School in 2020: Advice from a Middle School Teacher
Tell us a little about you:
I am entering my tenth year as a middle school teacher and sixth year as the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Coordinator for my campus. I have taught English Language Arts and Reading, College and Career Readiness, and AVID.
What are the best ways to help my child get ready for school?
Obviously, this school year will be completely different than what any of us are used to. We all have so many questions and the details are starting to slowly come together. However, directives and guidelines from the federal, state, and local governments are constantly evolving. It will be crucial to be prepared for continual changes and adjustments. We must remember how important it is to model a positive mindset and speak encouragingly about the upcoming year. Our children take their cues from our words and actions.
Face-to-face learning will be vastly different than what students are used to. While specific details for each school system could vary slightly, the in-person school experience will be structured around safety protocols. Teachers will work very hard to make your child’s day as enjoyable as possible with engaging lessons, however, it will certainly take some time to get acclimated to our new normal.
Fall distance learning should be more structured and cohesive than what we experienced in the spring. Districts were already planning for disruptions to in-person learning and curriculum has been created to be implemented seamlessly if we should have to go back and forth at a moments notice. Teachers and staff are already participating in virtual professional development to prepare.
What tips do you have for the optimal home learning environment?
Create a dedicated learning space in your home. Having an area with minimal distractions can optimize learning and allow for maximum concentration. Additionally, let your child personalize the area and pick out a few new fun school supplies to use in their space.
My child struggles with being online. What do you suggest?
Have a virtual one-on-one with their new teacher. Starting the new year with a new teacher can cause anxiety for some children even during a normal school session. Creating a relationship with their new teacher can help your child feel more comfortable.
Encourage your child to ask questions. Teaching a child how to self-advocate and use their voice is a skill they will use throughout their life. Let your child know that they need to ask questions when they don’t understand. I find that at least several students have the same question that needs clarification. Help your child write an email or a message on the learning platform to their teachers. By modeling this paragraph for them, they can then use it again on their own.
Ask for options. Teachers work very hard to accommodate all learning styles and levels, however, it possible to ask if there are different options for the final draft of some types of work. For example, if a child is asked to create a video, but they feel more comfortable creating a presentation in writing, it is okay to ask if this is possible. The teacher may have certain requirements based on their curriculum, but it never hurts to ask!
What if my child is having a hard time focusing on school work (whether online or with homework)? Do you have any simple tips to start with?
Develop a new routine and schedule with your child’s input. This is helpful for children of any age. My students thrived last year when I asked them to create a daily schedule to help them manage their time. Be sure to include class times, meals/snacks, and brain breaks with their favorite activities. Creating their own schedule gives them a sense of ownership of their day and will help them adjust to the routine more quickly.
Use a planner or a calendar. Organizational tools such as planners and calendars (either paper or digital) are a great way to keep a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished. As adults, we all utilize one or both of these to keep track of our personal and professional lives. Learning this lifelong skill at an early age will only benefit your child.
Create to-do lists to prioritize assignments. Procrastination is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Children have an uncanny ability to let you know at 8:00 PM that their science project is due tomorrow and that they need a poster board ASAP. During online learning, my students felt overwhelmed and were very stressed out. Daily to-do lists were a great antidote to this problem. Have your child use their planner and write down any assignment or action (i.e. telling mom that they need a poster board a few days in advance) that needs immediate attention. Students get great satisfaction from crossing things off once completed. You can also choose to have the last item as a fun activity/reward so they have something to look forward to.
I am not a school professional. What is the best way to support my child?
Advocate for yourself and do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Teachers do not expect you to “teach” your children. Even when things are normal, teachers want to partner with parents to help their children succeed academically. If you need assistance or have a question, please let us know immediately. When we do not hear anything, we assume that our instructions or assignments are understood. By reaching out and letting us know what we can do to help you or your child opens an incredible dialogue that will be helpful (and hopefully less stressful) for all of us.
Get to know the learning platform your child is using. Play around and understand how to access lessons and turn in assignments. You are not alone in navigating new programs, so reach out if you have any questions. It is also very helpful to bookmark frequently visited websites to make them easily accessible for your child on the device.
Utilize resources offered by the school system. District and school websites have wonderful information and points of contact for any issue or struggle you may be experiencing. If you don’t see what you need, please ask us and we will help.
How can parents/caregivers support school professionals during this time?
Have patience and grace for yourself, your child, the teachers, and the school staff. We are all starting off in a unique situation and there will definitely be hiccups here and there. Show compassion and understanding as we all try to maneuver through these difficult times. We truly are all in this together.
Also, a donation of cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer will always be greatly appreciated.
What else would you like us to know?
Teachers desperately want to get back into the classroom and be with our students. We love what we do and we love working with your children. No one wanted to start the year remotely. Unfortunately, these unprecedented times call for drastic measures to prioritize safety for everyone.
As a parent to young children, I understand the stress that this unpredictability brings to a household. The clashing of our professional and personal lives has created a great imbalance for many families. We are all struggling with the notion of how this will work and, most importantly, how long will it continue.
In spite of all of this, I am hopeful that we can make this experience beneficial for us all. This is a unique opportunity to instill in our children the importance of resiliency, adaptability, and the power of a positive mindset.
- Leigh Deweese, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Coordinator