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By TER author Jennifer Wolfe
Even after 25 years of teaching middle school, I still get Back To School Night jitters. There’s something about standing in front of a group of adults who are trusting you to educate their child, help them become more literate, and prepare them for their first year of high school that makes me feel just a little bit on edge. And as always, at the end of the night I usually feel great if I’ve followed my own four basic rules for Back To School Night Success:
Rule #1: Smile and be joyful. Parents want to know that their kids will be OK in your class. Use your minutes at Back To School Night to reassure them that you actually enjoy teaching, that you’re excited to have their child in your class, and that your classroom is a warm and inviting place. This doesn’t mean you have to be phony and use some sort of smarmy sweet vocabulary; rather, just remind them of the real reason you went into teaching in the first place. Show your sense of humor - what teacher doesn’t have a good joke or story to share? At the end of the day, we’re service providers - here to serve the children in front of us, and by default, their parents.
Rule #2: Share your credentials. Now don’t misunderstand me here - I’m not suggesting you pull out your diploma and wave it around the room, or line up all your teaching awards and certificates on your chalk tray. Simply let parents know a little bit about you - where did you grow up? What do you like to do? Do you have kids of your own? Find a subtle way to slip in your degree and where it came from. All of these tidbits about you will help parents see you as a real person, and offers an opening for conversation and connection. The more you can find in common with the parents of your students, the easier it is for them to see you as a human when there are bumps in the road.
Rule #3: Keep it short and sweet. PLEASE resist the urge to read your syllabus word for word. Not only is it boring and a waste of precious minutes, but parents most likely don’t care what the title of your textbook is or how many minutes you’ll spend on the computers. They DO care about their child being successful, so make sure you help them feel that success is possible. If you discuss grading, don’t belabor it, just let them know how their child can get an “A” or an “B” - that’s what they really want to know. Let them know how to contact you, how to check their child’s progress, and what to do if their child needs help. Inform parents of how you’ll communicate details about curriculum as it’s happening - it’s much more relevant to get information about a novel or essay or project as it’s happening, rather than six months before you’ve even assigned it.
Rule #4: Stay calm and don’t get cornered. There will always be one or two parents who want to corner you and have a private discussion about their kid. Tell them up-front that unfortunately, the time constraints of Back To School Night do not allow for one-on-one conversations. Be proactive and have a sign-up sheet in the back of the room for anyone who would like to schedule a private meeting or have you send them an individual email - in my experience, hardly anyone asks for it after the fact if they have to come on their own time! And no matter what, stay calm. Remember that the everyone is there for the same reason: they love their kids. Despite how nervous you might feel and how interminable the night might seem, evening will end at some point, you’ll go home and collapse on the couch, get a good night’s sleep and wake up in the morning ready for the really fun part of your job: teaching!