Teacher Tips for School Success

A great year isn't just about good grades! We asked school staffers to share what teachers want parents to know.



Teacher Tips for School Success

Get to know everyone
Spend time talking to each adult your child comes into contact with, whether it’s a bus driver, school counselor, or lunch lady. Parents can be so focused on meeting the principal — but that’s just one person. Knowing lots of staffers helps build a strong community and will make them more likely to keep an eye out for your kid.
- An elementary school principal in Maryland

Two tips from a second-grade teacher in New York
Don’t just ask what we’re teaching, ask us why 
For example, you may think that a book is below your child’s reading level, but teachers are looking at the whole picture, not just the words. There’s comprehension, connecting words back to pictures, and inflection.

Take a pre-homework lap outside 
If your kids are struggling with homework, let them go run around the yard for five minutes, then bring them back inside. It may be just what they need to push through.

Not all of the teachers at school are friends 
Even at a small school, staffers probably don’t all talk to each other. Some people don’t get along and avoid each other; in a large school, some won’t even know each other. If there’s something going on in your child’s life that’s important for the adults at the school to know, send an e-mail to all the people he interacts with (even the nurse, the PE teacher, and the art teacher) so that everyone can be on the lookout for any changes.
- A nurse in Delaware

Rethink those best teacher-themed gifts
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but please stop buying me trinkets! I’ve been given so many “best teacher” Christmas ornaments, statuettes, mugs, and magnets, and I feel terrible admitting this, but I often end up throwing them away. Trust me, it’s the handmade gifts that teachers will always save — a painting or picture by one of our students, a plate of cookies that’s been carefully decorated by the kid, or just a few thoughtful sentences put down on paper.
- A special education/kindergarten teacher in New Hampshire

We know if you do your child’s homework
One first-grader came in with so much in-depth information and so many graphics—it was ridiculous. Moreover, it’s just perpetuating learned helplessness in kids. If a child is asked to do a first grade-level habitat report, let him do age-appropriate research at the library, write it up on his own, and cut out his own pictures to support it.
- A librarian in Virginia

Tailing the school bus? Never a good idea
If your kid misses the bus, don’t try to chase it down. Some parents try driving to the left of me or beeping their horn. But I can’t just stop in the middle of a busy road; I’d be putting everyone in danger.
- A school bus driver in New York

Look beyond academics
Ask your child’s teacher about who your child is buddies with and if she makes friends easily, how she acts when she’s frustrated, and what her strengths and weaknesses are in the social arena. It’s important to consider kids’ interpersonal skills and emotional maturity.
- An elementary school principal in New York

Sometimes parents need tough love, too
Here’s what I’d never say to a parent’s face, but what I’m often thinking:

  1. Let’s drop your ego at the door and work on behalf of what’s right for your son or your daughter.
  2. It’s best for your child to experience consequences at all times. Don’t try to be the savior, and please don’t play the blame game.
  3. Are you making decisions based on what’s best for your child or what’s best for you? - A principal in Pennsylvania

If we wrote it, read it
Notices, permission slips, and even the school’s weekly newsletter — make it your business to read every word and sign when necessary, even if that means checking your child’s backpack every single day.
- A first-grade teacher in Virginia

3 tips from a Wisconsin gym teacher
Encourage a few tumbles
Go ahead, let your kid borrow his cousin’s pogo stick for a few weeks. There may be some spills and bruises, but this can actually increase his safety later on as he gains awareness of where his body is in space and learns how to fall without hurting himself.

It’s not all about team sports
You want to help your child find things she can do for a lifetime of exercise. So introduce her to a wide range of activities, from yoga and rock climbing to snowshoeing and martial arts.

Let kids deal with the consequences of their actions
Parents don’t want their child to slide behind, so they’ll, say, bring in the child’s sneakers if he forgets them rather than allow him to sit out of PE one day. But that’s the only way he’s going to remember them the next time.

