It’s time. School orientation. Cue the Jaws music.
In theory, the beginning of a school year is a simple thing: new teacher, new classroom, fresh start. But when you have a student with special needs, all sorts of thoughts and anxieties pop up: will the teacher understand? Will we go through (insert last year’s nightmare) again? What should I do differently to make the outcome for this year different?
And then the final conclusion- Why is it this so difficult?!
When you head to orientation, there are two things you want to accomplish to start the year off right.
Meet the Teacher On the first day of school, there are two things that will be on your child’s mind as they sit in class for the first time: am I in the right room, and am I going to fit in here. Orientation can ease both of those worries just a bit as your quick classroom tour ensures that your child knows where to go.
When you meet the teacher, have your child introduce himself to the teacher. For some kids, this is easy breezy, but for others- not so much. Either way, let them advocate for themselves in this way.
Equally important is that you get the teacher’s name as it will be written in her email address. You’re going to need it later...
Meet the Systems. Ask the teacher if he or she uses Remind.com or a site to post homework. This is where you can really help your child succeed. There are some students who simply handle their business when it comes to getting homework done and meeting deadlines, but I suspect that your kid may not be that kind. There are two ways to tackle this issue: nagging/ begging/ screeching or tapping in to the organizational systems that the teacher has in place.
Not all teachers use these systems, but more and more teachers use at least one. You can’t help your child keep up with the demands of school if you have no idea what is being expected until it is too late. Sign up to get the class announcements on Remind, and then ask your child about the assignments when you see the text. If your child’s teacher uses a homework site, make logging in to it a part of your at home homework routine. Ideally, you would have your student login and you would peek at the page with him. But, weeks can get busy and sometimes we don’t meet that mark.
What you want to avoid at ALL COSTS is you logging in to the homework site without your child. Oh, Lord, do not start that Pandora’s box of “well, Mom, you should have told me that I had homework....”.
Now for the one thing you don’t want to do at orientation. Don’t go into your child’s personal struggles. As a parent, you will probably be tempted to take what feels like a one-on-one situation to advocate for your child. The problem is that it really isn’t a one-on-one situation. The teacher is about to meet 60 (or more) brand new kids and parents all in a span of 60 minutes. As much as she may want to, she does not have the time necessary in this situation to really take in the important information that you have to offer.
This is why you need to get that all important email. After you get home from orientation, send your child’s teacher an email and either set up a conference or give the details you want to share in this message. This step will not only share important information, but it will also get your email address in the teacher’s mailbox. That is a huge convenience for her, and it makes it easy for her to quickly reach out with any daily questions. Not having to find the paperwork with your email address on it when she just wants to ask a quick question or share an observation, is a teacher dream come true.
School orientation can be one part of creating a parent-teacher-student team. It is your opportunity to connect to the systems that your child’s teacher uses so that you can help enable your child to succeed.
Lisa Williams is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and special education teacher who helps parents make smart decisions when faced with school struggles at www.SmartCookieCounseling.com