Dropping my daughter off for her first day of first grade was terrifying. Yes, she'd been through pre-K and kindergarten, but first grade just feels so real. She was excited and happy, and I was remembering my own stern first grade teacher who scared the mess out of me. I didn't know the questions to ask your kid's first grade teacher, and I felt unprepared at best. Now I know better, and as my kids continue through their schooling career, I feel better equipped to communicate with my kids' teachers and staff at the school.
According to recent research, first grade is a period of transitions that is crucial in the development of your child's ability to learn in new modalities and with new methods. It concretizes the educational routine, which opens your children up for much learning because having routines makes things more streamlined and easy for your child, noted the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The study also noted that literacy is key during first grade, and that it is often a predictor for future success. If your child can effectively manage the processes of reading, they're more likely to thrive in language arts further along in their educational journey.
That's why I asked three first grade teachers (or combined-grade teachers) to tell me what the questions to ask your kid's first grade teacher on the first day of school.
1What Is Your Reading Program, & How Can I Support It At Home?
Admittedly, this is two questions, but they belong together. Nora Vet, combined kindergarten and first grade teacher in New York City, tells Romper, "Every district, every school, and every teacher will have a slightly different program they follow. Some teachers, like me, want the students to read to the parents, with only minimal assistance. Some teachers are OK with parents reading to their students, while they read along." She says it's good to know how they do it at school, and how you can support that at home. "Reading in first grade should be a joy for the children," Vet adds.
Hook them while they're young and all that. It worked for me — my grandmother started my reading habit at 4, my MawMaw indulged my love of books severely, and now? Thoroughly addicted. Same with my babies.
2What Are Your Homework Expectations?
Katelyn Pfeiffer, another first grade teacher in New York City, says that homework can be a real sticking point for parents and teachers. "Most of the time, the amount of homework assigned isn't up to a teacher's discretion. It comes from the top," she tells Romper. That being said, parents need to know how much help they can and should be giving their students. "Every year, there is at least one parent who's blatantly doing their child's homework. That's not cool." (I knew I shouldn't have used a semicolon in that book report about the dinosaurs who love tacos.)
3How Is Your Day Structured?
OK, so this one might not be set in stone by the time the first day is complete, Vet says, but it's still important. "In our school, kids move around to different classes for science, music, art, and gym. That can be nerve-wracking for some kids, and it's good if the parents can talk their kids through the changes. It's really good if you want to bring cupcakes for class, and you don't do it when they're painting spaghetti."
As an aside, cookies are apparently preferred by two of the three teachers I interviewed as they make less mess. The third teacher is happy with any sugar provided they also bring her a cupcake, donut, cookie, etc., saying, "I got napkins."
3How Do You Measure Progress?
All of the schools in my area grade on a number scale relative to their work, one to four. However, this isn't necessarily the only method your child's teacher uses to measure progress. "Most of us give out grades, even if reluctantly, but those don't tell the whole story. Find out if your teacher will send out progress notes, or keep up on apps like ClassDojo," teacher Letitia McAuliffe tells Romper. She says that one report card twice a year doesn't adequately update the parent, so most teachers choose to engage the parents in different ways. Find out what that is, and how best to help.
4What's The Activity Like?
"We do yoga in our class, we dance, and we move our bodies every hour. I tell my parents this on the first day, because I don't want anyone restricted by the clothing they wear, and I want to know if your child has mobility issues or religious reasons for not participating," says McAuliffe.
My daughter's teacher told us something similar, and forever on, my little one wore leggings to class and was the happier for it. Also, I don't mind recycling $6 leggings from Target into rags if they get paint on them or get too trashed. It was a win.
5How Can I Help?
Vet says that this is a really tricky one. "I get that some parents are not going to be able to do a lot, given their money or time situation, but if you can, please do." She says that there's always a project she could use a volunteer for, she'll always need chaperones for trips, and seriously, money helps so much.
Writer comment: If you can give, please give. We don't fund our students or our schools equitably, and I sat in a room with three teachers who recently spent their hard-earned money to make their classrooms homey and welcoming for kids. They deserve better.
I will add that my kids' district is pretty split between the upper middle class first generation Americans and immigrants who are still building their ability to thrive in the country. It's good for those of us who can give to do it — and do it quietly — so that no one feels crappy about what they can or can't provide. My school actually limits what kids can bring for birthdays, and we try to rally and bring treats for other kids' birthdays whose parents can't provide it. I will admit I make a killer snickerdoodle.
6How Can I Support Critical Thinking In My Children?
Pfeiffer says that first grade is the year when kids really start to think critically, and she really wants parents to support that at home. "I love having talks with parents about how they can frame questions and responses to their kids to encourage them to evaluate situations more critically. It is so important that their little brains are working at this problem at home as well as in school."
7What Is Your Preferred Pronoun, & What Are Your Students?
Not every teacher and not every student will identify with the pronoun assigned to them at birth. A few of my friends have kids in either the first or second grade who don't identify with their assigned gender or any gender, and that's OK — but it's important to use the pronouns they choose. The same goes for the teachers. The kindest thing to do is find out. Ask politely, but ask. Encourage your kids to learn as well.