Nearly a month into the new school year, back-to-school anxieties have passed.
Class loads have been adjusted and teacher assignments finalized.
Names on waiting lists for special programs have been selected.
Back-to-school nights have come and gone.
Every year, I think about the mix of anticipation and trepidation felt by so many parents as their children begin the school year, whether the children are preschoolers or college freshmen.
This year, I reached out to a few of my teacher friends to find out how they were feeling.
What new challenges or changes did they anticipate? What had them excited or nervous? What advice might they offer parents?
Not surprisingly, the responses I received ranged from relational topics (teacher-parent, teacher-student, teacher-administrator) to curriculum, and from excited to worried or even — as with many parents at the end of summer — a little sad.
Longtime kindergarten teacher Marilyn Hande was the first to respond to my email.
A few years into teaching the transitional-kindergarten class for children who turn 5 years old in the fall, Hande shared her mix of feelings.
“I am feeling excited and a little overwhelmed all at the same time,” she wrote, excited to meet her new students and a little overwhelmed as she unpacked her classroom.
After representing the district in helping develop the state’s transitional-kindergarten learning modules for early education, she was excited to put them to use. She was also happy to share some advice with parents of young children.
“Part of our transitional-kindergarten day is to have a sharing time,… and the best stories [children tell] are ones where the parents played… with them, or they got to ‘help’ mom or dad with shopping, making the bed, etc.,” Hande wrote.
“Their little eyes always light up, and they can’t wait to tell me what they did with mommy or daddy. So, my advice to parents is to give their child that ‘us time;’ turn off social media and TV, and spend more time playing…. Make reading to their child an everyday part of their routine,” she added.
One of Hande’s colleagues (who asked to remain anonymous) emailed me about the end-of-summer blues she feels as a longtime teacher, who is also a parent.
“[I’m] sad because summer is the only time we can relax and not have to be ‘on’ the entire day. It’s also a time for us to get appointments out of the way and big errands…that require too much commitment during the school year,” she wrote.
She was less stressed before she had her own family, she added — a sentiment, I, as the mother of an educator with young children, can understand.
Her advice to other parents is to “learn the policies of your child’s teacher and follow them….and don’t make excuses for your kids,” she wrote.
She shared her belief, based on 19 years in the classroom, that “children are resilient and should learn how to be flexible with every new teacher, because that’s how life is,” she added.
She made an exception for teachers whose systems “are completely unfair or torturous,” but wrote that such teachers are a rarity in this district.
“Teachers want the best for their students,” she wrote.
In response to my question about changes she’s seen in students or parents over the years, her answer echoed those of a few other teachers with whom I spoke.
“New parents tend to worry about everything, especially in the younger grades. They prefer to email or contact teachers directly about policies already discussed, forgetting that teachers have 26-37 students,” she wrote.
She is finding more impatient students, too, “who will question adults about doing something or will directly say they don’t want to do something,” she added.
She thinks children spend too much time with iPads and YouTube.
“I sometimes feel their brains are just waiting to click ‘next episode’ or ‘skip video,’” she wrote.
I met with Matthieu Hamo during his lunch break at Glenoaks Elementary, to which he returned this year as a sixth-grade teacher after spending two years on a team developing math curriculum for the district.
His decision to return to classroom teaching this year was prompted, in part, by the opportunity teachers will have to train on the new science standards being implemented by the district.
Hamo said he encourages his students to think like scientists and shared the excitement his students experienced in making scientific observations of the recent solar eclipse. He wants them to be motivated by their own questions about how things work.
Hamo said he engages parents and addresses their concerns through weekly communications to families and monthly parent meetings. Asked his advice for parents, he shared the advice he gives his brother:
“Be a productive member of the team,” he said.
Mary Mason, now directing the district’s newly named Teaching and Learning Department, was also quick to email responses to my questions.
She’s “always excited about the endless possibilities a new year brings,” she wrote, and she sees summer as one of “the best gifts of our profession that we are given the opportunity to refresh and recharge and set goals for each new school year.”
Mason said she encourages them to ask questions and be engaged.
This year the goals are many, with new math programs, new efforts in social and emotional learning as well as continuing work building professional learning communities.
Parents can learn more by visiting the district website: www.gusd.net.
JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.