The hallway is dark, and the paintings on the walls seem to follow you with their eyes.
The parents—they’re coming for you. Young and old alike.
Prepare: A lot hinges on this first encounter.
The adrenaline courses through your veins, setting off fear mixed with eagerness.
Anticipate: You need to appear strong and organized, a leader who is confident, capable.
Breathe: It’s time for your first parent-teacher night.
Maybe you are one of the lucky ones, and you have the perfect class from the most brilliant and accommodating families who will stock your shelves with Kleenex and bring you cookies at every holiday. Oh, who are we kidding; they’ll be bringing you wine and truffles!
For the rest of us, that very first Back-to-School Night (also sometimes referred to as parent-teacher night) can make us nervous. We want to make everything just perfect to show how much we care about the kids with whom we have been entrusted and how much we have trained and prepared for this year. First impressions are important, and they can set the tone for a really great learning environment.
We are teachers. If any group knows how to pull together and support one another, it’s us. I mean, who else would stockpile empty toilet paper rolls and ask their neighbors and friends to do the same all summer, only to pass it all on to the teacher next door so that the kids could experience that perfect STEM activity? And who else would get so overly excited to receive that stuff?
Back-to-School Night Tips for Teachers
So, here are five of the best tips from veteran teachers who have been where you are and found ways to make it all work:
- It’s about them—not you. Parents (and students) want to see that you are a good person—someone who cares and will make the students feel welcomed in a safe place to learn, try, fail, try again, and have fun. Meet them with a smile; be friendly and be a real person.
- Start simple. After a friendly greeting and a short visit, start with a generic question like, “What has given (your student) success in science in previous years?” Then, sit back and LISTEN. This gives parents a chance to share information about the precious child they are about to entrust to you. The response may align beautifully to what you have seen, or it might be very different and provide you some new insights.
- Make your goals clear. After the parents (and hopefully, student) have shared, work with them to create an alliance between the objectives of the year and the needs of the child.
- Be attentive to the needs of the parents. They are likely busy people too and will appreciate it if you can hand them a very short bulleted list that gives them information at a glance. Include things like your homework policy, late policies, upcoming volunteer opportunities, where they can turn when they have questions, your website or online profile, your email address, your phone number, and the date of the next parent-teacher night or event(s) where you hope to see them.
- Avoid using acronyms or educational jargon. Parents want to hear that you will do everything you can and have a multitude of strategies to help their student succeed. They won’t necessarily know (or care) what the Flibidijibit Math Manipulatives or the XYZ Method of Instruction are, but they will care that you are committed to taking a different approach if their student shows signs of less-than-top performance.
Remember, you are a teacher. You went into this to help kids and families and spread a love of learning. That’s what is expected of you, and you have a greater support system than many professions can boast.
Now, let’s try that again . . .
The hallway is dark, and the paintings on the walls seem to cheer you on.
The parents—they’re coming to see you. Young and old alike.
You are prepared because a lot hinges on this first encounter.
The anticipation of a new year is great; you are strong, organized, a leader, confident, and capable.
The adrenaline courses through your veins and is setting off excitement every time you think about it.
Breathe: It’s time for your first Back-to-School Night!