Ask the Teacher: First Day Jitters

Ask the Teacher is a monthly column from our magazine, written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Deb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]. 

My second grade son ended the school year on a terrible note. He did not treat his teacher respectfully or get along with his classmates for the last few weeks of school. All summer long however, things have gone well at home and with his baseball coach. Should I assume his past behavior was just a fluke, or should I talk to his new teacher about it? 

There is a good chance that whatever was triggering your son’s undesirable behavior at the end of last school year is ancient history now. However, the best approach would be to meet with his new teacher prior to school starting, if at all possible. Describe the specific behaviors your son was demonstrating and offer as much insight as possible into the surrounding circumstances. This should not be an attempt to excuse away any bad behavior, but a way to help the new teacher understand what was happening. Tell the teacher about the strategies that you and his previous teacher used to address the situation – including what worked and what didn’t.  

This conversation will not result in the teacher overlooking your son’s positive traits, but it will help him or her to be prepared with a plan right away if any of the previous problems resurface. Teachers are often willing to let some things slide at the start of the year, but it is probably in your son’s best interest that any poor behaviors are addressed immediately before a pattern is formed. Your initiation of this conversation will help establish a strong line of communication and collaboration with the new teacher that will help your child start the year on positive footing. 

Our daughter gets so anxious about the start of school that she doesn’t sleep much at all the last few days of summer vacation. Then she is irritable and even more stressed out. What can I do to help her be rested and ready so her school year gets off to a good start? 

Begin by trying to calm some of her anxieties. Invite friends over to reestablish connections with children from her class. Even if those friends are not in her room this year, it will make lunch and recess easier if she has already reconnected with people she will see at school. If possible, visit the school building, walking the halls to the new area of the school where her class will be so that she feels comfortable getting to her new room. Spend a few minutes chatting with the building secretary. Being greeted by a familiar person when she walks in will help get the day off to a positive start. 

Consider reintroducing the school schedule a few days earlier than usual. Getting her body back into the routine of an early wake up and an earlier bed time may help. Attempt to have meal times that are similar to those she will have on school days. Have her get ample exercise throughout the day so that she is physically tired at bedtime. 

As summer vacation comes to a close, it can be tempting to eke out every last minute of fun and excitement. For many children though, the sudden shift in routine that comes with the first day of school can be hard to manage. If you can have your daughter start winding down and getting into a familiar routine before school starts, you can make this transition for her less stressful and more positive. 

So much happens in the first few days of a new school year. How do we keep our kids from being overwhelmed by it all?   

When you consider how taxing it can be to start a new job, it’s easy to understand how starting a new school year can be just as overwhelming to kids. Familiar things, like classmates and building surroundings, are dwarfed in comparison to adjusting to a new teacher, having a different routine, understanding increased expectations and handling new academic challenges. Talk with your child about your own experiences when you’ve had to start something new, emphasizing the importance of taking things one day at a time. Once kids have a few days under their belts, they usually adapt. 

To help this process along, keep other non-school activities to a minimum for the first few weeks of school. If possible, cancel any lessons or practices that are not essential. This will allow some down time for your child to relax and get back into the swing of school. 

Even if your child does not have much homework at the beginning of the year, get in the habit early of reviewing what was covered at school that day. This will help cement what your student has learned and increase their likelihood of retaining information. That retention will help build confidence, which is the perfect antidote to feeling overwhelmed. 

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