The following article appeared in the Wednesday, August 22 Dallas Morning News Briefing edition. It’s about how parents can help children succeed in school.
Don’t assume school is a perfect and complete solution
School starts Monday, August 27. Schools and teachers are diligently planning to welcome and educate students on everything from soccer to Socrates. It’s tempting for parents to relax, assume these experts have everything under control, and shove our children in the general direction of the school. As my children proceed through the public school system, it’s become apparent that this is not the case. Educators are experts on educating, and that deserves great respect, but I am the only expert on my own child. It’s up to parents to make sure our children get the education they need. School is a powerful tool towards that end, but it is not a turnkey solution.
Do your part as a parent
Effective education requires a partnership between parents and schools. Before we start looking to tweak the situation at school, parents must make sure we are doing our part from home.
Our most basic obligations are to get our children to school, on time, with their homework done. Even that can be a tall order some days, but the school can’t do its part if kids are truant or tardy, and no one has asked “Do you have any homework?” If lessons are a priority and expectations are high, results will follow. The advice, “My job is to go to work; your job is to do well in school” is family lore for us, encapsulating both confidence that our children can succeed, and that it is their mission to do so.
It’s easy to give lip service to homework accountability, but children always know whether parents really mean it. Lives must revolve first around success in school. Family issues, illness, addiction, abuse, and struggles of all kinds can interfere with the best laid plans for success. Those soul crushing burdens are the hardest to overcome, but parents must do our best to make sure school stays important, despite our personal issues.
Extracurricular activities can also interfere with schoolwork, but classes must come first. The No Pass, No Play rule codifies this idea, making it impossible for a kid who is failing academically to play their sport until the grade is brought back up. Some have chafed at this, arguing that, without sports, the student has no incentive to attend school. This is where an adolescent needs a loving adult to hold the line and reinforce the bedrock concept that everyone has to take care of business, before play.
Be an advocate for your child
There are almost no children who are perfectly normal and average and fit exactly into the mold of school. Yes, we have to do our part to make sure our children are clean, rested, fed, ready to learn, and nagged about homework, but we also need to make sure the school is doing their part for our child, whatever their special qualities might require. Some families cope with physical and mental differences that require a great deal of interaction with school personnel to meet their needs. I have two children identified as gifted. One might assume they sail through classes, but gifted children are truly different from the general population, and they need an advocate, too, someone who is paying attention and making noise when things aren’t right.
Be willing to listen when a child comes home with a complaint about school. If you are hearing consistent complaints about a teacher or a situation, get to the bottom of it. Most teachers and administrators are happy to enter into a conversation when approached with an attitude of polite concern, rather than of confrontation. Keep an open mind to information about how your child might be contributing to the problem. Even if you can’t make the change you think is necessary, you will at least make the school aware of the issue, and your child will understand that you cared enough to go to bat for them. This alone has enormous value. After a student’s own desire to learn, an attentive parent is their most powerful educational tool.