Back To School Reality Check For Parents

Back To School

This post was inspired by Bruce Sallan’s  #dadchat tweets on Thursday evenings. Thank you for allowing me to add my two cents to your tweets.This post is not for every parent. You’ve been warned. This post is meant only for parents who are fed up with the constant fighting they incur with their child during the academic year. It’s also meant for the parent who wants more for their child but doesn’t know if they are asking for too much. I’m going to give it to you straight from the point of view of a teacher who has been teaching in Miami for over 13 years, way over!

Reality Check: You have to know your child and be honest with yourself about it. Your child’s academic years are crucial. Don’t believe the hype about how if you have a passion then everything else will fall into place. You have to get real. Passion doesn’t pay the bills.

If your child can’t read or write at grade level or higher, there’s a problem. You don’t want your child to play catch up for the rest of his/her life. If your child     is in middle school and can’t add, subtract, multiply and divide without using a calculator, there’s a problem.  Don’t kid yourself.

If you dread having a parent/teacher conference because you know that the teachers will say your child’s behavior is disruptive or shows lack of effort then you need to be real about it.

I know you want to blame the teachers or the educational system and you might be right about that but you must take responsibility for your actions into this problem. Yes, it is a problem. But it’s a problem with a solution.

Prepare:Don’t wait for school to begin to start with the rules or “you can do better” speech. Start now. Sit your child down and have a serious conversation. Not a lecture. A conversation. But you must be in control of the direction you want this dialogue to go. Too many parents allow the children to decide almost everything. I see it at so many parent conferences. They don’t ask for permission to go out on the weekend or after school, they tell their parents. By the way, I’m giving you all of this information based on my countless dealings with parents.

Set the bar of expectations the way you would set any achievable goal. Make it doable and force them to stretch out of their comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that your child should get straight A’s in every class. However, you should let your child know the following:


  • No excuse for not turning in homework. Get an agenda if they have trouble remembering homework. Do they have trouble remembering the lyrics to songs? A party? A promise you made? More than likely, they remember that.
  • If they don’t understand the homework assignment, it is their responsibility to ask the teacher questions the day the assignment is given NOT the day the assignment is due. In fact, it is better if they engage in classroom discussion. Let them know that you expect to hear positive feedback from the teachers.
  • It is their responsibility to make sure they go to class prepared to learn. Pens, pencils, paper, ruler, notebook or anything else should be available at home and the child must check every day before going to school. Not that morning. Preferably the afternoon before school in case you run out of materials.
  • It is your child’s responsibility to have uniform or proper school attire for the next day. It’s embarrassing when a parent has to be called in because the child is not dressed appropriately. Where do the children get the money to buy inappropriate outfits?
  • It is your child’s responsibility to wake up on time, have breakfast and be ready to go to school. When a child tells me that she is late to homeroom because her parent woke up late, it says plenty about the family. Your children talk more than you know.
  • Your child shouldn’t have to stay up all night to do homework. If so, there is a missing piece to the puzzle. Last minute homework? Wasn’t paying attention in class and now doesn’t know how to complete the assignment? Let your child know that homework is their responsibility.
  • Studying for an exam is homework.
  • Let them know that you will be more involved in their academic progress until the day they graduate from high school. Start now so that when they get to high school they know what is expected.


First two weeks of school: Everything is going well. You’ve done #1 and #2. Your child comes home from the first day of school. His/her reaction is a means of measurement for you. Did he/she come back happy? Sad? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Apathetic?  There are probably papers for you to read and sign. I suggest you really READ them before you sign. So many parents complain about the workload in the middle of the year. More than likely, the teacher explained all of that the first week of school or at Open House which I strongly urge you to attend. There is nothing sillier than a parent who comes to school to complain about something they were told at the beginning of the year. It is my job to teach a subject but it is the parents’ job to raise the child. Get involved. Every student must read for 30 minutes every night as part of their homework requirements. Every year parents say “I didn’t know my child had to read on the weekends as well” or “I didn’t know they had to read for 30 minutes”. Umm hello! Your child knows. You should know as well.

