Ask the Teacher: Summer Break Blues

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]                        

Our oldest son will start middle school in the fall. We would really like to see him show more independence in meeting his academic responsibilities. What is a reasonable way to do this? 

As children make transitions from one academic level to the next, it is a great time to emphasize the additional responsibility that comes with moving ahead in school. Middle school typically requires more organization and better time management as students report to more than one teacher and there is less “hand holding” by the teacher to get work done.  

To foster organization, encourage your son to use a planner or a calendar to note homework assignments and upcoming quizzes. He may want to develop a color coding system for different classes. He can also use a highlighter to go back over what he has written as a reminder of upcoming deadlines. 

Learning to manage time well is a huge challenge. Suggest to your son that he spend a few minutes each day after school looking at the five or six upcoming school days, noting on his calendar specific days and times when he will study for quizzes or tests and when he will complete various steps in longer-term projects. 

Engage your son in casual conversation about how his system is going. Make suggestions for ways to tweak it if needed. Resist the urge to take over! If you get the sense that he is not as organized as he should be or is stressing over last-minute work, develop a periodic check-in. Expand the time between checking in as he displays more independence. 

My first-grade daughter came home from school on the last day crying because she loved her teacher so much and knows she will have a different teacher in second grade. She is talking every day about how she wishes she could go back to first grade. How can I help her to be more optimistic about her next teacher? 

For young students in particular, leaving one teacher and moving on to another can be very difficult. Not only have the students become attached to the person with whom they have spent the whole year, they can feel disloyal for “replacing” that beloved teacher. 

Remind your daughter how she felt at the beginning of first grade when she did not know her teacher. Discuss how it took a little time to establish a bond between her and the teacher she loves. Help her to create realistic expectations for second grade: she will not feel as close to her teacher immediately as she did to her first-grade teacher at the end of the year. 

Encourage your daughter to write notes or cards or to stop by her former teacher’s classroom once school starts. Maintaining a relationship will ease her transition to a new teacher. A reassuring hug may be all she needs to help her feel confident and secure, laying the foundation for a positive start with her new teacher.  

My son’s fifth grade teacher commented on his report card that he needs to work on his manners. After I called for clarification, she said that he was constantly interrupting her and his classmates. What can I do to help him be more respectful? 

Talk as a family about the importance of taking the time to listen to what someone else is saying before jumping in with your own thoughts – and recognize that this is often difficult to do! It takes some maturity to recognize that what someone else has to say is just as important as what we want to say. Discuss the fact that this skill of listening intently in conversation is essential not only for demonstrating basic respect for others, but also for building a foundation in friendships and later, in working relationships. Share with your son how it feels when someone interrupts you; I am sure he can relate to that frustration and disappointment. Resolve to be better listeners. 

Then practice together! Agree on a simple symbol that you will use when you are having a conversation to indicate that the listener is interrupting. For example, the speaker can simply raise one finger as a reminder for the “listener” to wait just a moment before commenting. Remind each other that the response when the speaker raises a finger should be to immediately set aside your thoughts and focus on what the speaker is saying. If the person who is interrupting does not get quiet right away, do not pay any attention to what he is saying. 

This will seem very awkward at first, but listening to others well will offer obvious benefits. Complement one another when others listen without interrupting. Showing respect for others by listening demonstrates maturity; being completely self-absorbed is the quickest way for others to lose respect for us.

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