Questions To Ask A Kindergarten Teacher In 2020
Chances are you never dreamed that your child would be starting kindergarten in the midst of a global pandemic, but here we are. Whether they’re masked-up and headed to school, or they’re participating in remote-learning, there are some questions you should ask your child's kindergarten teacher at the start of the school year that may help everyone feel more at ease.
There are logistical questions like whether or not your kid will have homework, and then there are other less obvious topics that may be on your mind, like how a teacher is planning to handle discipline. Whatever your concerns are, don’t worry about asking a “silly” question or sugar-coating your concerns. “Authentic communication is the key to the relationship between a parent and a teacher,” founding educator behind the science-based teaching program Fit Learning and author of the upcoming book Blind Spots: Why Students Fail And The Science That Can Save Them, Dr. Kimberly Berens, Ph.D., tells Romper. “Many parents are afraid to express their concerns regarding their child’s performance in the classroom for fear that the teacher will take it personally or feel insulted.” She adds that as long as questions are posed in a warm and honest way, parents should feel free to ask away with the understanding that the teacher is on your team; you both want your child to be happy and to succeed.
On how and when it is appropriate to ask questions, Richard Melling, a kindergarten teacher in Portland, Oregon, says he prefers emails for most "easy" or logistical questions with a straightforward answer. "If there's a big issue a phone call or video chat sometimes works much better. For these sensitive issues, it can be helpful to send a short email first, [for example] — 'I'm wondering whether we could set up a video chat to discuss some worries about Sophia really not liking her math lessons,'" he says. This gives teachers the time to truly think over the question and answer in the most thoughtful way possible.
1. What is the school's expectations for my child's participation?
Melling suggests leading with this question. Remote-learning is brand new for the majority of parents, students, and teachers, and it remains to be seen how the virtual classroom works in reality. Plus, kindergartners are still really young, and it's hard for anyone to focus for eight hours, let alone a group of 5-year-olds. If your kid needs a break (like, right now) is it okay to pull them off Zoom for a few minutes? How can they re-enter in a non-disruptive way? Will lessons be recorded so they can re-watch the lesson later when they're feeling more focused?
If your child is doing in-person school, Fabienne Sameyah, PTA president, and mother of five from Long Island, NY suggests asking, "How many outdoor mask breaks will the children get and for how long? What if it's raining?" By asking these questions, you can also give your child a sense of how their day will run.
2. Does the school want my child to do the equivalent of a full, structured school day?
This question gets to the heart of the time-commitment expected from your child. You know your kid best, and especially because many kindergarten teachers have not met their students in person, educators may need input from each student's parent about what's reasonable to expect attention-wise. This will vary by the child, but it's helpful to know if your little one will have some unstructured time in the afternoon, for example, or if they're expected to break for lunch (which will also mean you'll need to set a mid-day break). You'll also get a sense of when it's best to set-up appointments and other non-school activities.
3. What if my child is not thrilled with some of the remote activities?
It's highly unlikely that your child will absolutely love every activity their teacher plans. "Parents should ask their child’s teacher about how they will ensure student engagement and participation in lessons," Dr. Berens tells Romper, because effective instruction requires active participation, and this can be especially difficult if distance learning.
Early on, you and the teacher may want to make a game-plan for the best course of action to take if your child is having a meltdown during class, refusing to participate, or walking away from the computer.
4. What do we do if the school's schedule conflicts with our needs?
Maybe you have two kids (and only one spare laptop), or your own work schedule precludes you from helping your kindergartner sit through their lesson. Whatever it is, it's possible your school can (or can't) be accommodating. Lessons may be recorded so students can catch up at a time that works for the parents, and the school may have devices to loan to families in need.
5. What is expected of me as a parent?
This is an important question whether your child is in a physical school building or learning from home. For in-person school this may mean sending your child to school with certain easy snacks, or signing off on their homework.
"School is usually a contract that essentially says, 'the family gets their child to school, and the school program is entirely set by the school,'" Melling tells Romper. This is no longer the case for many families.
Sameyah suggests asking, "How can we get the materials they need for projects?" or "What's the plan if the teacher's video goes out?" because a Zoom room filled with rambunctious 5-year-olds and no adult is bound to get chaotic fast. You won't know what's expected of you (or if the expectations are realistic for your own schedule) until you inquire, so it's a good idea to ask upfront and express any concerns right off the bat.
6. How is my child doing? What else can I do to help them thrive?
Parents should feel comfortable checking in with the teacher regularly to see how their child is doing and if there are any changes at home that may be helpful.
"During remote learning [the relationship between parents and teachers is] much more of a two-way street. The most important question is whether your child is learning and thriving," Melling tells Romper. "Theoretically, everyone who followed the program to the letter would find [their child thriving]. In reality, for many families, it will be about tweaking the program to meet their child's needs." Remember, this is a work in progress, so there are bound to be bumps in the road that need smoothing.
7. If my child is crying, how will you console her?
Pre-pandemic, it would probably be with some reassuring words and a hug, but we're still in the midst of a pandemic and physical contact of any kind is not encouraged. It's strange and a little heartbreaking to have to ask this question (as suggested by Sameyah) but it's a rational concern to have. By asking this question, you may learn about school-wide contact rules (which seem to be ever-changing) that you weren't aware of before. Are side hugs permitted? Can children sit next to each other to console their best friends? This question can also tie to a teacher's discipline style.
8. If my child finishes her water bottle, will you be able to fill it?
Sameyah suggests asking a few logistical questions that you may not think of immediately. This would have been a no-brainer last year, but many schools are roping off water fountains and coolers to prevent the spread of germs, which may mean you want to pack an extra bottle.
9. "What happens if a child refuses to keep their mask on at school?"
This is another good question for parents who are sending their children to school in-person. It's possible these mask rules were already laid out, but what if masks are not required, or what happens at lunch time?
With so many unknowns this year, don't hesitate to ask whatever will help you and your child feel the best, and remember to give the teacher grace and patience as well.