Did the teachers provide a work email? If so, email them to let them know that you would like to be involved in your child’s education and provide an email and contact information. But don’t email the teachers every single day. Don’t email them to give them excuses as to why your child didn’t do the homework. Excuses won’t give your child a better life. You will be an enabler. Picture your child as an adult giving the boss excuses for poor work performance. How does your grown up child’s future look? Probably very bleak. So easy with the emailing. Please use common sense.  Pretend you’re the teacher. Look at it from our point of view. Do we want to know that your child had soccer practice or you had a dinner party to attend so your child couldn’t do her math problems? I don’t think so.

Did the teachers provide a website to find assignments? Not all teachers do that. I don’t. Students can write things down. I’m not into spoon feeding them information. But if a teacher is kind enough to use a website to post future assignments, use it.

Children can find anything on the internet. Anything except what they need to do their homework. Weird, isn’t it? If you believe that, I have swamp land I can sell you for under $2,000.

Very important, don’t bash the teachers in front of your child. They will learn to do the same. For example, if you complain about cops, don’t be surprised when your child disrespects authority.

Follow through: We live in a high tech world. Everything is available online. In Miami, students and parents can check grades through the school’s website. Keep track of your child’s grades. Understand the grading system for each teacher. That goes back to the papers you signed at the beginning of the year. For example, I give a student a Z for zero if he/she turns nothing in. If the student turns something in and it didn’t pass the criteria, the student earned an F. Yes! I said it correctly, EARNED.

Students say “The teacher gave me an F”. I don’t give anything. The student earns a grade.

In Miami, students are given out progress reports after 4 weeks of each quarter. There are 4 nine weeks of school. I think progress reports are a waste of time for parents in Miami unless they have absolutely no access to a computer.  Otherwise, it is a waste of paper and time. The shocking part for me as a teacher is to hear parents say they had no idea about their child’s progress. Even more shocking when it’s the end of the school year and they didn’t know their child was failing a subject. Where were they the entire year? It’s one of those unsolved mysteries. By the way, this is a perfect example of the apple not falling far from the tree.

Consequences: People associate the word “consequences” with a negative connotation. A consequence can be a reward or a punishment. Let your child know there are consequences for their effort while attending school. Don’t tell them you are going to buy them anything if they get good grades. Honestly, it’s like training a puppy with a treat. What happens when you don’t have a treat? The puppy will do whatever it wants. There is a reward for your child’s effort. It’s called confidence, pride, skills and knowledge. That will go farther than brand new sneakers or a new iPhone.

This post is lengthy. It could go on and on. I actually held back a bit. With the political climate in Florida and across the country regarding our children’s education and future employment, I felt the need to express my opinion. Teachers are being put on the spot. We are asked to do more than teach a subject. We are asked to be detectives, social workers, role models, baby sitters, and data processors.

Where are the parents? There are some amazing parents out there. You can tell. They have amazing children. If you are one of those parents, awesome! This post wasn’t for you. It’s for the parents I will have to meet this year who come completely oblivious as to what to do with the child.

More than likely, there is little communication or the child runs the show. I guess I am tired of hearing people complaining about teachers. But that’s for another post.

I ask that teachers give their input to this post. Add your own suggestions as well. The more parents understand, the better our society will be.

I’ll probably write more about education in the near future. Until then, remember that your child is your responsibility. If a teacher is doing his/her part, thank them! If you can’t handle your one child then you should appreciate someone like me who handles 100 of them per year.

Working together we can make a difference.


  • Martha Stanley

    I teach middle school in VA public ed. You hit EVERY nail on the head. In my county, frustration with parents gets worse and worse. Someone last year asked flat out after we were introduced to a new evaluation/accountability system that seems to be a heck of a lot more detailed and puts more pressure on us- the question from the teatcher was, “Where is the evaluation and accountability for the parents?”

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      As soon as parents are forced to be accountable then everything will change.

  • Lori

    Bravo, Natasha! I couldn’t have said it better. You hit every nail on the head! I’ll be posting this on my FB..( ;

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Omg! Thank you. Share it with the world. This is only the beginning. I think it’s time we spoke up.

