50 Inside Secrets From School Employees

We asked everyone who works in the building what you need to know before Day 1. Here are 50 of their most surprising comments!
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Ease First-Day Jitters

Is your “baby” starting school this year? Follow these strategies for more smiles and fewer tears.

1. “If your child’s school has an open house in the summertime, take a couple of pictures of the classroom and refer back to them with him so it will start to seem familiar. I use strategies like this for my students with autism, but it can benefit all kids.” —Brie Holtrop, special-education teacher in Orland Park, Illinois, who blogs at BreezySpecialEd.

2. “Let your child in on a secret: Even teachers are nervous on the first day.” —Jennifer Munch, school counselor in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania 

3. “Over the summer, have your child check out a couple of library books about riding a school bus. It’ll help it seem more exciting and less scary.” —Tom Brandon, school-bus driver in Northern Alabama

4. “The kids who are the happiest on the first day are generally the ones whose parents give them a big hug, say, ‘You’re going to do great!’ and then send them off without a lot of drama. If your child can tell you’re upset or anxious, she will be too.” —Lisa Bonnifield, principal in Newark, New Jersey

Get Her Ready for Kindergarten

Sure, she needs to know the alphabet, but school staffers offer strategies for skills you might not have considered. 

5. Printing. “Small, broken crayons are a great way to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills—they force her to use a better grasp. Colored pencils are good, too, because she’ll have to press down with more force to make marks.” —April Franco, school-based occupational therapist near Dallas

6. Reasoning. “In my 15 years, I’ve seen a real decline in students’ ability to question and think. Parents should do less ‘lecturing’ and ask more questions. So if you see two plants, one wilting and one flourishing, don’t tell your 4-year-old, ‘We have to water this plant because it’s wilting.’ Instead, ask him why he thinks the two look different and what can we do to solve the problem.” —Salpy Baharian, founder of teacher.org 

7. Typing. “Because everything is touchscreen these days, a lot of kids come to kindergarten not knowing how to use a keyboard or a mouse, but they still need those skills. Help your child practice by typing a birthday list or sending Grandma an email.” —Eric Gervais, instructionaltechnology specialist at four elementary schools in Massachusetts

8. Test-Taking. “When students get stressed about tests, I show them how to do ‘4-5-6 breathing.’ Take a deep breath in for four counts, hold it for five counts, and blow it out through your mouth for six counts. It physically calms the natural stress reaction in the body.” —Laura Smestad, school counselor in New Orleans

Be the Teacher’s Pet

9. “Ask me for my Starbucks order, and surprise me with it one morning.” —First-grade teacher in North Carolina 

10. “If we do something that impresses you, email us and copy the preschool director or principal.” —Ashley Rives, preschool teacher in Kansas City, Missouri

11. “Bring antibacterial wipes, sanitizer, and tissues without being asked.” —Bonnifield 

12. “Don’t just say, ‘Let me know how I can help.’ Be specific about when and how you can volunteer.” —Vanessa Levin, founder of pre-kpages.com 

13. “Put a sticky note on the homework that says “My child is having trouble with X,Y, and Z.” If a child is struggling, I need to know.” —Baharian

…Not the Pet Peeve

14. “Never let your child hear you say, ‘I am so bad at math.’ ” —Special-education teacher in Massachusetts 

15. “Don’t send in glitter on a project. I can sweep and sweep, and it’s still there a month later.” —Rick Bergum, school custodian in Maple Valley, Washington 

16. “Parents catch us and say, ‘We know you can’t talk right now, but … ’ and then start talking! Call to schedule a conference.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Columbia, South Carolina 

17. “If I call you from my cell, don’t text me. Email your question.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina

18. “Most of us don’t mind if you pull your kids out for a vacation. But there will probably be make-up work.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Columbia, South Carolina

Avoid the School-Supply Rabbit Hole

All those notebooks, folders, and glue sticks add up: Supplies for a student in elementary school cost nearly $200, according to Communities in Schools, an organization that helps low-income families. Get the right gear the first time thanks to these teacher tips.

19. Preschool Backpack. “Make sure it will fit an 8.5 x 11-inch folder, a bulky coat, and a lunch box. And no wheels! We’re not an airport.” —Levin 

20. Pencils & Crayons. “Ticonderoga-brand pencils are the best. For crayons, get Crayola. The cheaper ones are waxy and break easily.” —Baharian

21. Personalized Items. “Don’t put your child’s name on school supplies unless the teacher requests it. In many schools, supplies are stored together and shared as needed.” —Fourth-grade teacher in Pennsylvania

22. Clothing. “Dress your child in elastic-waist pants until he can master zippers and buttons.” —Rives 

Confessions of a School-Bus Driver

Tom Brandon, retired after 15 years behind the wheel in Madison County, Alabama, tells it like it is.  

23. “You know those conversations that you don’t want your children to repeat outside your house? Well, they are repeated on the school bus.” 

24. “Eating on the bus does make a mess, but the primary reason we don’t let kids have food on the bus is the possibility of choking. All it takes is a serious bump to cause a child to inhale sharply while eating.”

25. “Kids get on the wrong bus. If your child is riding the first week of school, label him like you are mailing him across country. Pin your home address and bus number to his clothing and to his book bag, and help him start to learn them.” 

