In the Words of a Non-Parent

Today’s blog post comes as an idea from my friend Jessica. She suggested that it would be interesting to hear parenting advice from someone who isn’t a parent. With as much time as I’ve spent among families and working with kids, she felt that I could offer some unique insights into the art of raising children. So, depending on how well this is received, this could become a regular category on The Confusing Middle.

And as my first attempt at offering unsolicited and (in some eyes) unqualified advice, I ask a question: How involved should parents be in their child’s school?

First and foremost, know your child’s teacher. I say this in the same way that comedians have to know their audience. A stand-up comic really has to be able to read his or her audience to know how some jokes will come across. One audience may think something is hilarious, while the people at the second show might be completely offended. Teachers are just as varied in style and personality as those fickle comedy club audiences.

Have you determined what kind of teacher you and your kids are dealing with? Trust me, it’ll be important throughout the entire school year. It might be best to come up with a list of questions to ask on Back to School night, that way you can begin to familiarize yourself with the person that your son or daughter will be seeing for seven hours a day for the next nine months. Things to ask that you may not think about asking include, but are not limited to:

  • What kind of reward/consequence system do you have in the classroom? (Especially important in the younger years.)
  • How much weight do you give to homework?
  • What is your favorite cookie? (Who doesn’t appreciate a cookie every now and then? And it never hurts to suck up to your kid’s teacher, am I right?)
  • Do you need a hand with anything throughout the school year?

That last question may take some teachers by surprise. A parent who’s interested and willing to lend a hand to their child’s teacher? This is a rare and precious thing in our world today. As I said, teachers and their personalities vary. Some will want a volunteer to help out just about every day. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s important to make it known to your teacher that you are available if he or she needs help. There are so many simple things that can be done to take some of the weight off our teachers’ shoulders.

At the same time, don’t step on your teacher’s toes. If you happen to be in the classroom thanks to some free time, which you’ve chosen to spend by volunteering as a helper, remember that you are a parent. The teacher is there doing a job. I’m sure it’s difficult to relinquish control over your own flesh and blood, especially when you’re in the same room, but you have to trust that your kid’s teacher is doing a good job. After all, that teacher has been certified by the state to do that job. So let them do it.

Not all parents can help out during the school days, nor are they expected to. Working parents, for example, just aren’t able to afford time away from work to help in the classroom by making copies or cutting shapes out of construction paper. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved in your child’s education. Yes, the teacher has them during the school day, but you have them in the evening and on weekends.

Show an interest in what your kid is doing at school. Ask questions of them. What did you do today? What did you learn? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? How did it tie into what you’ve already learned? I beg of you, begin asking these questions at an early age. If you show a genuine interest in what your child is learning, your child will develop a genuine interest in what they are learning. If you have a teenager in high school who doesn’t give a crap about school, look back and ask yourself if you gave a crap about their schoolwork when they were younger.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, it is inevitable that your kid will get a bad grade someday. And it’s very likely that he or she will get into trouble at some point. When that happens, please, do not automatically assume it’s the teacher’s fault. Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect teacher. But, here’s the thing, (and this will come as quite a shock to a lot of parents) your child isn’t perfect either. I’ll give you a moment to compose yourselves after the shock of that statement has passed.

I’ve seen it too many times. A kid is acting up in class. He’s not paying attention, he’s talking back to the teacher, he’s picking on other kids in the room… could be anything, really. But it can’t be the kid’s fault, right? Parents are so quick to shift the blame to the teacher, that they aren’t able to look at themselves or their precious little angel. I’m gonna say this because it’s something I’ve witnessed dozens of times. If a kid is acting up in class, there’s a very good chance that they’re doing it for attention. If they’re trying to get attention, even negative attention, at school, then there’s a very good chance they’re not getting any attention at home. Getting in trouble at school gets their parents’ attention. But even then, most of the time, the parents will meet with the teacher and blame the educator or even the school for their child’s behavior problems. So the parents’ sudden attention isn’t even focused on their child, it’s focused in the wrong place.

See how it all comes back to showing a genuine interest in what your kid is doing? If they bring home good grades, heap on the praise. If they bring home bad grades, let them know that life isn’t over, that you still love them and that, as long as they’re trying and doing their best, you’re still proud of them. And if they’re genuinely struggling with certain subjects, meet with their teachers. Develop a plan to help them succeed. Because if you’re both doing your jobs and you both care about the welfare of your child, then you’ve both got the same goal: to help that child succeed to the best of their ability.

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