By Dan Coulter
Think about the best teacher you ever had. It’s an uncommon pleasure to remember someone who believed in you before you were sure you were worth believing in.
I remember a third grade teacher who made the sun rise and set with her look of approval. Actually, I don’t remember the sun ever setting. I just remember she made me feel I was worth something in a way I don’t think I’ve ever lost. I worked awfully hard to please that teacher.
It’s what we all want for our kids: the gold standard of teachers. A classroom leader whom you want to please because you see your self-worth reflected in a mirror you can trust.
As I said in a recent article, it’s really important for parents of kids with special needs in mainstream classes to provide input the school can use when they make teacher assignments. I also touched on areas such as meeting with teachers before school starts, sharing information about your child and his diagnosis, and making it clear you’re always available to talk.
Wherever we find ourselves in the school year, it’s always a good time to think about ways we can help bring out the best in the teachers who’ve been selected to work with our kids.
Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Sending regular notes to teachers thanking them for things you appreciate lets those teachers know you’re talking with your child about the school day – and who isn’t affected by having the good things they do appreciated? If you have to look a bit to find something to praise, you may just become the bright spot in a teacher’s day – and help that teacher rediscover some of the biggest rewards of teaching.
If you can make the time, it’s a good idea to volunteer to be a “room mom” or “room dad.” Providing logistical support that frees up more of a teacher’s time to spend on teaching can benefit both your child and his or her classmates. By serving as a chaperone, you can help ensure that field trips go smoothly, particularly if you have a younger child who has problems with meltdowns in new or unfamiliar situations.
If you really want to go the extra mile, make yourself available to volunteer in ways that don’t directly support your child. Volunteers become an extension of the school staff – and staff members naturally tend to go out of their way for people they know and interact with regularly. Schools have different policies on volunteers, so you need to find out about local rules and customs. My wife, for example, served as a parent volunteer in the "college and career center" at our son's high school. She organized materials from colleges and vocational schools and helped students find the information they sought.
Sometimes schools are short on supplies. It may be helpful to ask what resources your child's teacher needs and then see if you can find a business in the community to make a donation. You need to work closely with the teacher to make sure you're going after things that will be truly helpful -- and that you're working within the school's policy on donations. This is especially important if a business might want to publicize its donation. You may want to come up with some ideas, then see if you can brainstorm with a teacher to identify things she or he will find really beneficial. If you make the offer, but let the teacher make the decisions and lead the show, you're more likely to provide needed, welcome support.
Even for natural teachers, leading classrooms filled with today's kids can be tough. Letting teachers know you care about the job they do and that you’re willing to lend your support can help bring out the best they have to offer – and increase the chances your child will have multiple candidates for his or her “best teacher ever.” Supporting the administrative team can help put an entire school staff on your side.
It’s easy to see educators only in context of their jobs. Thinking about them as complete people with the same challenges –- and the same appreciation for praise and support -- that we all have can give you insights into ways you can help them help your child. A happy, appreciated teacher is a better teacher.
It all comes down to thinking about what we want for our kids and supporting the people who could make our adult children think back to third grade, or seventh or twelfth -- before they make good choices and do the right thing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the video: “ASPERGER SYNDROME: Success In The Mainstream Classroom.” You can find additional articles on his website at:www.coultervideo.com.
Copyright Dan Coulter 2004 (revised 2013) Used by Permission All Rights Reserved