It’s pretty standard practice for teachers to tack up a list of desired items for their classrooms. Many parents jump right on it, too, because it’s easy to drop off a box of juice packs or a container of disinfecting wipes. Yet underneath the more mundane requests lie some not so easily communicated secret wishes. Teachers struggle with how to tactfully make parents aware of the less tangible things they can do to ensure their child’s success in school. More than material goods, here’s what teachers really long for each and every year.
Wish #1: More Parent Involvement
This probably ranks at the top of most teachers’ wish lists. Even when both parents work, there are easy ways to stay involved, says Nicole Hoppman, a 1st grade teacher in Rockville, Md. She recommends asking your child daily about what happened at school, reading newsletters sent home, and attending open houses and parent-teacher conferences.
If you have time to spare and want to get more involved, don’t dither about what to do—just ask! “In every classroom there are countless tasks just waiting to be done that parents can’t even imagine,” says Kathy Cox, a kindergarten teacher in Palm Desert, Calif. “Jobs like refilling paint jars, assembling homework packets, labeling work books, or putting the finishing touches on craft projects—I always welcome an extra pair of hands.”
Wish #2: Frequent Communication
Build a bridge between home and school by keeping the lines of communication open. “Take the time to introduce yourself at the beginning of the school year, even if it is just an initial harried email,” says Hoppman. “If there are any child-specific needs to be addressed, that’s a good way to let a teacher know. Or just say hello and let them know what your child’s interests are. If a personal connection can be made right from the start, it’s good for both the teacher and the student.”
Keep checking in periodically. Christine Nichols of Plano, Texas, mother of 10-year-old twins, says she checks in with her children’s teachers by emailing them and making weekly visits to their classrooms. “Even if your child is doing well, it’s important to stay in touch,” says Hoppman. “Teachers want to know when you have concerns and they appreciate positive comments, too!”
Wish #3: Reading, Reading, and Still More Reading
Try less television and a lot more reading. Your child’s teacher will thank you. “Read to your child every night or have him read to you,” says Cox. “Let them see you reading, too. Children learn by example.” Nicole Hoppman is so adamant on this point that she encourages non-English speaking parents to read to their children in their native language. She tells them to follow up by asking comprehension questions. What happened in the beginning, middle, and end? Who are the characters? What is the setting? “These kinds of questions build comprehension and writing skills in any language,” she says. “This support at home both empowers the parents and helps the students soar in class.”
Wish #4: Breakfast Fuel
Think about it. Your kids have just woken up from what is essentially an eight- or ten-hour fast and if they don’t eat before lunch, that could easily turn into 16 hours. “Way too long,” says Naomi Kakiuchi, a registered dietitian in Seattle, Wash. “Parents need to provide their kids (and themselves) with a nutritious breakfast. Research clearly shows that breakfast eaters have longer attention spans, better memory skills, fewer health issues, and healthier body weights overall.” You couldn’t find a teacher who doesn’t long for these attributes.
Of course, not all breakfasts are created equal. It’s best to steer away from cereals listing sugar content higher than 5 grams per serving. Aim for 5 grams of fiber instead. It’s better still to start off the day with some lean protein. Think scrambled eggs with a little tofu thrown in. And if you’re really pressed for time, you can always take it on the road. That’s what Nichols does. She totes along hard-boiled eggs, low-fat mozzarella cheese sticks, granola bars, and chunks of fresh fruit to feed her twins in the car.
Wish #5: Independent Students
Here’s a slight contradiction. While teachers long for more parent involvement in their children’s scholarly pursuits, they warn against going overboard with homework help. “Parents may not understand the difference between helping kids with homework and doing it for them,” Hoppman says. Who hasn’t seen the complicated science fair project that obviously no 2nd grader could devise herself? Don’t be that over zealous parent pulling all the strings. Better to brainstorm ideas for a project, provide materials as necessary, and be on hand in the event of safety issues than simply do the whole thing yourself and attach your child’s name to it. Similarly, modeling a complicated math problem is one thing, but it’s quite another to feed all the answers to your student. Recognize when to let kids go it alone. Sure, they’ll make mistakes, but that’s where real learning lies.
Wish #6: Well-rounded but Not Worn-out Students
Teachers love to hear that their students are involved in extracurricular activities, as the benefits often spill over into the classroom. It could be a better grasp of math concepts due to music lessons, or greater coordination from dance practice, enhanced cooperation skills gleaned from playing team sports, or the wondrous stirring of a creative nature in art classes, to name but a few. Just be sure in your rush to enrich your child that you don’t overdo it. “Talk to your child and find out what he wants,” Cox suggests. “Usually if kids are over scheduled, it’s not because they want it but more because the parent does, and kids want to please their parents. Strive to find the right balance.”
Wish #7: Well-Loved Children
It’s the fervent hope of every teacher that no matter how hectic a parent’s schedule, there comes a point in every day when they show their children how much they are loved and appreciated. “Love and affection—there’s nothing else like it,” says Cox. “The most centered, settled, respectful, well-adjusted kids are the ones who still hug their parents and hear ‘I love you’ every day.”