Teacher guilt is real. It is something that we and many of our colleagues have felt at one point or another in our careers. Many teachers find it challenging to balance a personal life and still be able to fulfill all the tasks required for teaching. In many cases it is the mental well being of our teachers that ends up suffering. Which isn’t healthy for the teachers or the students.
People who become educators are always seen and praised for their selflessness. It is as if teachers have to give up so much to be a teacher, and society praises them for it. Perhaps it is because historically, the majority of teachers have been women, and in western society women and mothers often have to sacrifice for their families, that teachers now have this stigma of sacrifice.
How many times have teachers had to take a day because we were sick, or had a family obligation, or something came up but they felt bad for leaving the students? We can tell you that it happens often. Many teachers feel guilty for taking care of themselves, taking a break during the work day, taking a day, or even switching schools or careers. This teacher guilt is real, and we want to shift this mindset. We want to help change the narrative around teaching.
The fact is that education is a profession. We go to school for many years to be teachers, and we should not be sacrificed for the sake of the children. It starts with teachers setting boundaries and saying they will not sacrifice themselves for their job. Teachers should be compensated fairly, given the resources they need for their classrooms, and given time during the day to complete the tasks required. If teachers continue to put in extra hours for free, spend their own money on their classrooms, and forego their personal lives, society will continue to control the narrative. It’s time we make a major change.
To our fellow teachers, just know that the children will be ok if you take a day or a few days off to take care of yourself. Your students benefit from your well being. And if you are unable to balance your life in your job, your school will be ok if you decide to leave the school or the profession. Like architects, engineers, and doctors, they will find someone to replace you. If your school isn’t able to give you what you need to be successful, it’s time to look for something that will benefit you and the life you want. Teachers are not volunteers. Teachers should not be putting their health and well-being at risk for the sake of a job.
Teachers need to stop feeling guilty. And society needs to stop praising teachers for their sacrifice, and instead praise them for their excellence in professionalism, and compensate them fairly.
We know that once teachers go back to school for planning week and the first days of school our To-Do lists seem to never end. Back to school for teachers is a very busy time of year.
There is so much to do to get ready and then the students arrive and there is so much to do. Let’s be honest, it’s what our lives are like all school year long. Too much to do and so little time.
Over the years we have had relatively easy transitions into school, somewhat stressful transitions, and incredibly anxious transitions back to school. Often times there are many things that are out of our control that can cause stress. A construction site that has not been completed at the school, a new partner you have never met, an unorganized administration, a mandatory change in classrooms, too many meetings and zero classroom prep during planning week, are all things that can cause teachers so much stress and anxiety. We know! We have been there!
We have some suggestions for a smooth and less stressful transition into a new school year:
1) Go into your classroom before planning week If your school lets you go to your class before planning week, try to go in a couple of days. Honestly, doing this has been a life saver for us. Not only do you get to catch up with the office staff before everyone else, but you can turn up the music and clean, organize, make lists, and set up. Doing this lets you cross some things off your to do list before you are at the will of admin, parents, and students.
2) Do not compare your classroom to Pinterest or Instagram classrooms It is really hard to see perfectly beautiful classrooms on social media and think that we are not doing enough because ours do not look like that. Know that it is ok. Your classroom will be perfect for your students because you prepared and worked so hard on it. You can take some inspiration from classrooms and set ups from social media, but know that your students will love their classroom and it doesn’t have to be perfect.
3) Try your best, but know it’s ok to not be or feel 100% ready Don’t feel like you have to have the whole year planned out by day one. Take it a month, a week, or a day at a time. And if your classroom is a work in progress, that is okay too. No one knows what you didn’t put up except for you.
4) The first few days of school should be about getting to know your students and routines and procedures of the classroom The best thing is to spend time getting to know your students and letting them know what systems are in place and finding out what you can do to set your students up for success. One piece of advice to try to form your own opinions about students. Even if a previous teacher had some challenges, be open to getting to know each and every student.
5) Email parents to let them know how their child has transitioned into the classroom within the first week of school Even if it is just a quick line to tell them how their child made new friends, or is showing enthusiasm for the new school year. It is great to stay positive at the beginning and try to find good things to say about each child.
