Most schools have programs to involve families in the educational equation, and such back-to-school nights early in the school year provide parents with a sense of their children's teachers' style, the kind of instruction that their children will receive, and the expectations that their teacher will have for them.
At a typical back-to-school night, teachers usually give an overview of students' daily routines, schedules, goals and activities. Then there's time for parents to ask general questions.
Parents, teachers and students all benefit from such open lines of communication and a strong home-school connection. But school officials say this isn't the time to ask detailed questions about your child - save that for parent-teacher conferences or schedule a private meeting with the teacher. Such one-on-one interaction is especially important if your child has a learning disability, doesn't respond well to a certain style of teaching, or has special needs you want the teacher to be aware of.
With that in mind, parents should consider these 10 questions to ask the teacher:
1. How can I help you?
Ask this question even if you don't have a schedule that allows you to volunteer in the classroom. Your child's teacher might need a note written to parents, help with art projects, or assign tasks that can be done outside regular classroom hours. Also provide the teacher with your contact information and how you prefer to be reached. Kristi Dominguez, early childhood education coordinator for Bellingham Public Schools, said that a single mother with a full-time job once asked to be notified of important developments in her child's life. Dominguez sent her a quick text with a photo when her child lost a tooth in class.
2. What does my child's day look like?
This is good information to have so that parents can ask detailed questions when their child is home, such as, "What book did the teacher read to you during group time?" instead of "How was your day?" - a question that might get only a simple "OK" answer.
3. What's the best way to contact you?
Teachers are like everyone else: some prefer texting; others like email or phone calls. Also, find out if there's a time limit on evening calls: Many people don't like phone calls or text messages between certain hours - so an email could be more appropriate at night or early morning.
4. How does the school function and what can I expect administratively?
Find out how to contact the principal if necessary - but don't go over your teacher's head for simple classroom issues.
5. How can I support my child's learning at home?
Most teachers have the same answer for this: Read to them! But ask if the teacher has other ideas for keeping kids engaged and motivated about school. "I think that parents should expect to work with their kids," said Vanessa Gunderson, a kindergarten teacher at Irene Reither Elementary. "It's not just send them off to school and they're done. Other ways parents can support their children's learning is by adhering to routines, especially during the school week. After school, kids should unload their backpacks and put their lunch boxes on the counter, hang up their coats, and give mom or dad their school folders. Parents should have a regular evening routine that includes a set dinner time and a bedtime schedule that includes washing, brushing teeth, choosing clothes for the next day, and storytime. Children who are well-rested will arrive at school better prepared to learn."
6. What are some opportunities for parental involvement?
Educators agree that parental participation gives children pride in their classroom, but many parents' jobs or other obligations prevent them from helping on a regular basis during the school day. See if there are ways you can help outside the classroom, such as making the Play-Doh at home on a weekend.
7. What are the important dates for school events?
If your schedule isn't very flexible, ask if there are big events planned during the school day - such as a field trip, a play or a performance - that you can plan for in advance and get time off from work.
8. How do I advocate for my kids?
Parents should be "champions for their children," Dominguez said.
9. Are there after-school activities for my child?
Think sports and music and clubs.
10. How do I contact someone for a play date?
Help your child learn to make friends, but it's difficult if you can't contact other parents of children in class. Some schools publish an annual directory with parents' contact information; but also ask the teacher about ways to help your child to grow socially. "We can't give out that information, but we can help them connect," Gunderson said.