With a new school year kicking off, Newsday asked teachers to share 10 things they wish parents knew as the journey begins. Here’s how teachers across Long Island completed the prompt: “I wish parents knew….”
How critical it is for kids to arrive at school on time. Teachers plan the school day to “entice, captivate, intrigue and motivate students,” says Linda Grace, a kindergarten teacher at Centre Avenue Elementary School in East Rockaway. She likens the classroom to the stage. “When the bell rings, my Broadway show begins,” she says. Imagine the lights suddenly come on five minutes into the performance. “Wait! We have a new audience member. We have to catch that audience member up on what’s happened so far,” she says. “I feel bad for the child. We’re settled, and we’ve started our day, and the kid walks in with their backpack and everyone is staring at them. It’s a lot of negative attention when they walk in.”
That test grades may not be the best measure of success. “I wish parents would de-emphasize the identification of success with test grades. To put that on a 12- or 13-year-old leads to anxiety,” says Christopher Regini, a seventh-grade science teacher at West Hollow Middle School in Melville. Instead, parents ought to give just as much weight to soft skills their child is learning, such as cooperation, collaboration and empathy, Regini says. Did they learn anything in class? Are they excited about learning? “Not just, ‘Hey, what did you get on your science quiz?' ” Regini says.
What genre their child likes to read. When students find a genre that sparks their interest, it makes it easier to encourage them to read, says Kristin Maldonado, a second-grade teacher at the Brookside Elementary School in Baldwin. “That’s half the battle,” Maldonado says. Do they love mysteries, such as the "Cam Jansen" series? Do they like nonfiction informational texts about animals? Does poetry engage them? “Have conversations about genre with the kids,” Maldonado advises.
That kids are capable of more than parents think. “You want them to be independent,” says Maria McMullen, a first-grade teacher at Holbrook Road Elementary School in Centereach. At the end of the school day, for instance, McMullen expects her students to pack up their own backpacks. “I can’t put 25 folders into 25 backpacks,” McMullen says. “They have to start being responsible. They can do it.” Parents should expect the same at home, she says. “It’s amazing to see what a 5- or 6-year-old does when their mom is not around.”
The power of "yet." Tova Markowitz, a kindergarten-to-fifth grade reading teacher at Lido Elementary School in Long Beach, borrows that expression from author Carol Dweck. While children may struggle, it’s important for parents to remember there’s always growth. Instead of saying, “My child can’t read,” parents should say to themselves, “My child isn’t reading YET,” Markowitz says. “I truly believe in a growth mindset.” Denis Dagger, an eighth-grade math teacher at Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore, echoes Markowitz. “You have to work at it,” he says of learning mathematics. “It’s not about getting the 100 right away. It’s a process. It’s learning how to work through things, keeping your head down and not giving up right away. It’s where you end up, not where you are.”
That teachers do homework, too. “Teachers put time in even when they’re not in the classroom. Some parents don’t realize we’re prepping and getting everything ready to make school fun for every child,” says Kevin Chenicek, a third-grade teacher at Northside Elementary School in Levittown.
A misstep is not a failure. “Sometimes in special education, it’s the baby steps that get your child where you want them to be,” says Nyree Francis, a fifth-grade special education teacher at Davison Avenue Intermediate School in Lynbrook. “A misstep is not a failure. A misstep is information. It tells me we need to review material, or that a child is not developmentally ready for this step yet. In special education, sometimes it’s time we need to give to children … to get to that place where they can succeed at a particular goal.” Echoes Mindy Zimmerman, a kindergarten teacher at the Wood Park Primary School in Commack: “When mistakes are celebrated, they can often lead to greater understandings and enable children to step out of their comfort zone to take risks.”
That students’ mental health is key. “Today’s kids have a lot on their plate,” says Gary Zamek, a sixth-grade teacher at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island. “The increased rigor of academics, higher expectations in sports, and social media and bullying have contributed to students’ stress and anxiety. I want my parents to know that addressing these mental-health issues is just as important as academics.”
That they should play games. “I wish parents knew there are a lot of things they could do with their kids that would increase their critical thinking,” says Stephanie Sullo, a fifth-grade teacher at Dutch Lane Elementary School in Hicksville. Family game nights featuring Yahtzee, Uno or Monopoly, for instance, help kids practice math and reading skills, she says. “They have to make decisions — it gives them an opportunity to think two steps, two turns ahead.”
That they can relax. “I feel like some parents, at the beginning of the school year, they’re very nervous. When your child is having any kind of new experience, there’s anxiety,” says Jessica Lowenhar, a music teacher at Oldfield Middle School in Greenlawn. “I wish parents knew that as teachers, we try to do everything we can to make the school year start off well for the students.”
CORRECTION: Tova Markowitz’s last name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.