7) If you see issues with students setup a meeting sooner rather than later If a child is having a rough transition, it is best to meet with parents early on so you can develop a support plan. Let the parent know that you are on their side and want to partner with them to help support the child.
8) Have fun and be flexible Try to have fun with your students, even if you are feeling the stresses of the start of school. Your plans might change and just go with it, be flexible. There are so many opportunities to model flexibility in our classrooms. Often times a lesson, technology, or project will not go the way you planned it. It’s great to point out to kids when things go wrong, and model how to overcome challenges.
9) Self Care What we must all remember is that we can only do our best, and if things do not get done, that is ok. Teachers often feel that we must give and sacrifice ourselves for our classrooms. But guess what? That is not sustainable. The most important thing is to prioritize and find a BALANCE!
This week is Teacher Appreciation week! Appreciation of the hard work that teachers do every day is near and dear to our hearts. Teachers are doing very important work in society, and often can feel undervalued and overwhelmed. While it would be ideal to appreciate teachers all year long, it is nice to have a reminder and an entire week dedicated to appreciating teachers.
Ultimately the best way that society can appreciate teachers is with:
1) Support for students
2) Respectable compensation
2) Smaller class sizes
3) Resources and supplies for classes
4) Societal respect
These are our hopes and dreams for the teaching profession! We understand that these might be a bit difficult to accomplish this week, but a teacher can dream! We hope that one day teachers all over the country have these things.
But seriously, we thought we would offer some realistic ways to appreciate the teacher in your life this week.
1) A handwritten card from students
2) Small treats to keep in the desk
3) Coffee or tea
4) Flowers for their desks
5) Verbal affirmation or a positive email
6) A positive email to their supervisor
7) A bottle of wine
These are all little things that go a long way in making a teacher feel appreciated and supported. While we keep fighting for the top four, it is good to feel like we have people supporting and appreciating the work we do! We also found this great resource with everything you need to appreciate your teachers or even plan events to appreciate teachers at your school!
It is common for most schools to send home some sort of report card to parents. The question many parents have asked us over the years is: Should I share this report card with my child? Ultimately that is going to be a personal preference. Depending on the student’s age, understanding of report cards, and their social emotional development, there are appropriate things to share with your child. However, what we feel is more important is HOW you talk to your children about report cards.
We want to give some helpful ways on how to talk about report cards with your child. As we wrote last week, report cards aren’t the end all be all. They are one form of communication. Report cards show one snapshot of your child as a student. Teachers all know kids are more than a grade!
Don’t Compare Your Child to Others
All children are different. They have their own unique sets of strengths and challenges. If your oldest child excelled in reading and your youngest has found it to be challenging that is ok because they are two different people. Parents should not assume that a child will earn or receive the same grade or report as a sibling. It is not a good idea to compare them. Every child is different and as such, their grades and report cards will be and should be different. Focus on each child’s unique set of strengths and challenges.
Ask Your Child’s Perspective on their Strengths and Challenges
By third grade most students have an understanding of report cards or grades. They know that teachers report to the parents their strengths and challenges and that sometimes this is in a form of grades or a narrative. Asking them what they think they’ve excelled at and what they need to work on would be beneficial. Some children may be too harsh on themselves or have an overly positive idea of themselves, but most of the time students will know that they need to work on spelling, reading, math, or focusing in class. Asking them their thoughts could lead to a conversation about ways they can improve in areas and how proud you are of their efforts.
Discuss Strategies for Improvement
If you decide to share the report card with your child, it would be helpful to discuss with them ways to help them grow and improve in the areas that they might need to work on. This could include strategies like a tally chart on desk, emailing the teacher on Fridays, sticker charts, reminders in their folders, or extra practice. Getting them involved in this strategy development allows them to take ownership of their own growth and have more investment in the plan. Children, especially in the middle elementary years, are better able to understand and communicate their thoughts and opinions about what helps them the best, therefore we believe it is a smart idea to include them in the conversation.
Focus on Progress and Growth Mindset
We like to say “practice makes progress,” in our classrooms. No one is perfect and everyone has something they are working on, and that is OKAY. The most important thing is that when the going gets tough we have grit and a growth mindset. The power of “yet,” is very helpful for children. Using these phrases and ideas might be helpful when discussing their report cards.
