I don’t know about you, but I could not wait to get back to work. I missed my classroom. I missed my coworkers. I missed being around my students. Most importantly, I missed teaching in general. To me, nothing signifies the start of a new school year like back to school night. The teachers are bright-eyed and excited for the upcoming year, the parents are excited to gain a little of their freedom back, your classroom still looks shiny and organized—it’s great! Although this can be the perfect time to get to know your new group of parents and to show them who you are and what to expect, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. Below are the ways in which I like to prepare myself and my classroom for back to school night and calm those pesky nerves.
1. Dress to impress! Teachers are professionals. Although many of us don’t get super dressed up for work everyday (who wants to run around with 7 year olds all day in a pencil skirt and kitten heels? Or conduct science experiments with 14 year olds in slacks and a tie?) However, when the time calls for it, get dressed up. Put a little extra time into your attire, etc. and make sure that you look like the professional that you are (business casual is always a safe bet). First impressions are important. Think of back to school night like an interview—and the parents are the ones on the hiring committee. They are about to hand over their most cherished person to you and they want to know that you will be a good role model and a positive influence on their child as well as a wonderful teacher. So, put your best foot forward and show them that you are the right person for the job! Also, don’t forget a mint for fresh breath, we don’t want to scare them away when we give them a hearty “hello!”(and please, no gum!)
2. Stand at the door and greet parents as they come in. I learned this from my master teacher. My master teacher was always so friendly—back to school night was certainly no exception. She greeted every parent as they came in and shook their hand. To me, this creates an instant feeling of community and warmth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to smile and say how nice it is to meet them while you shake their hand. If you are a multiple subject/elementary school teacher and are going to have parents in your room for more than 15-20 minutes, I would suggest putting out a few snacks. Spending five or six dollars on some lemonade and cookies will be well worth it—the parents can enjoy a little treat while you talk to them and everyone is automatically in a good mood (who doesn’t like cookies?). Again, this creates a sense of community and will make your job easier throughout the year. “What’s that you say? Mr. Black gave you a bad grade just because he doesn’t like you? That doesn’t make sense—he gave us cookies at back to school night! You must be mistaken, son. Let’s take a look at that rubric and figure this out before we even think of taking up any of your sweet teacher’s limited time.” Ok, ok, that may be a bit of a hyperbole… But you get the idea.
3. Provide a handout. We may not realize this, but back to school night can be just as stressful for parents as it is for teachers. Especially when they make the jump from elementary school to middle school! They have to follow a schedule that their child scribbled down on their way out the door and a crude “map” of the school drawn on a napkin (that actually did happen once). To help alleviate some of their stress or tension of having to remember everything you said (not to mention the other teachers as well), give them a handout to follow along with and possibly take home. Not only is this nice for you (you don’t have to worry as much about remembering every single detail), but it can be very helpful for them as well—they can focus on you and relax, knowing that they won’t have to recite your information to their spouse or family members when they get home. Also, they will be less likely to email you will small questions that could be answered by simply referring to your handout. Nice, right? Worried about the wastefulness of yet another handout? Print out a few and make it optional for those who want to take one and be sure to post it online, so they can easily access it or download a copy.
4. Don’t only talk to them about curriculum. Of course the parents want to know what their children will be learning, but they care more about who the person is that will be teaching it.Tell them who you are and explain your personal pedagogy. In some cases teachers can spend close to the same about time with kids during the week as their parents—that teacher can have a significant impact. This is your time to put their minds at ease and explain to them who you are and why they should feel honored that you are leading their child’s education this year.
5. Ask them to be your partner! Tell parents that you want them to be your partner in educating their child. Since I teach middle school, I usually explain to my group of parents that one of my goals for the year is for their children to learn how to advocate for themselves. I also explain that this is the perfect time to practice, with me—a teacher who genuinely wants them to learn this skill and become a strong communicator with authority figures (a good life skill to have). I want my students to feel confident when approaching teachers in high school, professors in college and their bosses later in life. In order to accomplish this goal, I ask the parents to encourage their child to come and talk to me directly if they they are frustrated, upset, overwhelmed etc. I have been doing this for 6 years and it’s a great way to start that partnership right off the bat to help support these young people as they navigate new waters.
6. Be yourself! You went into teaching for a reason—with honorable intentions and a passion for children. Be genuine when talking to the parents on back to school night. Show them who you are, because who you are is a wonderful teacher and they are lucky to have you teaching their child!
Here’s to a great school year, everyone!
-The Ardent Teacher