Be patient. Read everything. Communicate — then communicate some more.
By Catherine Pearson
No matter what shape school takes for your child this fall — remote, in-person, some combination thereof — there’s no question this year is going to be different. The usual day-to-day rhythms are gone. The stakes are high. Parents and teachers are on edge.
But now, more than ever, we are all in this together. And parents and caregivers certainly want to help support the educators who are risking quite a lot to guide their children through these unprecedented times.
So [we] spoke to educators and advocates directly, gathering intel on how we can help them out this year in ways big and small. Here’s what they had to say.
- Be patient — so, so patient.
Nearly every educator HuffPost Parents spoke with emphasized one point above others: Be patient, be calm and be forgiving as teachers try to figure this — all of it — out.
“Things are rapidly changing,” said Karen Malone, a special education teacher from Pennsylvania. “I don’t know if parents understand just how fast things are changing — and for guidelines, teachers have no control over.”
- Read everything that is sent to you.
“Check your emails and read them carefully,” said L, a seventh-grade teacher in Michigan who wished to remain anonymous because of concerns over repercussions at work.
“We know it is a lot,” she continued.
“I mean, we are the ones writing all of the emails with checklists and reminders and bulleted points, so we get it,” she added. “Things are changing constantly, so it is essential that parents stay current with what is happening at their child’s school.”
Teachers are going to be more strapped for time than ever this year, so they won’t have time to keep repeating new information.
“We only have so much time in the day to put towards work, and we want to make sure we’re getting the rest we need to boost our chances of staying healthy,” said B, a pre-K teacher in Florida who also wished to remain anonymous.
- Let your child’s teacher know when something isn’t working…
Again, so much of what is happening in schools and online this year remains new for teachers, so if something isn’t working, they absolutely want parents to speak up.
“Open communication is so important,” said Kelly Page-Iacovoni, an early childhood special education teacher from Michigan. “If I’m doing something that isn’t working and nobody tells me, then I’m going to keep doing that.” Teachers are willing to work with parents and families to adjust, now more than ever, she noted.
Of course, remember the goal is to be helpful, not hurtful.
“Teachers are internalizing a lot of the frustration parents are feeling as a personal attack on them, their profession and passion, and their caring,” said Michelle Howell Smith, a Nebraska-based parent, and educational researcher. So remember that most policies or changes are not in their control. And be kind.
“I’ve become much more aware of phrasing things in a positive way,” said Howell Smith, whose own kids will be remote this year. “Instead of complaining that my son can never see his teachers,” she offered as a hypothetical, “I might say to them: He really loves it when you make sure you’re coming back into view frequently.”
Teachers are facing an unprecedented year because of COVID-19. Parents can help them get through it with patience, they say.
- … And let them know when something is.
In more traditional years, teachers may have an easier time telling when something they’re doing is really working for their students. This year, between the newness and the distance of remote learning in many cases, that’s not necessarily true.
“If someone tells me something I’ve done worked really well for their child, that makes me feel good,” said Page-Iacovoni. It also makes her more likely to build on that success, and try to replicate it.
One tip: It can be really helpful at the start of the year to ask your child’s teacher how they prefer to connect. Some like short emails; others might like to hop on the phone. Knowing that ahead of time can make it easier to share feedback (good and bad) and communicate frequently in a way that works relatively well for you and them.
- Practice mask-wearing — and other COVID-19 safety precautions — at home.
If your child is going back into the classroom in any capacity, help their teachers out by having them practice mask-wearing ahead of time, Page-Iacovoni said. If they won’t be required to wear one, at least wear a mask around them yourself so they’re used to seeing trusted adults in them. Also, teach them how to wash hands properly and for long enough. Talk to them about what social distance actually means.
Yes, teachers can and will help children learn all of this. But the more you can help your kids ahead of time, the more time instructors can spend actually teaching your children during the day rather than reminding them to put their masks back on.
- “Thank you” goes a long, long way.
“Tears come to my eyes when I think of the things I see that little ones give to their teachers,” said Lee Scott, chairwoman of the educational advisory board at The Goddard School, a private early education provider. “They think: OK, I’m in here. I’m nervous about this, but I love these children, I love what I’m doing, I love to see their bright faces. And wow, to be thanked for that is huge. It’s probably more important now than it ever has been.”
Write a quick thank-you note or email, she said. Have your kid make a card. Maybe give them a small gift card or care package — but it’s not necessary. Just let them know you appreciate their hard work.
B, the pre-K teacher in Florida, said parents should be aware that while teachers are going to do their absolute best this year, their best may not be up to their usual personal standards. Be gentle with them. Know they’re really trying.
“I’d love parents to know that they will want to modify the expectations they have for teachers this year,” she urged. “My team and I were burned out before we even got to the first day. We had to figure out the COVID safety measures for our classrooms without district support down to the last detail while having additional responsibilities put on us and facing the stress of teaching in an unsafe environment.”
- Get in the team mindset.
One way you can support your kid’s teacher this year is to really, truly think of yourselves as a team — which should hopefully alleviate some of the pressure caregivers may be putting on themselves right now.
“A lot of parents say: ‘I can’t work and teach.’ But we’re not expecting you to teach. You might have to facilitate things, and you might have to get things started for your kids. But my job is to teach the children,” said Page-Iacovoni, herself a mom of three. “I want them to realize they don’t have the whole weight of the world on them. We are here to work together to do what is in the best interest of their child.”
“Parents have been through it too, we know!” said Malone. “Teachers are so thankful for all that parents did in the spring to support their kids. We know we can’t do this if we don’t do it as a team. We’re grateful to parents for jumping in and going that extra mile with us.”
Also, get your kids in on the action!
“Encourage your children to communicate their needs and advocate for themselves,” said Meghan Chateau Ciechanowski, an eighth-grade teacher in Michigan. “Communicate your family’s needs and when those needs change. We are not mind readers!”
Again, this year more than ever, we’re all in it together.