11 Back-to-School Tips from Teachers

July 4, 2013

Teachers know best! Get their advice on helping your kids succeed this school year.

Nervous about your child's first day of kindergarten? Stumped on what to pack in your child's lunchbox? Want to help your kids have a better school year? Back-to-school season can be nerve-wracking for kids, but it's also an anxious time for parents. You have lots of questions and aren't sure who to turn to for answers.

We went right to the experts: teachers. After all, who knows more about school than teachers do?

We asked top teachers from all over the country for their advice on what they wished parents knew about school. Here are their 11 tips for starting the year off right.

And did you hire a part-time nanny or after-school sitter to watch your kids in the afternoon? Ask her advice for back-to-school tips also. She works with kids for a living and may have clever ideas for making this school year great.

  1. Talk to Teachers
    "I really appreciate parents or caregivers who say to me, 'Please keep in touch with me. I want to work with you to help my child be successful at school.' Teachers need to know who to reach in case of issues in the classroom. If there are any changes or problems at home, be honest and tell the teacher in advance so we do not have to play detective. Anything from family illness to divorce to moving to medications is important for the teacher to know about."
    Lisa Niver Rajna, K-6th grade science teacher, Brawerman Elementary School, Los Angeles, Calif., 2012 Nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), founder of Science isn't Scary

  2. Boost Brainpower with Protein, Not Sugar and Caffeine
    "Sleep and nutrition are two very important areas for the success of students. They often get overlooked or swept aside in the rush of everyday challenges. Too many students stay up late, often playing computer games, and come into school in the morning drinking coffee or energy drinks. What these beverages do is amp a student up to the point that they cannot concentrate and they often misbehave -- until the moment when they crash and can't focus because their minds have become mush. No caffeine in the morning and limit the sugar. Protein is great! A breakfast that has some protein in the form of an egg or cheese is going to give students fuel to last until lunch."
    Sophia Martin, social studies teacher, Jefferson High School, Mount Shasta, Calif., and author of the Veronica Barry series

    And send them off with one of these 7 Ideas for Easy -- and Healthy -- School Lunches ť

  3. Expect Good Behavior at Home
    "While a classroom management and discipline plan is created in the classroom, it is so important to model and teach good behavior at home before coming to school. Parents are children's first teachers, not only academically but also with life skills. Parents model good manners, conversational skills, listening skills, cooperation and more. Often a child who has certain expectations at home is able to have a successful year, with few discipline problems in school. If your child (as they all do) decides to interrupt, grab an object from someone's hands or ignore directions, do not overlook this behavior. Take a moment to explain what they should do, as this is a life lesson that will carry over into activities and school. It's always helpful when a parent reinforces positive behavior at home, so the child understands that all the adults are on the same page."
    Kathryn Starke, reading specialist, Evergreen Elementary, Richmond, Va.

  4. Come Visit
    "The biggest thing for parents to realize is that we are all on the same page. I have a student's best interests at heart. Any way that is possible for a caregiver to be involved makes school a good experience for kids. I never cease to be amazed at how important it is for a student in class when a parent comes in -- even to just have lunch. Their presence in that building means so much."
    Gay Barnes, first-grade teacher, Horizon Elementary School, Madison, Ala., Alabama Teacher of the Year 2011

    Learn more about the 16 Ways Parents Can Be Involved in the Classroom ť

  5. Make Routine Fun
    "If your child is attending school for the first time, take the time to visit the school, meet the teacher and get a feel for the routine of the day. Children may be anxious about a major change in their lives, so a frank discussion about the fun they will have, the friends they will meet and the things they will learn will help to alleviate any uncertainties. For children who have attended school previously, getting those bath and bedtime routines in place before the start of the year will help with a smooth transition. Consider setting up time for them to play with friends from school that they typically do not see during the summer months to reestablish friendships."
    Mark Lindskoog, English language teacher and reading support staff, Horace Mann Elementary, Saint Paul, Minn.

    Now that you have routines handled, learn how to deal with these 5 Back-to-School Worries ť

  6. Bring the Special Needs Team Together
    "If you have a child with special needs, see if your current teacher is willing to talk to your child's new providers. It is a matter of asking -- don't assume it will just happen, even if they are in the same building. Provide your child's team with outside reports from any specialists, like an outside speech therapist. Make sure the teachers know they can reach out to those people. Then, make sure the family, the school and the student all have realistic expectations of that transition time. It may be hard, so help them understand there may be set backs during that transition. But that is part of starting something new and that is part of growing up. Everyone can keep the student on the right track."
    Alisa Dror, head of the Pinnacle school (part of the Greenwich Education Group), Stamford, Conn.

  7. Appreciate the Journey
    "Enjoy the learning process -- model it and encourage it. Kids will often put a lot of pressure on themselves to get good grades or 'do it right.' Rather than asking what grade your child earned for the unit test, ask, 'What idea you will remember and use again?' or, 'What did you learn that surprised you?' It is important for a child to embrace the process of learning: the ups and downs, the uncomfortable beginning steps, the mistakes that bring you a new understanding. Those who truly appreciate learning -- whatever the subject -- will pursue the acquisition of knowledge and skill for a lifetime and will make stronger connections between what they already know and what they are presented with."
    Erin Keaney, fifth-grade teacher, Mary Rowlandson Elementary School, Lancaster, Mass.

  8. Keep Numbers in Mind
    "The biggest thing I find when students struggle in math is that they haven't developed a number sense. They don't have a feel for amounts. Parents can do simple things at home, like grabbing a handful of jellybeans or pennies or anything that can be a bunch. Have them guess how many is in your hand (or theirs), write it down and then count to confirm it. They can estimate the weight of a backpack or of the mail. Or they can estimate how long it takes to earn $1,000 if they earn $5 a day. This helps develops the mathematical part of the brain."
    Maureen Stearns, teacher of English language learners in the ESOL program, Westgate Elementary School, St. Petersburg, Fla., and author of "Multiply and Divide with Sticks and Steps."

  9. Welcome Technology
    "Technology in a classroom is so key and so critical. It is wonderful to see a student pick up new technology and learn a new technique. Have an attitude of encouragement about using technology in class and be willing to use it at home. It helps develop discussions in class and helps with problem solving in and out of class. Parents are sometimes apprehensive because of not understanding the technologies, but students are often our best teachers. If you're nervous, have open communication with your child's teacher to find out what technology they use in the classroom. Remember, we are trying to prepare them for beyond schooling years, and we want them to be as ready as possible."
    Lee King, seventh-grade math teacher, Ford Middle School, Dallas, Texas

  10. Emphasize Reading
    "Reading is the foundation for everything kids do -- even math. The kids who read succeed. Have them read things they love. You can tell the kids who read all the time by the way they use words in context and by their vocabulary. Give them more access to words, even if it's a magazine. Of course, I'd love to have them read novels, but we want them to love the act of reading. Go to the library with your kids. Ask teachers for the summer reading and make sure your kids do it -- it gives them a head start."
    Heather Berg, fifth-grade teacher, Henderson International School, Henderson, Nev.

  11. Stay Organized with Calendars
    "All of us do better when we have a schedule and we know what to expect. Have a calendar so the kids know what is coming. It's a skill we can all use, and calendars are good things for kids. My kids in class like to know when someone is having a birthday or when a holiday is coming. But you should also include when school will start on the calendar. It lets kids know when it's coming and can alleviate some of that constant questioning about the first day too."
    Vicki Nelson, special education teacher, Litzsinger School, St. Louis, Mo., 2011-2012 Missouri State Teacher of the Year Finalist

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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