Starting the school year is always a hectic process as a parent.
You have to make sure that your students are counted and placed properly within their new grade; or you may have to do that in a new school altogether. Hopefully, you’ve received a list from the administration or your student’s teacher(s) concerning what supplies they will need for the year. You have to transition your student(s) out of summer mode and back to school year mode. There is a lot going on and you want to make sure that your child is settled and ready to go. Yet there are other questions that should be raised in addition to what supplies does my child need and is there an after school program available. These questions concern the actual educating of your child.
Too often, parents wait until back to school night to step foot inside a school. Unfortunately, there are those who may wait until the first sign of trouble for their student; parent teacher conferences, which usually happen after report cards have been mailed home. There are even parents who refuse to communicate with the school unless there is trouble going on; many of these parents say that their students get good grades so there is no need to worry about the school. Those are simply the wrong ways to think about parent interactions with the school. As a parent of child in school, you should strive to maintain regular contact with your child’s teachers and administration. As a parent of a child of color in any school district, communication with the school is a must.
Your child’s school will make numerous attempts to reach out to you at the beginning of the year, as they should. Urban and/or inner-city educators go the extra step in their communication; they hold events for parents, dialogue sessions for parents and opportunities for parents give feedback. That may all be well and good, but their methods are two-fold. The first is their desire to provide good customer service – like a business does. Whether you realize it or not, your child’s school may or may not be administered by a business or by leaders following a business model. However, schools would like to give parents and guardians a good experience each time they converse. The second reason is that schools seek to build emotional capital with parents so that when things go awry, they can make a withdrawal on those emotional funds to smooth things over; a good defense is a good offense. You should take up any school’s offer to meet with you and discuss the school’s mission, vision and intentions for your child. However, you shouldn’t wait to be approached by the school. Set up a time to meet with the principal to have a discussion. If they ask you to wait until back to school night, don’t force the issue.
However, your initiation of communication puts you on their radar that you are a parent invested in the education of your child. When you arrive on the school grounds, be sure to have a notepad or your cell phone to take notes. But like any good detective-parent, you should come to your conversation with some questions of your own. There are the boilerplate questions, such as: how is my child doing in your class, what is he/she learning, does he/she get any homework, can I call you or email you, is my child failing your class… You don’t have to remember to ask those questions. You remember those off the top of your head. You have to ask those questions that let administration and teachers know that you are cognizant of the challenges your child may face in an underfunded and under resourced urban or inner-city school. If you’re not sure what to ask, here are a few questions:
- WHAT IS THE AVERAGE CLASSROOM SIZE or WHAT IS THE AVERAGE STUDENT TO TEACHER RATIO? You should know the average class size to gauge the size for your student this year and in the years moving forward.
- WHAT IS THE STUDENT TO TEACHER RATIO IN MY CHILD’S CLASSROOM? You need to know how many kids your child’s teacher contends with on a daily basis; it does have an impact on your child.
- IS MY CHILD IN A GENED CLASSROOM, A SELF-CONTAINED ROOM OR AN INCLUSION CLASSROOM? A general education (gened) classroom is made up of students who do not have an individual education plan (IEP). A self-contained classroom is a made up of only students who have IEP’s. Sometimes, these classes (or the groups containing them) are referred to as pullout students because they may be in inclusion classrooms for all their classes with the exception of math and language arts; those two classes they would be pulled out for. An inclusion classroom is one that has both gened and sped students. Whether your child does or does not have an IEP, the type of classroom they are in can have a major impact on your child if the teacher is not qualified and certified to teach wherever your child is. Even if they are, you have the right to know the academic composition of your child’s classroom.
- IF MY CHILD IS IN AN INCLUSION CLASSROOM, IS HIS/HER TEACHER SPED CERTIFIED? IS THERE AN INSTRUCTIONAL AIDE IN THE CLASSROOM WITH THE TEACHER? If your child is in a self-contained classroom, their teacher is sped certified. It is against the law if for a teacher not sped certified to provide instruction to a self-contained classroom. If your child is in an inclusion classroom, the inclusion teacher should be certified in sped. Some administrators will say that they pullout students for specific subject i.e. math and language arts. ALL of your child’s teachers should be sped certified if your child is a sped student. If any of your child’s teachers are not sped certified and you live in New Jersey, consult http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/form/prise/prise.pdf for more information (In Spanish – http://www.nj.gov/education/specialed/form/prise/prise_s.pdf).
