Teachers who have school-aged kids know what it's like to assign homework and then spend all night helping their child through a math worksheet. Samantha Cleaver, Ph.D., a mom of three and a special education teacher, shares advice to make your back to school season easier.

By Samantha Cleaver, Ph.D.
Emma Darvick
Emma Darvick

I've worked in education for coming up on 15 years, and six of those years have been teaching students (grades K-8) with disabilities and other learning challenges. This year, my oldest daughter will start kindergarten. I've sent out the school supplies list for my classroom, and am now running to the office supply store for the exact markers and folders my daughter's teacher asked for. I've been on both sides of the parent-teacher conferences and I know first-hand that the beginning of the school year is hectic and emotional for moms and teachers alike.

Here are the things that teachers want you to know about sending your kids back to school that I find most helpful as a mom.

The First Week is Important

For teachers, the first week is when we teach kids how to "do school." This means teaching routines, procedures, expectations, rules, and more routines. It might seem like your children are doing nothing in class since they don't come home with glowing descriptions of their favorite rule or procedure, but these first few days and weeks make the learning possible for the rest of the year. The first weeks of the school year may also be a good time to put some new procedures in place at home too. In my house, that means getting back to a regular bed-time and stopping screen time after dinner.

Please, Have a Morning Routine 

I don't care if your child eats breakfast before getting dressed or if you lay out her clothes the night before, but having a morning routine makes the transition into the school day so much easier for your child and me, her teacher. In my home, we start the new morning routine a week before the new school year, including a step-by-step poster in the kitchen. That makes the first day of school that much easier for our whole family.

Let the Teacher Know if You Can Help 

I can think of lots of ways for you to help out this year, both during school (chaperoning field trips, reading with kids) and after school hours (stuffing envelopes, stapling packets), so if you're interested in getting involved in the classroom, let me know. I work full time and have three kids at home, so I understand that things are busy during the school year, but if I know your availability I can plan ways for you to get involved when you're free and not bother you when you're not. If your school has a volunteer procedure, that's great. If not, find out your school's preferred communication method. As much as I love my students, it's not always possible for me to field parent messages all hours of the day, so I prefer to get emails.

Independence is an Underappreciated Skill

Before the first day of school, as much as you can, make sure your child can do most everything on his own. In the lower grades, this includes tying his shoes, going to the bathroom, and getting things out of his backpack. I'm working with my daughter to make sure she can open and close all her lunch containers before she’s in a busy cafeteria. In the older grades, show them how to manage their binders and materials from class to class, keep track of their technology, and follow a schedule.

After School Doesn't Need to be Busy

If we've done our job at school, your child will be tired when she gets home. It's okay to spend the evening relaxing—that's how I spend my out-of-school time with my kids, too. If your child is stressed with homework, let us know! I'd rather have her time after school spent with family and books than math worksheets.

I Didn't Forget Your Name, I'm Learning 100 Names at Once 

Being a teacher has its celebrity moments—when you walk down the hallway and every 1st grader waves at you and calls you by name! That said, there's one of me and almost 100 of them. It'll take me a little while to match you and your child (especially if I don't see you every day at drop off), so please remind me! And if I do get it wrong, maybe I misspell a name here or call a wrong nickname there, let me know so I can fix it. I know it can be frustrating when a teacher doesn't seem to remember everything about your child, but there is so much newness for everyone at the start of the year. Let your teacher know the first time so we can get it right the next.

Take Advantage of Back-to-School Events 

We can't wait to meet you and your child! Seeing you at back-to-school nights is more helpful for us than you might think. If nothing else, it's reassuring to your child that we know each other. Take advantage of back-to-school events and meet the teacher nights to shake my hand, tour the classroom, and help your child get comfortable.

What Happens at Home Matters to Us 

Even after the first few weeks, what you do at home matters to us more than you may think. It's about more than just hearing stories about what your child did over the weekend. When your child has a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast (either at home or at school), we see the difference in the classroom. Also, when we send an email home, we know which parents follow up with their kids and which don't. That home-school connection matters to kids.

Teachers have First Day Jitters, Too 

Everyone can get a little nervous before the first day of school; we teachers lose sleep in the days before school, too. The first day of school is an emotional one, but we'll get through it together!

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