The first day of the new school year is an exciting time for many children and their families. And for some families, the beginning of the school year can be the cause of understandable anxiety and numerous questions.
When a child is struggling in the district, whether because of learning challenges, behavioral concerns, social difficulties, or for any number of reasons, the first day of school is often met with trepidation.
There are straight-forward ways families can start the school year which, with cooperation from the district, will hopefully lead to a better experience.
First, recognize that your child is working with a new teacher or teachers, and may be in an entirely different environment. Make an effort to work collaboratively with the teacher(s) from day one. Explain your concerns, describe what happened during the previous school year, and then plan a path forward in a positive manner. Many teachers and administrators will be receptive to your efforts.
Second, document, document, document. Those discussions I referenced above — be sure to send an e-mail outlining what you discussed and what you agreed upon. That goes for almost any meeting or discussion you have throughout the school year. Document what you discuss with your child’s teacher, principal, really with anyone in the school, so that there is no confusion later. As I explain to many clients, your entire focus is on your child, and you will always remember what you reviewed with your child’s teacher. But your child’s teacher has many other students and may not remember everything discussed. Maintain a record, and point to that record when you need to do so. This is also very helpful in the unfortunate event a family later ends up in a dispute with the district.
Third, if your child is entering middle school, or is already in middle school or high school, ask for a teaching team meeting to take place in September. Make sure all teachers are aware of your child’s strengths and needs so that the teachers approach your child’s education in a consistent and effective manner. And, of course, document what occurred at that meeting.
Fourth, for younger students, schedule a meeting or a conference with both your child’s previous teacher and new teacher so that the new teacher knows what to expect and where to focus. A child’s previous teacher is a great source of information for how to educate a student. And that teacher can also serve as an advocate for the child.
Fifth, if your child has an IEP or a Section 504 Accommodations Plan, request a meeting to take place early in the school year to review your child’s progress towards his/her goals and objectives. You do not need to wait for the district to send you a progress report, or for a teacher to reach out with concerns. It is important to learn early in the school year whether your child is, in fact, making progress.
You are your child’s best advocate and taking these proactive steps can make a big difference on the first day of school and throughout the entire year.