Tell Them You are Proud of Them
At the end of the day, each and every elementary school child needs to know and believe that grades are not the most important thing. Their effort and growth in school and on the playground with their friends, and being a kind respectful person are the most important things. Letting them know the areas that they have done well in or that they have improved on gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment. It fills their bucket, so that they build up a sense that they can indeed persevere. Gaining self confidence will help them throughout their educational careers.
What are some things you have found to be helpful when talking to kids about report cards?
We are headed into the last 2 months of school, and along with field day, open house, graduation, and all the other fun activities of the last few weeks of school, writing report cards is something that teachers need to complete as they wrap up the school year. Whether you give out letter grades, numbers, or narrative report cards are one way to communicate with parents about how their child has grown throughout the school year.
In our opinion, report cards should not be the end all be all. We need to create intrinsic motivation in our students and focus on progress and the learning process. The focus should not necessarily be on an end grade. To us, report cards should be looked at as a more formal way of communicating to parents all the things we have already been communicating throughout the school year.
Report cards should reflect progress, strengths, and challenges. They should help give both teachers and parents an idea of how they can better support and encourage students. It should also reflect the things that really interest the student.
When writing report cards here are some things to consider:
When a parent receives a report card, they should not be surprised by anything on it. Surprising parents with a student’s struggles on a report card when you are not present, and cannot elaborate and talk through plans to support the student is never a good idea. If a student is having a challenge academically, behaviorally, or socially parents should be notified early on to develop a partnership and to come up with a plan on how to help the child succeed. Report cards should not be the first time a parent is hearing about a concern. This has been one of the best pieces of advice that our mentor and administrator told us as novice teachers, and it is something that we continue to follow and pass on to new teachers.
Start with the Positive
Find positive things to say about the student. Every subject or category should have an honest and positive statement for the student. These could include comments on engagement, participation, perseverance, growth mindset, collaboration, or final projects amongst other things. Highlighting the positives is just as important as highlighting the challenges because it paints a picture of the whole child, and that is what parents want and need to see.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Remember, that while this might be an elementary report card, it is an official document. Therefore always think through what you are writing and trying to say about the student. Try to avoid words like “but” or “although.” You can usually replace those words with “and” or start a new sentence and get the same message across without negating all the positives you started with. Some positive language includes “we look forward to guiding,” “it would be beneficial,” “this student will grow further by,” or “supporting.”
If you are asking parents for support at home, give specific strategies that will help the student. This is especially important as a student transitions from one grade to another and they might need some extra help in certain subjects. Summer vacation is a good time for parents to support a child at home, so giving them exact subjects and strategies to work on are perfect to convey on a report card. However, keep in mind that a report card might not be enough room to detail all of this, so a parent conference might be helpful to set up with the parents or guardians to further explain student support.
Parents of students who are “high flyers” often want to know how their child is being challenged and supported in the classroom. If a student is meeting or surpassing all the expectations in your class, it would be helpful for parents if you communicated how they are being challenged and engaged in class. This again gives a whole child picture for parents and it gives them ideas about how the can continue to support and engage their child at home.
The most important thing to remember is that we are placing our own personal judgements on other people’s most valued treasures. Every kid is different and has strengths and challenges. As history has continued to show us, a grade or a number doesn’t always reflect a child’s success. Report cards should not be used as a weapon to shame or punish kids. Rather, they should be used as another form of communication that is a guide and tool to help kids grow and develop.
Unlike any other time in history, parents have access to so much information on parenting and children. They want to make sure that they are doing a good job as parents and that their children are thriving. To do so, many parents are incredibly involved in every aspect of their child’s life. Some researchers call this style of parenting “intensive parenting,” and it is a common form of parenting among upper-middle-class households. According to an article in The Atlantic, intensive parenting includes “Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.”
There does seem to be some positives in this style of parenting, and we understand why many aspire to achieve this level of involvement in parenting. However, as we have written in previous posts before, our jobs as parents and teachers is to raise and educate children who will grow up to be strong, resilient, balanced, well adjusted adults. As you can probably imagine, living a life where your parents constantly step in to solve all troubles, problems, or issues as a child causes some trouble as children grow into adulthood.
