Educational Psychologist
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6 Questions to Ask Your Kid's Teacher at Back-to-School Night

Ah, back to school night! The exciting beginning of the school year ritual where parents get to spend a few hours in the shoes of their child. Teachers will undoubtedly have presentations planned and will go over logistics such as homework, school supplies, behavioral expectations, etc. There will also (hopefully) be a time for questions. I am always SHOCKED at these events how few parents ask questions! People, this is your child! Your most precious thing in the entire world! For whom you spend countless sleepless nights and days worrying, helping, soothing, chauffeuring, entertaining! Your child spends a huge majority of their time in school. This teacher will have a huge influence on the person your child becomes. For the love of god, PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS!

And, if you’re overwhelmed by the experience and all the information, here are some questions you should REALLY be asking your child’s teacher.

1.     Why did you become a teacher?

Research shows that those who pursue teaching for social reasons (working against disadvantage, helping students, making a social contribution, etc.) are more committed to teaching and put more effort into their teaching.[1]

2.     In what ways or areas are students allowed/encouraged to pursue their own interests?

Student autonomy in the classroom has been shown to increase motivation, interest, and achievement.[2] Additionally, student-centered teaching is a key attitude that involves the student as the center of classroom activity rather than the teacher. That means minimal lecture, student-choice, group work, and many other strategies. This issue is deep and I will probably dedicate another post to this entirely, but essentially, allowing students choice and a teachers keeping a focus on shared authority in the classroom will help students succeed.[3]

3.     How do you differentiate instruction for students at different ability levels?

Differentiation is important so that struggling students can get the extra support they need and more advanced students can get the extra challenge they need. A generation ago, possibly even when you were in school, this was done through “tracking.” This practice was found to be stigmatizing and ineffective for the lower achieving students. You want a teacher to create a classroom environment that integrates students of all ability levels without marginalizing any one student or group of students based on ability.[4]

4.     What is your favorite and least favorite subject to teach and why?

Many teachers (especially elementary teachers) experienced math anxiety when they were students and, unfortunately, never overcame it. They carry this into their teaching and can convey this anxiety to their students setting them up for struggles in math down the road.[5]

5.     Who was your best teacher when you were in school?

Research shows that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, regardless of their teacher education training. Getting a good understanding of their educational experience will give you insight into how they will teach your child.[6]

6.     How do you keep parents abreast of and involved in what’s going on in the classroom?

Parent involvement is key to students’ success and keeping open lines of communication between the classroom and the home will only further support your child.[7]

Yes, I ask all of these questions and sometimes more, when I meet my child's new teacher. And yes, my husband is embarassed and other parents might be annoyed. But again, we're talking about our kids here! Now, there probably will not be enough time to go into all of these questions, especially if other parents have questions (which hopefully they do!). Do not be afraid to ask to speak with the teacher about this in greater depth. Schedule a phone call or another meeting to follow up. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. While some teachers may get annoyed, I am of the opinion that true education happens with partnership between teachers, parents, and students and the more all parties communicate, the greater alignment can take place, and the more likely it is that everyone will do well and feel content.

 

[1] Torsney, B. M., Ponnock, A. R., & Lombardi, D. (2017). The role of values in preservice teachers’ decision to teach. The Teacher Educator, 52(1), 39-56.

[2] Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84(6), 740-756.

[3] Nuckles, C. R. (2000). Student-centered teaching: Making it work. Adult Learning, 11(4), 5.

[4] Levy, H. M. (2010). Meeting the needs of all students through differentiated instruction: Helping every child reach and exceed standards. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 81(4) 161-164.

[5] Beilock, S. L., Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., & Levine, S. C. (2010). Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(5), 1860-1863.

[6] Oleson, A. & Hora, M. T. (2014). Teaching the way they were taught? Revisiting the sources of teaching knowledge and the role of prior experience in hsaping faculty teaching practices. Higher education, 68(1), 29-45.

[7] Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. M. (1995). Parental involvement in children's education: Why does it make a difference? Teachers College Record, 97(2), 310-331.