- ARE MY CHILD’S TEACHERS CERTIFIED TO TEACH THE GRADE AND CONTENT AREA YOU’VE SCHEDULED THEM TO TEACH THIS YEAR? I have personally been asked to teach a grade level and content area I was not experienced nor certified to teach. Administrators may say that it doesn’t matter and they may also say they don’t have the resources to hire another teacher… that is not your problem. Ensure that your child has the right teacher.
- WHAT DEGREES WERE EARNED BY MY CHILD’S TEACHER(S); DO ANY HAVE A GRADUATE DEGREE? All teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. So just for your knowledge, find out if their degree is in exactly what they teach or similar to it. If they are certified to teach a content area and/or grade level, the state backs them. However, there is no law that says you cannot find out this info. Also, teacher with grad degrees means they’ve taught longer and have coursework in their background to help them master their craft.
- HOW MANY YEARS OF TEACHING EXPERIENCE DOES MY CHILD’S TEACHER(S) HAVE? This does matter. More urban and inner-city schools face turnover than other school. Generally, teachers fresh from college or a different career teach in urban and inner-city schools, where they usually do more harm than good to kids – simply because they are 1st year teachers and they probably haven’t received the support to improve. They learn on a trial by fire basis. If your child has a 1st or 2nd year teacher, demand that your teacher receives the support necessary to teach your child.
- HAS MY CHILD’S READING LEVEL BEEN ASSESSED?
- HAS MY CHILD’S WRITING LEVEL BEEN ASSESSED?
- HAS MY CHILD’S MATHEMATICS LEVEL BEEN ASSESSED? For questions 8 through 10, you want to know the levels your child is performing on. If they have not been properly assessed, how can the teacher and instructional team diagnose how to teach your child to maximize their academic output?
- ARE TEACHERS PROPERLY SUPPORTED TO SIMULTANEOUSLY TEACH STUDENTS WITH VARYING LEVELS IN READING, WRITING AND MATHEMATICS DURING 1 CLASS PERIOD? IF SO, WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE OF THAT SUPPORT; WHAT DOES THE SUPPORT LOOK LIKE? If teachers have a bunch of students with varying levels of academic prowess, how is your child supposed to get the most out of their classes with teachers accounting for all levels of skill? You may understand the demands of the job but those teachers teaching your child under these circumstances need the support and the training to do the job. Find out if they are getting it.
- WHAT DOES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT LOOK LIKE AT THIS SCHOOL; WHAT IS THE RATIO OF ACADEMIC VS. PROCEDURAL? Is administration worried about reinforcing the procedures of the school or actually supporting teachers in the area of instruction? Going over procedures are for staff meetings, not for professional development hours.
- IS YOUR TEACHING AND DISCIPLINARY STAFF CULTURALLY COMPETENT EDUCATORS? Cultural competency is important. More times than not, your child will attend a school with a majority of White female teachers. Cues and behaviors may mean one thing versus what they mean to you and your student. Particularly in a school with a heave focus on law and order, you need to know that cultural competency is valued at your school and that administration dedicates time to train teachers on what it means and how that knowledge is implemented in the classroom.
- WHAT IS THE RACIAL MAKEUP OF YOUR TEACHING & ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF? If your school is a primarily Black and/or Hispanic population, you want to know the examples of teachers and leadership your students have to see, or are most in the faculty and administration White? If this is true and the majority of your security, secretarial and maintenance staff is Black and Hispanic… that is a serious problem.
- MAY I SCHEDULE A TIME TO OBSERVE MY CHILD WHILE THEY ARE IN THE CLASSROOM? Schools should have no problem with you coming in to observe your child. In fact they welcome it. But that is not the only reason you visit the school. You also visit to see how the school day works, how teachers and administration handles the day and how your teacher handles the students. You also should look for the challenges your teachers and administrators face and identify where you can be of service.
- DOES YOUR (administrators and teachers) CHILD (if they have children) ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOL (traditional or charter) OR PRIVATE SCHOOL? WHAT WENT INTO YOUR DECISION? If your administration or teachers send their children to public schools, ask them where and the difference between their child’s school and where they work. If they send their child to a private school… you have your answer about what they think of public school, let alone where you send your child. Ask them why they shouldn’t take you child out of the schools where they work.
- WOULD YOU (administrators and teachers) SEND YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS SCHOOL IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY? The quality of a school rest in the knowledge that those who work in a school would send their children there. We know that teachers at private schools would send their children where they work for school. Can we say the same for urban and inner-city schools? Find out what your child’s educators say.
There are many more questions that you can ask. Over time, I will continually update this blog post with more questions and reasons why to help prepare you for those initial meetings with your child’s teachers and administrators. The hope is that your child’s school can answer all questions the best they can. If not, you at least have the information necessary to inform what you do about it.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark.