Sunday, September 19, 2010

Timely Advice to Parents on Surviving Middle School

Middle school can be one of the most daunting and challenging periods of development that children and parents will ever experience. It is where children begin their transition to adulthood in earnest. Veteran teacher Robert Walrond sees a whole range of common problems, including disengagement, emotional distress, lack of attention, low achievement, negative peer pressure, risky behavior, distractions caused by mass media and hormonal development, and involvement with cliques, bullies and gangs. Parents have a huge impact on how children behave and whether they succeed or fail. His new book, Every Parent’s Guide to Middle School Success, offers simple and practical strategies for helping your child succeed in middle school. Here is some of his best advice.

YOU the parent -- are the linchpin. Recognize that while success in middle school is a team effort with the parent, the teacher and the student, YOU the parent are the most important part of the team. YOU influence your child. YOU influence the teacher. So acknowledge your role and take the responsibility for what happens.

Communicate with your child. Talk in the morning. Talk in the afternoon. Talk in the evening. Talk by phone. Text your child as frequently as appropriate to coordinate where they are, what they are doing next, and what they and you will be doing together next. Stay in direct contact with your child, and do not lose the direct personal attention and connection.

Find out what is really happening at school. What is really going on in school? Find out. Go to the school and get all the information the school has available. Search the Internet. Study the school web page. Learn about the extracurricular programs and opportunities for student and parent involvement. Get the calendar and identify the events. Learn what is planned, and talk to the teachers, coaches, and other parents, and place these events on your calendar. Learn and think about what your child is doing, with whom and when from morning to night.

Get your child involved in school activities. Get them into clubs, sports, music, theatre, and other sponsored and monitored after-school activities. Encourage them to develop interests, skills, and the desire to perform and develop in all sorts of ways. Support them to the maximum degree in whatever they decide to be interested in even if it is a financial sacrifice that needs to be budgeted and carefully managed.

Go to the school often and get involved yourself. Go to events with your child. Be an avid fan and cheerleader. Be a coach, be a helper, be a fundraiser, offer to chaperone, offer to cook, offer to help clean up. Volunteer to be a teacher’s aide. Even just sit in class and watch the teacher sometime if it is allowed.

Listen to what is happening carefully. Read the school newspaper regularly. Read the Principal or School Teacher Newsletter. Jump on the news of opportunities for new activities and involvement. Pay attention to what’s new. Read progress reports carefully.

Attend school conferences. Make the back-to-school night and all student/parent/teacher conferences a mandatory event. Learn what is being taught in each class. Look at the books and materials being used to teach. Look at the rooms and facilities where your child will be spending each day. Put names to faces and learn how to contact teachers by phone and email if you have questions. Contact teachers and ask questions. Be active and follow up if you don’t hear back in a timely fashion.

Be courteous with teachers and administration. Do not drop into classrooms unannounced. Check in with the front office. Schedule visits with the teachers and staff. Enter classrooms as a neutral observer. Behave yourself and do not draw attention or disrupt the teacher or your child. Be positive and make the experience a good one for all involved.

Pay close attention to how your child is doing. Grades are important, but they are not everything. Is your child happy? Does he or she do what’s necessary with a good attitude and an open mind? Is the child suddenly withdrawn, frustrated or angry? Pay attention to the clues. Listen and think about what is going on. Ask questions gently and learn what you can. Do not take rash actions.

Meet with teachers one on one. Problems may arise in middle school: assignments late or not turned in, low grades on quizzes, projects not done, unexcused absences, problems with other students. You must go to a teacher conference with an attitude of helpfulness. You and the teacher are there to help children help themselves to be more successful. Make it easy on the teacher.

Stay connected with your child. Expect changes to be resolved slowly over time and not overnight. Let your child know you are informed. Understand that students stretch the details and embellish the facts. Realize that their hormones are changing, and that the drama and emotion are oftentimes what is governing their reality. Don’t be judgmental or automatically rush to their defense or take sides. Stay in tune. Be there when they need you.

Every Parent’s Guide to Middle School Success contains answers to questions like these and many more important issues that parents will face. It is a roadmap which provides helpful guidance that will empower parents and give them insights they might otherwise never find in time when the need arises.

Robert N. Walrond has been a public school teacher for almost two decades. He teaches middle school (7th and 8th graders) and has worked with hundreds of students and their parents. He lives with his wife and children in Antioch, California.

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