After 13 years as a student, and another 13 as a public school teacher, you'd think I'd be used to this whole "back to school" thing. Now that I'm a mom, though, the first day of school is a different ball of crayon wax. As a parent, you have to worry about everything from paperwork and lunches to bus runs and bullying. Thankfully, I have amazing resources at hand. I tapped the wisdom of my former colleagues and mentors to find out what parents should and shouldn't worry about on the first day of school.
I'm a preschool mom. My daughter started last year, but I wasn't allowed to enroll her until she was 18-months-old, so her first day was in November. My partner and I were able to ease her in to a classroom with well-established routines. Next week, she'll have her first official first day of school. She's lucky enough to have the same amazing teachers, but her beloved classmates (whose names she recites before bed) will have moved on to the next classroom. We're also increasing her time in school from two to three days a week. It's kind of a lot for an already anxious mama.
At times like these, we need to look to the experts: teachers. As a former teacher myself, I know that educators love children and know what they're doing. Sometimes I just need to be reminded, and maybe you do, too:
"Have your kid get a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast. Teachers will take care of the rest!
A quick goodbye is best for the little ones. I had a kindergarten student that would cry and cling to her parent every day at drop off (all year long). The parent never wanted to leave her upset and so it would drag out. But as soon as the parent left, she would join her friends talking and playing and was just fine.
Also, don't stress if your child is in a class with a kid they don't like, or has a teacher that you aren't sure their personalities will mesh well with. That is part of life. We can't pick our bosses and coworkers. It is good for them to learn to work with others (even those that are more difficult to work with).
Remember, this isn't our first rodeo! You may be nervous, but we know what we are doing."
"This makes me think of parents with children new to the school. I always assure them that we will look out for their child and make sure they are not alone at recess or lunch and that they will find a new friend quickly. I assure them that we do team-building activities the first few days to ensure that kids get to know each other and that no one feels alone. I promise them that I will take the very best care of their pride and joy!"
"Make sure your students know how they are getting home and get them into a routine of that travel right away, because especially for my littles, dismissal is usually crazy the first week of school. If they change every day, it's hard for me, the students, and the office to keep things straight."
"The teacher will welcome and care for every student. All students will get to know one another in fun and low pressure ways. All students will learn the rules and expectations of the class and school (they're not just expected to know them)."
"For kinders, if the child is crying hysterically, it is best to leave and not keep hanging around. As much as it is distressing to see your child in such a state, hanging out longer doesn't help. It will pass, and it's OK to leave. Feel free to call the teacher and check in to see how your little love bug is doing."
"Know that your child is loved as much as if they were the teacher's own child, and allow grace to all of us teachers who are not perfect (myself included)."
"Don't worry about your kiddos being away from their phone all day. Students went to school without cell phone access for a long, long time and they were just fine. In fact, messaging them every hour to see how their first class/day/week is going can actually make it harder for them to learn and get acclimated to their new setting. Asking your child to text you back during class could even cause unnecessary conflict with their teacher, and that's a rough way to start the new school year."
"The best way a worrying parent can calm down is to be prepared before they drop off their kid. They have to step back and trust their kid and their school. The time to worry is before the first day, and then go meet the teacher, walk the halls, etc., so the first day goes smoothly. If there is a big issue, call and make an appointment. Be a confident parent on the first day — don't let your kid think you're scared to drop them off at school."
"For middle school/junior high students: they won't get lost, shoved in a locker, or be given a swirly. New students to that level are in a group of kids who are all new to the school. Older kids will mostly ignore them, worrying more about their 'likes' and friends, rather than targeting younger kids. They won't get lost and will make new friends. They'll have a great day, even if they aren't willing to talk about it!"
"For young learners, make sure they are bathroom independent — dress them in 'easy to go' clothes. Until they can tie their shoes in a double knot, choose Velcro! (If I had a nickel for all the laces I have tied!). Make sure their backpack is big enough (Friday folders can seem as big as the child these days). Choose a transparent zipper pouch for notes to be easily seen. Pack their lunch for awhile. Going through the lunch line can be a long ordeal until they get the hang of it! If a child will be riding the bus, start them at the very beginning. It just makes it easier for communications that first week!"
"Know that you will be more uneasy than your child. If there are tears at the good-bye, your child's will be gone a lot faster than yours."
"In middle school, trusting your child to make good choices, in friends, in electives, and in lunch, goes a long way. (Seriously, don't walk them through the lunch line.) It's going to be hard to watch your baby fail, but it's better to allow them to fail in a safe space where grades don't hurt your GPA. Your reaction to their first F will dictate whether you ever see their work again.
Talking to the teacher can make all the difference. If you can, let the teacher be the mean and strict one; we only have your child for a year. Ultimately, teachers want your child to succeed as much as you do.
Also, they will find a place; it might take awhile but it will happen. Just because they want to try all the makeup, dye their hair all the colors, and wear all the odd clothes, doesn't mean they aren't going to turn into amazing adults. I always ended my 6th grade parent chat with, 'And remember, this too shall pass.'"
"Knowing bus runs can still be an issue for 7th graders, and they have a pretty small window to get from class to the bus at dismissal. Also, just because they're in junior high doesn't mean they don't need school supplies."
"For some families, the first day of school should allow them to know that their child is going to have a guaranteed meal. They will be warm and safe. They will be loved and respected. We care."
"Know that your child's classroom is a place where they will be safe and loved! Each day will be an adventure that they can look forward to!"
"Don't be surprised if your little one doesn't eat much lunch the first week. They will be too busy figuring things out and making friends! Also, send lunch containers they can open themselves. They will be tired the first few weeks until they adjust to a new routine!
As easy as it is for me to thinking of my teaching days, I'm having trouble with the fact that my own baby is going to school! But I know the school is wonderful, and I have no concerns once he gets there."
"My advice is actually before the first day of school. You know, don't you, that we are there weeks before school starts? Stop by and say hello. Write me a little note. Let me know something special about your child. If there is a concern, please don't make me figure it out on my own. There isn't much I haven't experienced, and I won't judge you or your child. I only want to make this the happiest, most productive year possible for you both.
Don't listen to the gossip of what other parents say about me. Remember that I am a professional, but I'm also a human being with feelings, a family, joys, and sorrows just like you. I'm on your side. Please be on mine and remember that I have to love, care for, and teach every child, often in vastly different, sometimes seemingly unequal ways. Together we can make it a great year for all of us."