Meet the teacher

. September 27, 2012.


My favorite teacher of all time was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Carpenter.

I think almost every one of my classmates would disagree. She was a few years away from retirement, didn’t put up with any nonsense and was known as the strictest teacher in our elementary school – maybe even the world. Still, many years after second grade, I still remember her fondly as the teacher who let me imagine.

If we were well-behaved, she took a few minutes at the end of the day and had us put our heads down on our desks. She would then tell us of her travels to places we kids literally only dreamed of. It wasn’t so much the math and English and spelling she taught. She gave us a window to the world, and, using our imaginations, we could see ourselves walking a dusty path in Egypt or sampling cheese in France.
As the school year begins, parents can only hope our children experience at least one Mrs. Carpenter during their school years. We hope for teachers who can communicate not only with our children but with us. In the next few months we will all be signing up for parent teacher conferences. It’s a chance to set the right tone with our children’s teachers.

Prepared parents
The National PTA suggests doing some homework before those conferences. Talk to your children about what subjects they like best and least, and why. Are there any concepts they just don’t understand? Any concerns they have that might go beyond learning, such as distractions in the classroom? Make a list of things you’d like to discuss with the teacher.

Above all, keep in mind that the teacher is a partner with you in your children’s education, not the sole source of it. I like to use conferences as a way to confirm that all is well. For example, if the teacher describes a child who is completely opposite from the one I know at home, there is an issue. I also have the opportunity to explain some of the nuances of my children, such as who works best on her own and who needs a little nudge sometimes.

After one particularly challenging year, I came up with my own personal checklist. I want to know how accessible the teacher is via email or a phone call. I want to know if my child is tanking a subject right away, not when report cards come home. I also want to know if the teacher is willing to give my child extra help – you’d be surprised how difficult that can be to schedule. In particular, I want a teacher who truly values the parent-teacher partnership.

Last year my oldest daughter had one of those teachers, and she made all the difference. She took a girl who only tolerated math and turned her into someone who is considering it as a career. She always answered my emails promptly, and never made me feel I was bothering her. Maybe I was, but I appreciated her patience and enthusiasm.

Like Mrs. Carpenter, she expanded my daughter’s world to include more possibilities, including math as a girl’s game. And that’s what we want for our children – the chance to grow as a person and see the world as an exciting, hopeful place. The right teachers, together with parents, can make all the difference.