One of the greatest gifts I have been given is the input of other adults into my children’s lives. Many adults give a little to them (extended family members, pastors, professionals, family friends), but their teachers give a lot. I essentially outsource my children’s training to them for six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year.
I want to be a loyal and appreciative school patron, but what am I doing in practical ways to support my children’s teachers? How am I setting them up for success?
Writing from the perspective of a parent, I feel at a disadvantage on this question. So I took the liberty of asking the teachers at my children’s school to tell me about the support that means most to them. How can parents get on the school’s team and offer meaningful encouragement? This is what they said.
1. Ensure that your child’s assignments are returned completed—or communicated about, if not completed.
You can be vocally supportive till the bus comes home, but why isn’t Betsy’s spelling paper making it into her backpack each morning? This is a small-but-ever-so-practical way to let teachers know you’re on their team.
2. Write a note of encouragement; speak life.
Don’t wait to communicate until things are going badly. Let teachers know how you see them impacting your child’s life for good. They don’t know by telepathy that you’re supportive and grateful. Write it. Tell it to them in person, speak it out loud, say it behind their backs.
Words of blessing mean even more when a class is going through rough waters—or when you’ve been present in the classroom, when you saw what was going on and can affirm your teacher specifically.
3. Be actively involved in your child’s education at home.
In your questions and activities at home, reach into your child’s school interests and experiences. Build on what he’s already learning, and let the teacher know what you see. You are part of your child’s educational team. Teachers love to have you on board.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Is your child having health issues? Or leaving for a trip? Maybe Dad and Mom will be out of town for a few days while Johnny stays at Grandma’s? Anything that may affect your child’s performance at school is important information to his teacher. A morning email or text is fine for many teachers – it saves steps in the early morning routine if they don’t have to make a run to the office to find out why a child is absent (or exhausted).
5. Cultivate friendship.
Be open and eager to chat – about your child, about the latest book you read, about local events. Initiate relationship outside of school hours and roles. You may not believe it, but teachers are people too. They want to be more than distant professionals.
Sometimes a school’s social events can feel lonely or awkward for a single teacher. She’s put much work into planning the evening, but when it arrives, she is alone in the audience. When both parents make a point of saying hi or initiating a short conversation, she feels seen and honored as a person.
6. Extend an invitation.
There’s nothing like enjoying a meal they didn’t have to cook! Sharing it in your home and being drawn into your family circle is even better. Of course it will make their busy schedule even busier, but your hospitality is a beautiful gift.
7. Plan your family’s getaways and appointments during vacation, not during the school year.
Parents who send their child to school every day possible conserve many hours of teacher time and much mental energy. Enough said!
8. Don’t be afraid to critique. In person.
Most teachers want to hear when they are doing or teaching things you don’t agree with. When you come directly to your child’s teachers with your concern, it lets them know you’re paying attention, you want them to succeed, and you trust them to hear you and respond appropriately. Thoughtful engagement with a teacher is costlier than blind support, but it means immeasurably more.
9. Give a gift.
Gifts are one of the loveliest ways to connect people with people. They are not something your children’s teachers will demand from you, or even expect–but that is the beauty of giving. It catches them off guard, when their heart is busy and careworn. It says I value you. I appreciate you.
Gifts don’t have to cost a lot to communicate appreciation. A simple gift might be a chocolate bar, a stylish pair of socks, a certificate of service, or a good book. A larger gift might be a gas card or other gift card, a piece of local art, a subscription, or a lush basket of goodies.
A special kind of gift is one that helps your teacher to equip her classroom – such as a gift certificate to Teachers Pay Teachers, Amazon, or your local education store. If you walk into a classroom and see attractive things that provide a learning environment where students want to be, most likely the teachers bought it out of pocket and on a limited personal budget.
10. Make food!
When a mom takes time to concoct a delicious treat to send to school, teachers taste more than warm butter and sugar. They taste care: someone was thinking about me, and priority: someone deliberately carved time out of their busy day in order to make mine sweeter.
Alternately, consider packing a lunch for your teacher, or bringing in a hot meal for a day! It’s one less thing for him/her to take care of.
11. Volunteer at school.
Do you have a little extra time in your week? There may be something you could help with in the classroom! Teachers have a lot on their plates; your time can be a most valuable asset. You might listen to Bible memory recitations, grade papers, organize library books, scrub dirty corners, supervise recess, or drive for a field trip. Are you willing?
No one may ever see this aspect, but it is real.
I remember one stressful year with my son, when each day as I dropped him off at the school doors and drove away, my heart groaned to God for his teacher, for his classroom, for his school. I prayed the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and presence into those walls. I cried aloud. Later, one of the teachers said to me, “I just felt there was something special about that school year, some extra measure of grace.”
I am ashamed to say I have not kept up this habit through the years. Am I counting on others to do so? Does it make a difference? Would your school change if every day, the patron parents carried their staff and students to the Lord, and laid them in his hands? I suggest we give it a try.
*I am intensely grateful to the quality men and women who invest in my children’s lives in the classroom. Special thanks to the staff of Faith Builders Christian School for their honesty in sharing what support looks like on the ground. Many of these words are theirs.
CONTRIBUTOR: Shari Zook