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14 ways teachers say parents can help as we return to school in a pandemic

As the 2020-2021 school year approaches, teachers who had to pivot to virtual instruction last year are steeling themselves to contend with more unchartered territory. In an extensive online survey of American K-12 teachers conducted in April, the majority of educators reported feeling “somewhat” or “extremely” uncertain (81%), stressed (77%), anxious (75%) and overwhelmed (74%). They also voiced feeling unsupported. 

Students have always benefited the most when their parents and teachers work together, and, like many things, the pandemic is only serving to underline this fact. That’s why we spoke to several teachers about what parents can do to support them as kids head back to school, however that may look for every individual family.

1. Emphasize that we’re all in this together

“Try to cultivate a positive outlook about going back [to school]. Talk about how there will be changes for everyone, but it will be great to be back with friends. And it’s just all new, and no one knows what we will be doing, but it’s not up to the teacher. We want our kids back, and we want to be back. We all want to be safe and make sure everyone is healthy. We all need to work together. Please be patient with us.” — Catherine Nowack, elementary school teacher, Chicago

2. Set and stick to a morning routine

“When it comes to remote learning, set up a routine for your child. [Have them] get up at the same time daily, eat breakfast, then hit the books. Check in with your child’s teachers to see if an online meeting is scheduled. Check your child’s device to make sure it has the right app(s) and the capability to join meetings.” — Lisa Mirasolo, high school teacher, Revere, Massachusetts  

3. Make sure kids have the space and know-how to stay engaged at home

“If we are in remote learning again, make sure students have a dedicated space for schoolwork. If they don’t have a dedicated space, it can feel like the kid is just hanging out at home, which then changes their attention and engagement. If there is a dedicated space — ideally not the bedroom, though I know that can be asking a lot — then they mentally feel like they are going to school and then can come back to their room for recreation. And at my school, the students are required to have their video cameras on, so we can actually engage with them, so make sure your kid is doing that. You can also make a point to ask your student questions about class, so that they stay engaged and motivated.” — Stephanie Simpson, middle school and high school dance teacher, New York City

4. Set an example when it comes to safety protocols

“Even with limited in-person learning, it would help for parents to emphasize the importance of mask wearing and set an example. Otherwise, our efforts to keep everyone safe are futile. Teachers have families too, and we are also stressed. It’s important to protect the students, but we also need to protect teachers.” — Irene Campbell, high school teacher,  Illinois

5. Boost safety preparedness and give teachers breathing room

“To prepare for in-person school, parents can practice proper hand-washing techniques with their children, review what six-foot separation looks like and come up with some social strategies for saying ‘hi’ to friends without a hug or high-five. Parents should also send their kids armed with supplies since sharing items is now off-limits.” — Meredith Essalat, school principal and author of “The Overly Honest Teacher,” San Francisco 

6. Offer constructive feedback

“If you know that your child did not like the virtual learning that occurred at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, be honest about your child’s struggles, so that schools can learn and grow. For many schools, this was their first and forced attempt at virtual learning. There is always a learning curve and only with critical feedback can improvements be made. Be honest! Your child deserves to have their needs met, even if they are working from home.” — Justine Green, a doctor of education, principal at Tamim Academy in Boca Raton, Florida and author of children’s book, “Completely Me”

7. Help your child communicate vs. doing it for them 

“I saw some parents doing their kids’ bidding. I would prefer that they learn to communicate responsibly. So, maybe work with them to help them send emails. And respond to the teachers. We get it — last school year was a hard time! But there were also so many unanswered emails from students and from parents.” — Kathy Peterson, high school teacher, Algonquin, Illinois

8. Prioritize kids’ social and emotional support

“Many children are feeling unsettled. Their normal has been uprooted, and they don’t have a long lifetime of experience for how to navigate things. They are trying to find their place and their safe spaces. I would ask that parents [prioritize] what their child needs for social and emotional support above academics. If parents are able to explain what is happening and why things will be a little different, that will help with the new (hopefully temporary) reality we are experiencing.” — Amy Ellison, fifth grade teacher, Fair Oaks, California  

9. Encourage kids to do schoolwork during regular school hours

“As teachers, we are trying our absolute best to give your child a meaningful education. Allowing students to stay up too late and complete assignments whenever they feel like it can be problematic. I understand that teenagers by nature are wired to stay up later and sleep in. But having a set time to do schoolwork can help because it gives students a bit of the structure in which they’d have at school. During distance learning, I had some students turn in work after midnight — 4 a.m. sometimes, and I worried about their sleep schedule. Also, I recommend checking online grade books/emails on a regular basis to ensure that students are actually completing their assignments.” — Gabriela Peller, high school art teacher, Wayne, New Jersey

10. Support students’ building of long-term goals and skills

“As a 6th and 7th grade teacher of math and science, my main goal is to build students’ self-reliance and self-resilience. I can monitor student academic work with distance learning, but what gets harder outside of the classroom is teaching students how to set their own goals and track and work on them consistently. Parents can work with teachers to plan what skills and goals the student can focus and work on consistently over the year.” — Nidhi Patel, middle school teacher, San Francisco 

11. Avoid negative talk in front of kids

“Any negativity that [parents] feel regarding school, in person or virtual learning, teachers, or curriculum should not be discussed or vented in front of the students. If a parent says something is ‘stupid,’ the child no longer takes it seriously. It’s almost a license for students to stop trying.” — Mindi S., middle school math teacher, Milwaukee

12. Give yourself credit for everything you’re doing

“Please know that you are doing a great job in an impossible situation. Being a parent and a teacher and, in most cases, doing your regular job as well is absolutely unreal. We see you, and we appreciate you, like whoa.” — Mark Joseph, sixth grade math teacher, Newark, New Jersey

13. Be honest and communicate with teachers

“Be honest about your ability to manage your child’s workload and schedule. If it is hard to complete assignments at home or get on Zoom according to your child’s schedule, don’t keep it to yourself. Teachers are able to modify the workload on a case-by-case basis but don’t know when to do so unless they know what is and isn’t working. It may also be possible for teachers to record a lesson so you and your child can access it at a more convenient time.” — Melanie Stuart, Kindergarten teacher, The IDEAL School of Manhattan

14. Be on our side

“Be on our side. Approximately 40% of all teachers in the United States are currently considering either resigning or retiring. Having your mental and emotional support — not only face to face and via email but also on social media — is pivotal to our ability to ‘hang in there’ and teach your children.” — Angela Kay, sixth and eighth grade teacher, Houston

The main takeaway

Overall, educators hope that parents will approach the coming school year with open-mindedness, patience, a willingness to stay engaged and an eye on promoting and protecting everyone’s health and safety. As Simpson notes, “Read any communication from the school and follow that protocol. Then, continue to ask how you can help and support teachers.” After all, when parents and educators work in tandem, they’re setting the stage for student success, and that’s what matters most.