This level of parental involvement has begun to reach the business sector as young adults begin their careers. In the New York Times Article When Helicopter Parents Hover, Even at Work, “Within that group of employers, more than 30 percent reported parents submitting a résumé for their children; 15 percent reported fielding complaints from a parent when the company didn’t hire their child; and nearly 10 percent said parents had insinuate themselves into salary and benefit negotiations.” These parents are submitting resumes for, sitting in on interviews, and calling employers on behalf of their adult child to negotiate salaries and promotions. It sounds absurd, but it is happening today.Adults have to be responsible for a variety of things and life is full of surprises, conflicts, and obstacles that they have to navigate and work with. Unless children learn how to deal with and work through the bumps in the road then they will not know how to do this as adults. Thus they will have to rely on parents to continue to solve issues for them.
During childhood, intensive parenting includes constant communication with teachers, yearning to know every little thing that happens in class, supervising all recreational activities, scheduling and attending all extra curricular activities, and wanting to control every social situation that their child encounters. Again, we wholeheartedly understand why this appeals to parents. Parents are charged with caring for and raising someone who is quite literally the sun and the moon to them. We get it. They want to make sure that their child is doing fine, is happy, and thriving across all situations. But if an adult is always present in the life of a child doing everything for them, solving all their conflicts, and speaking on their behalf, then how will the child learn conflict resolution, coping mechanisms, responsibility, and independence that they will need as adults? Children will grow up, and it is up to us to teach them the tools to use when they reach adulthood. If we, as parents and teachers don’t do this, then we have failed them.
Here are a few things we can do as parents and teachers to help our children develop the tools they will need as adults.
1) Let children attempt to solve their social conflicts
Social dynamics are hard for everyone. Children will struggle with friendships and collaboration. That is normal. Before you step in and take charge of a situation, allow your child to try to talk it out with their peers. Children are very good about speaking about their feelings with others, listening to each other, and mediating conflicts. They might need a mediator, so you can let the teacher, coach, or counselor know in case they are needed. Letting children talk, and figure out social dynamics with their friends on their own might be uncomfortable for them, but it’ll help them gain the experience to be able to navigate social dynamics as they grow into adulthood. Not all relationships are perfect, and they need to learn how to navigate them.
2) Give children free unplanned time
21st century children are constantly being stimulated by technology, intensive reading programs, flash cards, and many extracurricular classes. This is so much so, that many children often struggle with being bored. They do not know what to do when they have nothing to do. Sometimes it is good to not have a schedule, plan, or device readily available. Giving children some time to do whatever they want will help develop their creativity and bring balance in their life. We highly recommend it!
3) Teach children to talk to the teacher themselves
Children as young as 5 can, and should, speak up for themselves. If there is an issue in the classroom, let your child talk to the teacher. If they have a question about an assignment, don’t understand a concept, would like to discuss their grade, or would like to share a thought or opinion, encourage them to speak to their teacher. If they are on the younger side, we recommend an email before hand or as a follow up to make sure that they did indeed speak to the teacher and what the conversation yielded. However, having children stand up for themselves allows them to learn how to speak to authority figures. So that when they grow up, they are able able to speak, negotiate, and stand up for themselves in the workforce.
Of course we are firm believers in balance. Although children need to learn the tools to collaborate, resolve conflicts, speak up for themselves, and be independent by trying, and possibly failing, with using different techniques, they will still need parent and teacher support to guide them. We also understand that children need support from the caregivers in their lives. Parents can always communicate to teachers and let them know that they want to partner with them to help support their child in learning independence and responsibility. Teachers are always willing to partner in this endeavor, as it is their goal too.
It’s time to talk about raising more independent kids! Teachers and parents need to work together to develop a sense of independence in our children. It is essential for their development and their future. We need to remember that children will grow up, and it is our job, as parents and teachers, to help them become independent and successful adults. Independence gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility and will help them grow into a more balanced child and will make them better prepared for the real world. Not only that, it will free up some of your time as a parent and some of our time as teachers.
