Sitting in Parent Orientation for the Class of 2017 at Wake Forest University, I had the privilege of hearing an engaging dean speak on the top ten tips for student success and the top ten things parents can do to help. I found myself listening not only with my parent ears ( my daughter is in the freshmen class) but also listening with teacher ears. What practices do I have in my teaching that are preparing my students to be successful as they rise through high school and head off to college? I am indebted to Dr. Christy Buchanan, Associate Dean for Academic Advising, who sent me a copy of her speech and allowed me to use some of her points (italicized) in this post. I’ve chosen four of her points from “Top Ten Things Parents Can Do” to think about as a teacher and share with my students’ parents.
- Don’t be over-involved; try really hard not to do things for them; don’t solve their problems or make decisions for them. There will be challenges & disappointments. Remember in this that our joint goal is for your student to grow in his/her ability to deal with a complex world and with a variety of personal challenges.
This one point could be an entire post. It is so easy as both a parent and a teacher to just “ do it yourself”. When I am standing over that student’s desk while he ask a question about how to say something in a piece of writing, how tempting it is just to give him my words instead of helping him find his own by asking good questions. It’s easier to just give an answer than to risk how many versions there may be if students formulate their own. It seems more efficient just to explain what a piece of literature means rather than let fourteen youngsters figure it out for awhile. But…it isn’t good for them. As Dr. Buchanan says, “our joint goal is for our student to grow in his/her ability to deal with a complex world.” Solving their problems and giving them an easy answer doesn’t stretch and grow them.
- Instead of doing the problem-solving …Show interest, support; provide guidance, encouragement.
If college freshmen need this, how much more so do high school freshmen? Ask them which subjects they are enjoying, what they are doing in a particular class, which teachers they learn from most easily, and what good things ( or bad) happened that day. And know when to back up if you are not getting answers. Sometimes boys have to be fed before they can talk to mom, or they need to be sitting by dad fishing or watching a ballgame, rather than staring across the dinner table face to face. Girls are somewhat more forthcoming, but only if they initiate the conversation and don’t perceive you as nosing in their business. Give them a chance to ask for advice before you offer it if you possibly can.
They want to be heard. One of my favorite parts of my job is reading their writing because it’s a rare chance to see what they value, how they think, and to have one-on-one dialogue with them. Another favorite part is watching their faces just before the speak in class discussion, that “aha’ moment when they’ve had a new idea and area about to verbalize it.
- Normalize expectations: There are ups and downs and bad times and good times.
As adults, we also have our good days and bad days. My best teaching early in the year when I’m fresh, rested, healthy and excited may be different from my best on a hot day in May when half my sixth period class checked out to play baseball and I’m worried about a problem at home. A variety of circumstances in our complex lives contribute to how well we can perform at any given hour of the day. If it’s true for us, then even more for these growing teens.
–Don’t expect perfection; help your child see challenges, problems, and mistakes as normal. Tell them you’d rather have them get a lower grade than to cheat or plagiarize.
As parents most of us want our children to do better than we did, but the reality is that none of us was or is perfect. What wisdom we adults have is borne of experience and some ( if not most) of that, bad. Encourage them to own their mistakes and learn from them and to always value integrity.
My freshmen have a ways to go before they sit through college orientation; and I suspect as their parents and teachers, we will still be working on all of the above, but let’s start now preparing them for success.