DEAR TEACHER: What is the best way to handle the situation of a child who was not working on grade level during the past school year? We don't want our daughter, who will be starting the third grade, to do poorly again this year. She will have a different teacher, so perhaps things have changed over the summer. I don't want her to get a special-education label to her name. - Concerned Parents
Answer: Your daughter may again have problems this school year unless her skills were truly improved over the summer by someone who knew exactly what help she needed. Otherwise, it is very unlikely that significant progress has been made. Her skills may even have declined over the summer without special help. Of course, it is always possible that things will be better with a new teacher who may be more able to meet her needs. Time will tell.
Wait a few weeks until the new teacher has become well-acquainted with your child and her abilities. Then schedule a conference with the teacher. At that time, she should be able to address your concerns. Ask if your child is working on grade level, especially in language arts (reading, writing, spelling) and math. If not, find out what needs to be done for her to start working on grade level. Don't be afraid of your daughter getting help from a special-education program. It may be the only way that she can truly be helped. Discuss the possibility or need for testing for a learning disability with the teacher.
Often, when a child does struggle in school, he or she has some learning disability. Learning disabilities are neurobiological differences in brain structure and/or function. These differences lead to problems with learning. Children with learning disabilities are often just as intelligent or more intelligent than other children but have difficulty learning because their minds process words or information differently. If your daughter is still struggling in school, you definitely need to find help for her now. Expecting problems to vanish without help is just wishful thinking.
DEAR TEACHER: How important is it for me to communicate with my children's teachers? Some of my friends call their children's teachers all the time. My children do so well that I never thought it necessary to talk to their teachers except at the regularly scheduled conferences. - No Communicator
Answer: Research does show that frequent parent/teacher communication really helps children succeed in school. So start communicating with your children's teachers early this year. It will show them that you truly want to be involved in your children's education.
Communication with your children's teachers does not have to be formal meetings. Brief notes, e-mails and phone calls are all effective ways to communicate with each other. Before starting to communicate, be sure to find out how individual teachers wish to be approached. A good ice-breaker is a reference to a lesson, a teaching technique or a homework assignment that really motivated your children.
Informal chats are also very effective communication tools. Plan to volunteer for classroom activities and to attend parent/teacher events. These are great settings for parents and teachers to get to know each other. However, they are not the time to resolve any problems.
Mutual disclosure is important to parent/teacher communication. Parents need to tell teachers about anything that is happening at home that may be affecting their children's work. And teachers should tell parents what is happening at school.
How often parents and teachers communicate with each other truly depends on whether there are any serious problems. Some may need to communicate almost every day.
If children are handling school well, casual chats with teachers and occasional notes or e-mails should build a good relationship.
DEAR TEACHER: I dread packing school lunches for my children in elementary and middle school. Do you have any suggestions about what I can pack that is healthy and nutritious? - Tired of Packing
Answer: No pressure on you, but it is no secret that eating right can play a role in helping your children do their best in school. If you fail to pack an appealing lunch, your children will just eat a few bites before rushing out to the playground without getting the fuel necessary to propel them through the rest of the school day.
Some good choices are whole grain breads and lower-fat deli meats, like turkey. Veggies with dip, fruit in their natural juices or fresh fruit are especially appealing, as are trail mix, yogurt and home-baked goods. One caution: Be sure to pack lunches that meet any restrictions the school has laid down. Plus, be sure to involve your children in the selection of their favorite foods.
One aspect of packing lunches that is very important is keeping the food safe for your children to eat. Before beginning to pack a lunch, be sure your hands are clean and that you are packing it in a clean container. Use thermoses for hot foods and cold packs to keep food cold. One trick is to freeze some foods so they can thaw before lunch time. Finally, include moist towelettes as a reminder to your children to clean their hands.
Send questions to Dear Teacher, in care of Ohio Valley Parent, Box 395, Carmel, IN 46082-0395; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.