You know your child inside and out, and have already realized that it takes tactful art to get his best work out of him. Whether it’s practicing writing his name or cleaning up his toys, there is definitely a right approach to inspiring him. With the kindergarten school year approaching rapidly, you’ve probably already thought a bit about the things you’d like the teacher to know about your child: What motivates him? What upsets him? What interests him?
While nobody wants to be “that” parent, the one who gushes unnecessarily about her child, it is important that your child be properly introduced to her teacher. Pam Wolf, M. Ed, and a ten-year year kindergarten veteran, is the Reading Specialist for Castro Valley Unified School District in California. She says that knowing a child is the first step to teaching her effectively. “Anything that is going to affect a child’s learning process is imperative for a teacher to know,” says Wolf.
“Many times teachers will ask parents to fill out a questionnaire about their child so that the teacher has some information about the child ahead of time. It might ask what motivates their child, what upsets them, what they like to be called, what their strengths and weaknesses are, etc.” explains Wolf. Some kindergarten teachers will even ask to meet parents and students before the school year starts in order to make introductions.
If your child’s teacher doesn’t ask for information, don’t fret. Often the beginning of the year is a hectic time for teachers, and just because they don’t solicit information from you doesn’t mean they don’t want it. Wolf suggests arranging a time with the teacher, either before the start of the school year or soon after it begins, to introduce yourself and your child.
Here are three rules of thumb when it comes to informing a new teacher about your child:
1. Spill It! While your child's everyday characteristics are important for you to convey to the teacher, more important are the pieces of information that have to do with her physical or emotional health. Allergies, injuries, and long-terms illnesses need to be communicated before the first day of school to insure your child’s safety and happiness. Events in your child’s life that could be traumatic should also be discussed with the teacher, such as a divorce or death in the family, or even a new brother or sister on the way. While things of that nature are often difficult to divulge to a stranger, “great teachers will work hard to build your trust and keep confidentiality," Wolf says. "Knowing what a child is dealing with outside of the classroom is a key factor in determining how the teacher should best respond to a student’s needs and behaviors.”
2. Put It in Writing! In the first days of school, teachers aren’t always able to connect a parent’s face with their child, or a name with a student’s face, so if you have important information that you’d like the teacher to know about your child, put it in writing. A teacher can look at it during a time when she can devote all of her attention to it. She'll also be able to refer back to it once she gets to know all her students and parents a little better.
During the registration process, most schools ask parents to fill out a card that includes information about who should be contacted in the case of an emergency, in addition to important health information. But just because it’s on the Emergency Card doesn’t mean that the teacher is aware of it. Wolf suggests writing a letter to the teacher about your child’s health or emotional needs, and giving a copy to the front office staff. Any pre-determined conditions or diagnoses, such as ADD, ADHD, or speech delays should also be reported in writing to your educational institution before the start of the school year.
3. Keep Up Communication! Whether about your child’s cranky morning routine, or about her growing distain for her new brother, your teacher should be kept in the know. “Communication with your child’s teacher about any special needs he may have will not only help her to teach your child more effectively, but it can also be a perfect opportunity for parents to express their expectations,” says Wolf. Just be respectful of the teacher's time. Don't start an impromptu heart-to-heart while the teacher's trying to get the kids wrangled for storytime. Instead, drop off a note asking the teacher to call you during a less busy time. Or feel free to carry on communication through the note itself. Limit yourself to information that directly affects your child's needs. A teacher doesn't really have to know your child's dinner preferences, but she'd be thankful to have information like the fact that your kindergartener didn't attend preschool, so she can provide support in helping that child succeed socially in class.
Still worried about telling too much? There are some circumstances when teachers don’t necessarily need every detail. For example, phases of negative behavior that have more or less been resolved aren’t pertinent for your teacher to know. According to Caryl Oris, M.D., “If there are behavioral issues with a young child at home, these may not show up in the classroom. Therefore it would be best to see how things play out before having a discussion with the teacher.”
How your child interacts with other adults may be very different from the way she acts with you. In this way, over telling can be a strain on the natural development of the relationship between your child and her teachers. Oris says, “It is important to allow your child to develop new, independent relationships with adults at school, and to allow them to develop their own point of view about your child.”
The outstanding importance is that of parents and teachers working together to communicate. Each individual is a part of a team that shares a common goal: to educate each child thoroughly and gracefully.
The bottom line is this: The success of a teacher depends on her ability to teach your child. Her ability to teach your child depends on the connections she’s made with him. Connections are made when a teacher knows and understands the factors that make a child who he is.
So go ahead, gush away.