  • Sherrie Zook

    Amen, sister! Even though I work in one of the poorest counties in Florida, all of our students’ grades are posted online. Even though many of the homes have no Internet access, the parents who truly care find a way to access the information using their phones, work computers, or by calling the guidance counselors and asking them to merely look up the information. We have a retake policy for some tests in many classrooms, we give the information out at the beginning of the year, and still parents don’t know about it at conferences. Makes one wonder if the papers we send home are getting to the parents

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Your comment is a perfect example of how far a parent is willing to go to find out about their child’s academic progress. There’s only so much we can do as teachers. Thanks for posting. I’d love to know what your co workers think. What city are you in?

  • Steve

    I teach mostly 11th and 12th graders. You might not even believe how many 12th graders come to school without paper, pen and pencil. Some of them ask a friend every day to borrow something. And it is always the same ones that are without. These are the ones that are not even remotely prepared for college. And it is the fault of the parents if they allow their student to be so irresponsible. No wonder so many seniors graduate without any study or preparation skills that they end up living with their parents indefinately.

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      You know if someone doesn’t make it in life, it’s the teachers. But if they child succeeds then it’s the parents. Funny!

  • Pamela

    I love “studying for an exam is homework.” They’ll find this out soon enough when they get to college 😉

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Thanks! Sometimes kids don’t know how to study. We used to teach study skills but the text book was silly. Each teacher should show students how to prepare for their class exams and how to best retain knowledge in that subject.

    • Rufus Dogg

      Sadly, and shockingly, most don’t. Colleges are working the revenues and tax code by making it easy for kids to go to college their freshman and sophomore years, coddling them through these years because this is where the money is. Only 25% or fewer incoming freshman make it through to graduation. There is a TON of money for the first two year in student savings, parent funding, loans, grants and tax code savings. After that, it gets sketchy. So no, many students do NOT learn that studying for a test is homework until well into their junior year in college, if they get that far after two years. Follow the money for this behavior..

      • Nathasha Alvarez

        Never thought about it that way. Sometimes I think that instead of 18 being an adult 22 seems more appropriate but I wouldn’t have wanted that thinking when I was 18. I’m not an out of touch person but I see that there is a major change in how we allow people to get away with actions that were unacceptable many years ago. Something drastic might have to happen for people to wake up.

  • Carolina Milyanovich

    Wow, this is the right information at the right time. I have had parents come in at the end of the year asking if there was any way their child could pass. Parents, please be involved from the beginning! I have seen several students that were failing, the parents request a meeting and find out their child isn’t doing their part. Magically, the child does a 180 and starts earning ‘A’s. Coincidence? Hmmm… Great post, Nathasha. Next time don’t hold back!

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Carolina, thanks for your comment. I will try not to hold back so much next time. 🙂

  • Ron Arcaini

    First of all, I am extremely proud of you. You are truly an “audacious lady.” When my students make excuses and “Feel Sorry for themselves”, the Natasha Alvarez story is told to them.I even have our 6th Grade class picture on display in my classroom and I show it.As for your article,to use a pretty tired cliche, you hit the nail on the head. i will be sharing this article with my principal.God Bless you, and thanks.
    Ron Arcaini

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Mr. Araini,
      Thank you very much for the kind words. Brought tears to my eyes. I took a little bit from every teacher whom I thought had a made a difference in my life. You were right up there on the top! You made me feel welcome as a New Yorker to Miami. My first experience with football was in your class when you asked us to pick the winner of the Superbowl that year in 1982 with a point spread. I won! I didn’t even know what I was doing. My prize? The Little Prince novel. 🙂 Oh there are so many stories I can tell from my year in your class. But I won’t here because I’m making it into a book. 🙂
      Thank you very much for everything.

  • Raquell Barton

    Awesome post!! I shared on my FB page!! I wish every parent in the world could read this! They need to. My favorite part is your comment about math. We give our children calculators way too early now. They shouldn’t get them until “after” they take Algebra!!

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Thank you for sharing it with others. I’d like every parent to read this because our society is putting too much pressure on the teachers and very little responsibility on others. It takes a village!
      Thank you again.

      PS As for the calculators, you have no idea how much that bothers me. I teach Language Arts/English (whatever you want to call it, it’s the same reading and writing and literature) and kids can’t figure out any math without a calculator. Drives me insane.

