in the evenings. They often like to email back and forth. Teachers care about their students, and they’re usually eager to hear what you have to say.

Thou shall do thy best to “let go” in appropriate measure.

It’s hard to entrust your child to anyone but yourself. But growing up is a series of letting-go experiences. Kids go off to preschool, kindergarten, first grade, and before you know it, they’re ready for high school. The time flies by, and you can’t stop it. Further, you don’t want to. Let your children become strong and independent one step at a time. It’s hard to let go, but it’s necessary.

As you know by now, children don’t come with a user’s manual. Parenting is a tough job, and each child is unique.
You’ve done your best to prepare your child for school and the world, and now you have to entrust him to another adult’s care. You have to allow her to fend for herself for a large chunk of each day. You have to trust he’ll make good choices. It’s hard.

On the other hand, most teachers are not doing their extremely complicated and demanding job for the pay they receive. They’re in the classroom because they love children and the learning process.

There’s nothing more rewarding to us teacher types than to see a little face light up during a read aloud or when a new concept is grasped. It’s pure gold.

Here’s wishing you and your child a most successful school year.

About Jan Pierce, M.Ed.