Parenting: Back-to-school night

October 4, 2012

The middle school open house was Wednesday and the high school open house was Thursday. As a parent, I find these nights interesting and informative. I feel it's very important that we attend.

First, these nights give us a chance to meet our children's teachers and get a feel for their personalities and teaching styles. Some of the teachers are very organized, with PowerPoint presentations and handouts.

Others are more laid-back, just taking questions from parents and providing a rough outline of what they expect to cover over the course of the year.

Getting an idea of the teachers' style helps us sort through our children's complaints or challenges throughout the year. For example, one year, Billy had a teacher whom he complained was difficult to hear. On Open House night, we found his complaint was well-grounded.

I was sitting in the front row and I could barely hear her either. I felt justified in emailing the principal about the issue because I had witnessed it myself.

Similarly, when he had a teacher whom he said handed out assignments very last-minute and haphazardly, I could believe it. She was one of the ones who didn't have much of a presentation prepared for Open House night.

However, I've also learned not to judge teachers entirely on their presentations on these nights. Sometimes people who have trouble speaking or communicating to a roomful of adults do a wonderful job of teaching kids. It must be intimidating for teachers to face 40 or 50 parents, all of whom expect a lot of them and what they'll do for their children for the next nine months.

I've also learned what Open House Night is NOT about. This is not the time to ask individual questions. At our kids' schools, parents spend only about ten minutes in each class. This is barely enough time for the teachers to explain their curriculum and expectations and to give their contact information.

If parents begin asking questions that only affect their children, it's unfair to everyone else in the room. It's a good idea to take notes, especially on the teacher's preferred method of communication, and ask those questions at a later time.

Finally, I try to imagine what my son's day is like as he moves from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher. Sometimes the sheer amount of ground he has to cover to get from one end of the building to another is daunting.

I also try to keep in mind what classes are in the morning and afternoon, so that on those occasions when I have to pull him from school for a doctor or dentist appointment, I can minimize what he'll miss.

Finally I try to notice which of his friends' parents I encounter in each class. It's good to know who I can bounce ideas off of if challenges do arise over the course of the year. Knowing who else has the same teacher means I can chat with other parents about whether the issues my son might experience are unique or common.

Here are some other tips for making Open House or Back-to-School Night effective:
-Reading Rockets
-Great Schools

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