Yes, even your kid can act up
Some parents just won’t believe that their kids can do anything wrong. But if your child is disrespectful in the classroom and disciplined, trust that what he did deserved the consequences.
- A playground attendant in New York

Don’t toss the picture books just yet
There are plenty of illustrated books that are actually geared to older children. Some explore more sophisticated concepts and emotions than a chapter book at reading level. And don’t overlook graphic novels either; the images can be key to pulling in young readers. To improve comprehension of any type of book, ask your child to retell the story to you and explain what she liked or didn’t like about the different characters. This will get your kid to really think about the story, so that she absorbs it more deeply.
- A school librarian in Indiana

Zip your lips when your cutie’s around
If you speak negatively about a principal or teacher in front of a child, it can erode respect, and that can lead to bigger behavioral issues. Try to keep any negative feelings and thoughts between adults.
- A principal in New York

Just because your kid can do homework quickly doesn’t mean he’s gifted
In fact, this may be a sign that you need to challenge your child to do more than the bare minimum. If he wrote a short story, tell him to draw an illustration to accompany it or add more details to the tale. You can also show him how to proofread his work.
- A special education/kindergarten teacher in New Hampshire

Meet in the mornings
Plan to talk with the principal before the school day begins — that’s when she’s going to have the most time for you.
- An elementary school principal in Maryland

Use the fivefinger rule for books
Kids can burn out on reading if they’re always tackling books beyond their level. To figure out if a book is a good fit for your child’s current abilities, open to the middle. Are there more than five words he doesn’t know? If yes, shelve it, unless it’s a book for the two of you to read together. Two or three words? It’s a keeper.
- A school librarian in Virginia

If your kids’ grades are slipping, check their schedules
When kids are enrolled in too many extracurricular activities, their grades often drop because activities are crowding out homework time or infringing on sleep.
- An elementary school counselor in Georgia

Play medical detective
If kids are faking, they’re faking for a reason. Does your daughter’s tummy hurt whenever she doesn’t want to do something? Try to figure out why she might not want to attend school that day. It’s important to get to the bottom of what’s making her anxious, since research shows that chronic childhood stomachaches may put kids at higher risk for anxiety disorders or depression as adults.
- An elementary school nurse in Delaware

3 tips from the food pros
Practice what you preach
Parents often ask me to tell their children that they can’t have something — most often, chocolate milk for lunch. They say that they don’t want to be “those parents” that tell their child no. I really wish they would stand by their convictions instead.
- A school lunch director in Vermont

Offer raw veggies instead of cooked ones
Young kids seem to like the snap of fresh veggies but turn their noses up at anything mushy.
- A nutrition director in Georgia

Rethink the treats
Many parents throw in a daily dose of chips or sugar, thinking that their kid will at least eat those. Trouble is, lunch is so rushed for many children that they’ll barely touch the grapes and the chicken sandwich — but those chips will most certainly be gone.
- A school lunch director in Vermont

Any help is good
Teachers notice and appreciate the smallest efforts to pitch in, even if you can only give one half day all year.
- A second-grade teacher in New York

Kids can exaggerate
If your second-grader comes home complaining that she’s bored all day at school, she’s probably not — think of how many times she says she’s bored when she’s with you. She may have been bored for 15 minutes. I always tell parents on open-school night, “I won’t believe everything your child says about you if you don’t believe everything she says about me.”
- A kindergarten teacher in Maryland

Be honest about what’s going on at home
Did one of you lose your job? Are you divorcing? Is a grandparent sick? Speak up so that teachers know what kind of additional support to offer your child.
- An elementary school principal in Pennsylvania

Don’t beeline to the principal with every problem
If something happened in class that is bothering you, talk to the teacher first; otherwise, we can feel blindsided, like we’re being told on. Plus, most principals will ask you if you’ve spoken to the teacher yet, then send you right back to us, which may make you feel uncomfortable.
- A first-grade teacher in New York

Save that angry letter in your drafts folder (for now)
Got a beef with your child’s teacher or the school? What you hear at 9 p.m. at night from your kid, when you’re exhausted and getting everyone to bed, can sound horrible. Wait until the light of day to send your note.
- An elementary school principal in Maryland

4 School Success Tips
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Photo Credit: Grant Cornett

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