26. What!! No seat belts? “Buses are designed to be safe without seat belts. That’s why there are tall padded seats. Your child has a higher chance of being in an accident if you drive him to school.” —School-bus driver in Vermont 

Learn from the Lunchroom Ladies

Most elementary-school students only have 20 to 30 minutes to eat. Help them optimize their time.

27. “Before your child goes to school, do a lunch-box test run. Pack her a lunch to eat at home and make sure she can open all the containers so she doesn’t have to wait for a volunteer to do it for her.” —Deanna Gilbert, director of Child Nutrition Services in Hope, Arkansas

28. “If kids could come to elementary school already knowing how to open a milk carton, that would be a game changer.” —Bonnifield

29. “When I look in the trash can every day, I see lots of whole apples and oranges. If you quarter the orange and slice the apple, kids are much more likely to eat it.” —Sally Spero, child-nutrition director in Lakeside, California

30. “When you bring in birthday treats of any sort, make sure they are all the same flavor and color. A variety box of donuts is a nightmare. We inevitably run out of one kind, and some kids get upset.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Columbia, South Carolina

Overheard in the Teachers’ Lounge

Psst: This is what educators really think.

31. “It’s funny how many kids really do take after their parents. The child who can’t follow directions is inevitably the one with a parent who asks a question I already answered.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina 

32. “We can tell which kids get too much screen time. They have a shorter attention span. They don’t seem to communicate as well. And some even try to push on paper like it’s a screen.” —Levin

33. “Students who see reading as a chore are often the ones who were pressured by their parents to learn how to read too early or before they were ready.” —Gwyneth A. Jones, a teacher and school librarian in Baltimore, who blogs at TheDaringLibrarian.com

34. “We have favorites, and they’re not always the smartest ones. Personally, I like the kids who show a little spunk, who aren’t afraid to disagree with me sometimes.” —First-grade teacher in North Carolina

35. Hands-off homework strategy. “Don’t make your child’s homework a battle. Instead, let her experience the natural consequence if she doesn’t get it done. Maybe the teacher embarrasses her. Maybe she has to come inside at recess. Or maybe when the quiz rolls around, she has no clue what’s going on.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Columbia, South Carolina

Raise a Bookworm

You’re just as vital as his teacher in helping your child learn to read (and enjoy books). 

36. “If you can’t always read aloud, there are some great websites and apps out there that will do it for you. My favorites are SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s StorylineOnline .net, where classic books are read by celebrities, and Mrs. P’s Magic Library (mrsp.com). Many public libraries have books on tape or audiobook subscription services.” —Jones

37. “Keep reading out loud to your child even after he can read. It teaches the flow of the text and the sound of different words, and it helps to foster a life long love of reading.” —Rives

38. “Don’t be afraid to let your child read the same book more than once. It builds confidence and helps her understand the story better. She will notice things she didn’t the first time: details of the story or an unfamiliar word or how the book relates to her own life.” —First-grade teacher in North Carolina

39. Start This Sweet Idea Now. “Some parents bring in a memento at the end of the school year—like the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go!—and ask me to secretly sign it for their child. Their plan is to get it signed by all their kid’s teachers over the years and then give it to him when he graduates from high school.” —Fifth-grade teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina

Outsmart “Super” Lice

These cringe-worthy parasites have genetically mutated, so they’re even harder to treat. Ugh! School nurses fill you in on the latest info.

40. “They don’t jump or fly. You can only get lice by direct contact with a person or their belongings. If you have been notified of lice in the classroom, check your child’s hair and consider keeping long hair up in a bun or braid.” —Dana Chiz, R.N., school nurse in Springfield, Massachusetts

41. “We don’t always send home kids who have lice. We let the parents know so they can pick them up if they want, but they don’t have to.” —Meredith Sherman, R.N., school nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina

42. “They’re increasingly resistant to over-the-counter treatments. Contact your doctor and get the prescription treatment, especially if you have repeated cases or difficulty getting rid of the lice.” —Andrea Tanner, R.N., school nurse in New Albany, Indiana

If I Could Tell Parents One Thing, It Would Be… 

43. “Before you take your troubled child to a private counselor, see if your school counselor can help. We’re trained to deal with depression, anxiety, and social problems.” —Smestad

44. “Don’t email me late in the day saying, ‘Tell Johnny not to go to car pool.’ I won’t see it until after the kids are gone. Send urgent messages to the school secretary.” —Fifth-grade teacher in South Carolina

45. “The teacher may not know the best way to help a child who’s struggling. If you’re not getting the answers you want, bring in a school counselor or special-ed teacher.” —Chad Guge, secondary instructional coach in Eldridge, Iowa

46. “It pays to be nice to your school secretary. If a parent is running late, I’ll let the child stay here in the office with me. I’ve picked up kids who missed the bus.” —Val French, secretary in Fairfax, Vermont 

47. “Schedule a meeting about your child between 9 and 11 a.m. The school has settled down by then, but we’re still fresh.” —Jackie Cornelius, retired principal in Jacksonville, Florida 

48. “School-board meetings are often streamed or posted on the district website.” —Ned Kirsch, superintendent in Vermont

49. “Want to know if a school is safe? It should have locked doors, except for one entry point, and require visitors to sign in.” —DJ Schoeff, school resource officer in Carmel, Indiana 

50. “Don’t ask ‘What did you do today?’ For most kids, that’s way too big a question. Instead, scale it down: What did you eat for lunch? What story did your teacher read?” —Rives

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