Patrick Higgins, Jr.

What I Liked About Back to School Night

In education, teaching on September 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm

My son is in preschool,  I’ll lead with that.

My wife and I went to his back to school night last week anxious to see his school and meet his teachers.  For us, it was like reconnaissance: my wife is also a teacher and her back to school night was coming up and we needed ideas.  Plus, our son is close-lipped about school, always answering our questions with “I don’t know.”  As we sat there, cross-legged at “circle time,” I took some mental notes, and I also started recalling the back-to-school nights I had lived through in the classroom.  What I remember, and what became apparent to us as the blood rushed from our feet under the weight of our adult bodies, was that the more time I spent on rules and regulations, the less everyone was engaged, including me.

What do we want to know when we enter our child’s classroom?  Do we need to know that the penalty for chewing gum is a wearing it on his nose?  I think we have to take a page from good presentation skills here: if they need to know my rules, I can provide them on a handout.  What we wanted to know as we entered his classroom was what he did when he wasn’t with us.

His teacher did a masterful job of this.  We sat like preschoolers and followed their mini-schedule.  She moved as if we were the kids, showing us the actions she makes as she instructs; every action is mirrored by the words used to describe it.  We got to know her and who she is.  We spent time imagining our son working and interacting with the same things we were.

We are in the midst of back to school night time for most of us here in New Jersey.  Our district is going through them this week.  When you plan for our back to school nights, I hope you all think about what you would want as a parent.  For my wife and I, we wanted to be able to see how he would interact in that environment, and we wanted to know that he was in a supportive environment.

These are the things I would want to see as a parent in my child’s classroom:

  • Be Genuine.  Be who you are with the parents of your students.  They want to know that there child is learning, is challenged, and is supported.  By showing them your true self, it helps them see those things.
  • Don’t give us your resume.  If you are standing there in front of the room, we’ll assume you are qualified.  If parents ask about your credentials, you might have bigger problems on the horizon.
  • Show samples.  Student work on the walls, of course, but also show us examples of lessons they are doing currently or will do in the future.  What I liked most about our preschool visit the other night was that I now know what is on the horizon and what I can expect him to be doing in a class period on a given day.
  • Be Gracious.  You have big class sizes.  You have 130 students over the course of the day.  They have one child in one room at one time.  Understand that they are singular in focus, as you would be too.

Anyone have any other suggestions?

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  1. I’m going to my own daughter’s back to school night for the firs t time next week. I’m excited. (I just need to remember to wear my parent hat and not my educator hat.)

    Things I always did to have effective back to school nights (high school & middle school):
    1. Greet every parent at the door with a hello and a handshake
    2. Use lots of humor. (appropriate)
    3. Engage parents. Ask them the types of inquiry questions I’d ask kids or give them a mini project. (I would always have them complete a timeline and when most of them had trouble, talk about why knowing dates isn’t even close to as important as thinking critically about the events.)
    4. Don’t get into 1:1 conversations about the students, but give many ways that they can contact you to do so.
    5. Be positive about your subject, your teaching…and the kids!
    6. Dress like the professional you want to be perceived as. (As an aside…why do some teachers wear suits on back to school night, yet wear casual wear or jeans and t-shirts every other day?)

  2. Barry,

    I agree about the hand-shaking; that’s always a big winner in my book. My wife always asked the question, too, about the dress. I think it goes to the being genuine issue. Your demeanor to the parents should be representative of the demeanor you demonstrate with students.

    Have fun tonight and bring that parent hat.

  3. It’s a good reminder reading the responses from a parent’s perspective….I hope to keep these points in mind when we have ours tomorrow night!

    Thanks,
    Trish

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