  • Victoria Laguardia

    This is really true. For me, I felt like school and home were two separate, distinct worlds that very rarely intersected.

    I’m one of the lucky students that could do well with little effort, but that shouldn’t have been the case. If my mother had more free time, and had known my grades, she would have pushed me harder. As it was, she tried her best to be on top of my homework and projects.

    But I’m not a usual case. While I will tell my mother bad grades or missed assignments, it’s because I feel awful if I don’t.

    Most of my fellow students had no such qualms.

    They lie through their teeth, place blame every which way, and do everything in their power to seem like a victim of sadistic teachers. They believe everything will work out in the end, that life will hand them a good job on a silver platter, but we all know that won’t happen.

    But that’s what they’ve learned to be true.

    These are the students with new IPhones, expensive purses, fancy shoes, and new game systems every year. They ask, and it is given.

    How are they supposed to learn the value of hard work? Of money? I know parents want to give their children what they never had, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of character.

    I’m sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Perhaps this will help parents, though. A different point of view, if you will.

    I hope so.

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Victoria, thank you for reading and commenting. As Ada said in her comment, the people who needed to read this probably won’t. If they did, they didn’t comment. But we must continue to plug away because someone will listen and that someone can make the difference.

  • Ada

    OMG, you and I have talked about this extensively and you hit every single nail on the head! I will also post on FB. I teach elementary ed, mostly 3rd and 4th grades, and it always kills me when parents claim ignorance as to how their kids are doing, since they have 24/7 access to their children’s grades online. Victoria (above) is is 100% correct, Kids play their parents and parents take their side. Why should kids care about learning if they are not pushed by their parents, who give them all the “toys” they want and should care the most about their future? Why should they care when their parents put them in front of an electronic babysitter (computer, video games, tv, etc.) when they get home?
    And Steve, elementary ed kids come to school without the basic necessities of paper and pencil as well. Many claim to not have money for supplies while playing on their smart phones.
    My homework this school year will be to STUDY. And there will be no website-students must be responsible for writing down assignments in class.
    I am going to ask my administrators if I can share this with my parents.

  • Ada

    The problem is that the parents that really need to read this, WILL NOT READ IT.
    We are preaching to the choir.

  • Arie Moyal

    Is it just me or are we hardwired to take the easy way or to assume that delegating means it’s all taken care of, are parents just as self-centred as everyone else, are they trying to be so unlike their own parents that they want to be friends with their children and never fight with them or is it really that some parents are really working very hard to make ends meet? I suppose it’s easier said than done but if you can’t take care of children, should you have them? (I know that’s a question not an answer but it sums up my thoughts)

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      I have so many parents act like their child’s friend. They have no idea how this backfires. They do the opposite of the way they were raised thinking it will make less animosity between them. They don’t realize until much later that their parents were tough on them for a reason and that they should have been tough on their own children like their parents were with them.

  • Bruce Sallan (@BruceSallan)

    Love your words, “Passion doesn’t pay the bills.” And, the FRANK advice you give in this post…some parents may not WANT to hear this, but it’s THE TRUTH!

    I might add that NOT all kids should go to college. What happened to trades and honoring hard work with your hands? In this economy, a good plumber or electrician will do better than an English major or Women’s Studies grad!

    • Arie Moyal
    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Whoa! I didn’t see this comment. Better than an English major? Hmm..maybe. But maybe not. A great writer is better than a mediocre plumber any day. I think that people should have a strong foundation in liberal arts and then they should focus on their choice of study. A plumber can recite Shakespeare, know three languages, and understand DNA testing but excels in plumbing. Schools should have more electives and hands on training for students who have trouble grasping higher level thinking concepts. Not everyone is created equal. Some people are smarter than others. Some people have more self discipline and drive.

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  • Bruce Sallan (@BruceSallan)

    THIS is a necessary primer for EVERY parent! LOVE your thoughts and I thank you for putting them into writing!

    • Nathasha Alvarez

      Thanks, Bruce. I think it’s important that teachers start getting real with parents if our society is to progress. 🙂