We currently live in a time where it is becoming more common for kids to rely on adults to make every decision for them, to speak up for them if a challenge arises, and to save them from every mistake. Or even worse, not even allow them to make mistakes. Adults inherently want to protect children from all the harm that we conceive there is in the world, however by protecting them from everything and doing everything for them, we are taking away their sense of responsibility, problem solving skills, and independence. The very things that that will set them up for success in the real world.
According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean, overparenting leaves kids unprepared for college. We happen to agree, and moreover we feel overparenting can leave kids underprepared for elementary school too. We see it in our classrooms on a daily basis with students not carrying their own backpacks, parents unpacking them for them, parents turning in their homework, forgotten items constantly dropped off throughout the school day, and never ending emails from parents to do and tell children a variety of things. Parents have constant access to their child throughout the day and it is playing a role in delayed independence in kids.
Children start to naturally develop independence at two years old.The National Association for the Education of Young Children give tips on how you can start that development at a very young age. It takes time and effort, but will pay off immensely when it is time to send your child to school. If slowly each year you continue to give your child more responsibility, your child will become increasingly more independent.
We understand that it is difficult seeing your baby grow and become more independent. Sometimes it feels like it happens too fast and we try to hold onto the idea of our children as the babies they once were. However, if we continue to do this, we set them up for failure, so here are some recommendations to help your child be more independent at home and at school.
Drop your child off at school, and let them walk into their classrooms on their own. Starting in kindergarten they are capable of walking into their classes independently and following the morning procedures. By allowing them the autonomy to do this, children begin to feel responsible and capable. Over the years, we have seen many stressful morning drop offs whereupon the child cries and the parents coddle them in attempt to soothe the child. This often heightens the situation and does the opposite of what is intended. We promise that once you drop off your child, she or he will calm down and join in on the fun of school. Usually within five minutes.
Backpacks and Supplies
Let your child carry their own backpack. We see many parents continue to carry the backpacks of older kids. Let’s set them up early on to carry their own things. They can do it, and again it makes them feel empowered to be able to do it.
Unpacking and Packing
Put the responsibility on your child to unpack and pack their own backpack. If you develop a routine and have a school spot at home, this will save a lot of time and headache in the long run. Have a basket where they can place school papers for you to look through or have a special time when you go through it together. Items that go into the backpack should only be placed by the child. If they didn’t put it in, they most likely won’t know or remember it is there. We understand that it takes longer for parents to ask their children to put things in their backpack, and by doing it for them, you are saving time in the short term. Something that takes longer now, will set them up for success in the future.
Homework and Projects
Let your child do their homework and projects on their own. Of course you can assist them when they have a question or help them if they need an extra hand putting a project together. Don’t let a little hand become a takeover. Projects should be their ideas and their hard work. When we do our children’s work for them, we are sending a message that they hear loud and clear: yours isn’t good enough. This has a major effect on their confidence and risk taking and they will fear doing things independently.
Having chores at home is a classic way to develop responsibility and independence in children. They are capable of much more than we think and in the younger years, they actually really love to be a helper. For more information on age appropriate chores check out House Wife How-Tos: Chores That Kids Can Do.
At 4 and 5 years old children can start to get themselves dressed with limited parent involvement. A skill that is easily taught and goes a long way, is how to turn an article of clothing that is inside out to right side in. We would think that this would be second nature, but it is a skill that needs to be taught to school age kids. Imagine 20 kids trying to get one teacher to help them put on their jackets in the winter. That’s when we stop the main curriculum and have a “how to put on your jacket tutorial.”
These skills are really important for development and should not fall by the wayside. We already know that academics are important, but again kids need a balance. These skills are essential to help your children in the real world. And these are just some ways to help develop more independent kids. Certainly, there are many more ways to teach independence to children, and every child is unique. We understand that if your child has any special needs that not all of these things will work for your family and you have to do what works for your personal situation. We are also not trying to shame anyone or say that you need to be perfectly doing these things all the time. We want to help educate and partner with you to help raise more balanced and independent kids in this very busy, ever changing world we live in. When studies show that kids are increasingly more dependent, not developing basic responsibility, and unprepared for the basic rigors of life after high school, we need to take a step back, get to the cause, and make some changes. Even if it feels like these changes are going back to a simpler time, they are skills that hold strong in society today.