Friday, August 20, 2010

It's Friday & I'm In Love: Back-to-School

Dear Erika -

So this isn't a "traditional" Friday post, but hear me out. In a week or so, your life will change pretty much forever. And in the tradition of being a good big sister - much better than the one I was growing up - let me offer some advice about back to school and what it will mean for you and the Boys, both from a parent's perspective and as a teacher's. If the list is too long, jump to the end for the "talking points."

Getting the Pretty Placed
My desk is kind of like my home away from home - it's filled will all sorts of crap
  • The first day will be brutal. Never underestimate how much sleep you will need the night before and how fleeting it will be. When you walk into the classroom, because I am assuming you will, be prepared for Cooper to let go. I'm serious . . . he will let go of your hand and walk away. And you will be there wondering what to do next. If you are like me, you will be inconsolably crying and trying to figure out if other people have noticed. They have and so has Cooper's teacher. The beauty of this is, she's seen it all before, but you still need to turn and walk out the door. Don't wait for Coop to turn around and wave like they do in the movies . . . it doesn't happen. 
  • That first afternoon? It might be brutal, too. He might not want to share what he did. He might not be that interested in school. He might not want to go back. But most likely, Coop will be tired as hell, so let him watch some Phineas and Ferb and be done with it. Because he's tired, that bedtime will come earlier than normal . . . and you will thank him when he goes to sleep. 
  • While he's in bed, you will have a shit-ton of paperwork to do. Fill out this form, read this crap, send back this copy but not that one . . . it's mind numbing, sweetie. However, his teacher probably went to a lot of trouble assembling that information in to one nice and tidy little packet. Return it to her the next day in the same nice and tidy little order. 
  • Speaking of his teacher, present and future, this person will see Cooper eight hours a day for five days a week. She only sees this side of him: the side that sits in a desk or plays with his new friends or won't stop talking no matter where she tries to move him. She doesn't see the Cooper who laughs at Becket's silly jokes or snuggles on the couch. Truthfully, that's fine because you don't see the Cooper she does. Some kids are different at school than they are at home, but don't think that he is the same in both places. 
  • At some point in his academic life, Coop will have a teacher who doesn't "get" him. He might come home and insist that his teacher hates him and nobody else gets in trouble and he's being picked on. Chances are he's 99.9% wrong. I've taught over 1,000 kids and can honestly say that I've never hated a single one. Sure, there were unmotivated ones or kids who just could have cared less where they were but actually hating a kid? Never happened. Kids sometimes can't figure out what is going wrong at school or what role they have in the situation, so they look at the adult and can't figure out why Mrs. So-and-so doesn't fix the problem right away like Mom does. That failure, real or imagined, gets translated as "she must hate me." Trust me, there are tons of kids I just didn't "get" . . . chances are they didn't "get" me either. 
  • If Coop is riding the bus, you know darn well what goes on when kids are on the bus. Nine times out of ten, the bus driver will keep the kindergarteners away from the "big" kids, but Cooper may hear words he never heard before. Then again, with me as an aunt, he's heard them all before . . . but nobody will be there to remind him that this type of language isn't acceptable from him.  
    Day 1
    The first day of school is exciting for everyone . . . but so tiring
  • Let's say that you need to contact Coop's teacher. Find out from her what her preferred method of contact is. If it's email, use it but don't abuse it. If it's by phone, don't expect an immediate response, but if she doesn't call back in 26 hours, call again. If it's in writing, for god's sake, make sure you write it on a clean sheet of paper . . . not on the back of a Target receipt. You really don't want to be that parent. Trust me. 
  • Probably right before Thanksgiving, you will need to have your first parent-teacher conference. Undoubtedly, they are the most nerve-wracking thing you will have to do in a long time (hell, they even put PAP smears to shame). You'll feel like you are ten and being called down by Sister Mary Margaret for something you know damn well you didn't do. Here's a little secret: as much as parents dislike conferences, teachers dislike them even more. At least 25% of our appointments don't show up, even though reminders were sent home on numerous occasions. Probably that same amount of parents never even bothered to make an appointment . . . and those are the parents we really wanted to see. So sign up for a conference, be on time, smile and ask questions, and leave Becks at home. As cute as he is (and he is cute), the conference isn't any place for him.
  • If you want to get his teacher a small present for Christmas, please stick to this list: gift cards, gift cards, gift cards. Don't buy a candle (too many to count) or a Christmas decoration (too many to count) or send in homemade cookies (she might have an issue eating homemade food from students . . . many of us do). Buy a gift card, pop that baby in an actual card, and attach it to a small ornament. If you insist on buying a present, you can never go wrong with books. Think about what Cooper has brought home and buy a book along those themes. But go with the gift card.
  • At the end of the school year, and it comes way way too fast, sit down with Cooper and ask him what he liked doing best. Write it down for you to keep, and then write his teacher a letter thanking her for everything she did this year. All too often, teachers feel as if the world is out to get them. We turn on the television and every day it is the same: teachers and education suck. Really, we don't, but we get it. However, every teacher worth his or her salt wants to make a difference for the better for students. And all too often, we don't think we are. These kinds of letters are few and far between, but they are probably the most cherished gift any teacher will ever receive. I couldn't tell you what Christmas present "Michelle" gave me, but I can quote you the "thank-you" letter she wrote me word for word some five years later. So,write that thank you letter and include what made the year special for Coop (and you).
    Olive Helps Pack
    Olive thought she was going to school . . . she's going on a trip soon, but not in a suitcase
     So, to recap with the talking points:
    • First day: let him go (and don't wear mascara).
    • First afternoon: give in on the television a little.
    • That evening: do your paperwork and send it back immediately.
    • Home Cooper is different from School Cooper . . . repeat.
    • Mrs. So-and-so is probably not a meanie; she just has 26 other children who need some TLC, too.
    • Bus = bad language and behavior, but he'll be fine.
    • Find out how you should contact the teacher and stick with that method. 
    • Parent-teacher conferences aren't fun for anybody.
    • Presents? Gift cards. 
    • When you reach the end,  write a sincere thank you to the teacher. It might just make her year.
    That's it . . . I'm sure I forgot something, but you know how to reach me and I'll tell you the truth, completely unvarnished. I don't envy you that first day. The Girls never saw me cry, but I don't remember being led from the door, wiping the snot from the tip of my nose. Yup, I was that mom. So not cool.



    1. Thanks. I'd write more but I'm pretty much out of words. Emotionally & physically (I think some veggie dog gave me food poisoning).

    2. I'm not Erika and I don't know Cooper buy I still loved reading this!

    3. oops..I meant BUT I still loved reading this..I'm sure as a teacher that popped right out at you.

    4. i was crying half way through the first bullet point. such good advice, jill.