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What First Grade Teachers Want Parents To Know About School This Year

by Cat Bowen

I do not feel prepared for my kid's all-remote elementary learning this year. If I'm this stressed out, I cannot fathom what it must be like to be a teacher through all of this. Kindergarten sounds tough, but I feel like parents are willing to relax about shapes and colors, and second grade and beyond feels a little more independent. But first grade? It feels like there's a lot to learn in that second official year of school, and what first grade teachers want you to know this year can really help alleviate some fears.

I spoke to several first grade teachers, and their responses were just as thoughtful and insightful as you would expect from people who willingly spend their days with 30 6-year-olds. They have unmet patience and warmth, and it's obvious that they are as worried as parents are about all of this. With some schools opening up, they have additional layers of concern over their own health and the health of their families. Our government is asking a lot from a group of people who are historically underpaid, underfunded, and underprotected. Many of the teachers still don't have a solid idea of what the school year will look like, and we're just a few weeks out from the beginning of the year. Where I live in New York City, there are multiple options to choose from, and personally, I can't believe how much work these teachers are going to be expected to do. And don't forget, many of these teachers are parents themselves, figuring out how to educate their own children at the same time. It's a lot.

But if you're worried about them not giving your first grader their absolute all — don't be. They want your kids to succeed as much as you do, and they had a lot to say about this coming school year. (Some of the last names are unpublished for privacy.)

Stay Positive

Lindsay, a first grade teacher in Missouri, is a social media friend of mine, and watching her prepare has been both heartwarming and heartbreaking. (The empty classroom really gets you in the gut.)

"The most important thing you can do for your child given all the unknown in the world is to remain positive and supportive of school... however it will look. Will your child have to wear a mask? They can do it! Will your child have to learn online? They can do it! Instilling confidence within your child is a lifelong skill — something they will benefit from forever," she tells Romper. "We want our children to be ready for the ever-changing world; this pandemic is the perfect time to teach them to be flexible, supportive, and determined. Stay positive and show them love."

The Parent-Teacher Relationship Will Be Crucial

Lauren is a California teacher and a blogger with an expertise in organization. (Basically a unicorn.)

But beyond being organized, Lauren says one of the most crucial things this year will be the parent-teacher relationship. "This school year is likely to be unlike any you have experienced before. Schools have all sorts of reopening plans from in-person to online and even hybrid programs. Regardless of the scenario, the number one thing you need to do is to connect with your child's teacher early and often."

Stay Flexible & Kind

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Tingley also suggests that parents remain flexible. "Even though schools shut down last year due to COVID, it was toward the end of the year. Whether your student is attending school in-person or online, this is most likely something your child's teacher has never done before. While I am sure they have been brainstorming and planning how they can make first grade a great experience for your child, they are used to doing so in a classroom under normal circumstances. They have never done temp checks, social distancing, or even the first day of school remotely before."

She asks that if something is difficult for you to understand or you find something concerning, just be kind and understanding. "Reach out to your child's teacher with an offer of support and encouragement before assuming the worst or getting frustrated."

They Will Try To Make Things As Normal As Possible

Kristy O’Connell, a New York first grade teacher, specializes in special education, and as a mother of an autistic child, I know how much that can alter any educational arrangement. She tells Romper, “We'd like parents to know that we want to educate your children in the safest way possible, whether in-person or virtual. Mostly we want to return the children to as much 'normalcy' as possible this fall, and will do our best to create that environment for them, no matter where the learning takes place.”

Provide At-Home Learning Opportunities For Your Child, Too

And finally, you should try to provide learning opportunities at home, too. "Even though their teacher is providing the curriculum and coursework for your child to complete, the education of your child is not the sole responsibility of the teacher. It's a team effort," Tingley says. "Even if your child is attending school in-person, it is very likely that due to COVID restrictions, many engaging and interactive learning experiences that typically take place in the classroom will not be possible this year."

As an example, she says that a major goal in first grade is for students to learn to add and subtract. So if your child is playing with colored blocks at home, try doing some activities like asking them how many red and blue blocks there are together, what happens if you take some away, etc.