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.