Summer “vacation” is almost over already for one of my kids. She starts 10th grade on July 26. The younger one starts 7th grade on August 23. They both are honor students and have high IQs but it takes the whole family’s involvement to keep the momentum going and to stay positive. Public school is “free” and it has its up and down sides. Each year you never know if you are going to get a dedicated, fantastic teacher or a tired, bitter teacher full of apathy. I am not shaming. I was a high school English teacher and only lasted 7 years. Teaching in NC public schools is not for the weak – you are underpaid, under appreciated, sometimes bullied and disrespected. How well your child does depends a lot on family involvement.
Here are some things I have learned over the years. If you want to help your teen succeed in public school, read on:
- Attend new student orientation meetings even if your kid is familiar with the school. There is always change in staff and it is good to see and be seen. Take the time to go as a family. Yes, these are boring. Yes they take too long. Yes, you get very little information – BUT it will unite you as a family and everyone starts on the same page. Trust me, it is worth the time.
- GO TO PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCES! There are far less of these when your kids age out of elementary school so it is even more important to attend. Let the teachers know you care and respect their efforts. Even if you are dealt a not so stellar teacher – it will be helpful with future communications.
- On your own, try to visit the school. Know the layout and help your kiddo understand all the emergency protocols. Put your eyes on the school secretary, the janitor, the cafeteria workers, the school police, etc. These adults are impacting your children. Get to know them! Be sure to make an “appointment” as they will not just let you run around on your own.
- Check the school website every few days. Thankfully, with modern technology you can have access to a lot of information on a daily basis. Keep in mind that humans are inputting this information and if you see a mistake or a discrepancy, let a school staff member know (politely).
- Support homework expectations. This one is super important and really difficult. Homework gets more intense in middle school and really amps up in high school. Yes, some homework seems to be just busy work or very repetitive but it does not help to take on a negative attitude about it. With my kids I am very “real”. We talk about the value of the assignment but we also understand that you have to jump through some hoops to get to the prize. I do not hoodwink them or lie to them but I also make sure they are respectful.
- Send your teens to school ready to learn. Make sure they have a decent bedtime routine and they get up early enough to be fully awake and alert so that they will do better in school. Make sure to fuel them up with something other than sugar and caffeine. Lack of sleep is the biggest obstacle for teens in school. I do not have a solution for this, unfortunately. In our family we just try our best to not fill their days with too many extra curricular activities. We normally say 2 “clubs” max (they usually just choose 1). We strictly stick to bedtimes and wake times.
- Teach them time management and calendar organization. This one is a doozy. Start young – I wish I had done more. I thought I was doing enough but there is a lot to juggle in middle and high school. My younger one will be better prepared than my older kid was. Buy them a huge paper calendar. I LOVE technology but there is something about writing on paper and having it stare at you next to your homework station. You can’t ignore pen on paper like you can a screen. Make sure they schedule breaks!
- Help them study. It is simply overwhelming no matter how smart your kid is. No one taught me how when I was a teen and it caused a lot of anxiety. Even if grades are good, it takes one slip and their grades can plummet. It is easier to stay ahead then to play catch up. It is far less stressful. Teach them to break down tasks into smaller chunks, have them organize by subject, teach them how to take notes or have them record if the teacher allows. Even asking them questions while you are commuting is helpful. Again – good sleep is key!
- Understand the school rules. There are dress code rules, tardies, attendance, cheating rules, social media standards, etc. Do NOT be that parent who says, “Oh, I didn’t know”. Make it your job to know and share with your kids. You need to know that schools can call law enforcement to the school – you do not ever want that to happen so prepare yourself and your kids by reading up on all the rules and expectations. Yes, some of them are close minded. Talk to administrators and school boards about any sketchy stuff BEFORE your kids get caught up in them.
- GET INVOLVED – I know it is easier for people who do not have demanding full time careers. However, there are so many ways to volunteer or show your support. You don’t have to chaperone a field trip – you can offer to organize something on a database for your teacher or fund raise for books online for the school library. The idea is to become a part of the school and not just a demanding “customer”. It truly is a teamwork scenario.
- Take attendance seriously. Do not keep your teens out of school due to poor vacation planning. Try to make medical appointments after school or during school breaks whenever possible. Do not check your child out of school early just to beat the carpool “rush”. Catching up with missed class work, projects, tests and homework can be really stressful for the student and causes teachers extra work. How you view attendance will directly be reflected by your children.
- Talk about school during meals or on weekends. It does not have to be a formal meeting – just let your teens know what goes on in school is important to the family. Try to ask open ended questions. Otherwise, you will get surly — “yeah, it’s fine – whatever” as answers. I find talking during any sort of commuting in the car is great. You are alone and it is quieter and you are kind of bored anyway.
- Let the teens know YOU ARE THEIR ADVOCATE. They need to know you have their backs and that you trust them and believe them.
If your kid is finally returning to public school physically after the pandemic, I wish you all good health, great mental health and success. Good luck!