Back to School Night from a Parent’s Perspective

My colleague Dawn shared great ideas and tips on how teachers can make back to school night successful. My experience with back to school night is as a parent. In fact, I went to my daughters’ back to school night on Tuesday so my experience is fresh.

My daughters on their first day of school

What I appreciate as a parent

  1. Questionnaire on day one   I love the questionnaires that ask about my child and her strengths and challenges. A key piece of the questionnaire is asking what questions you’d like answered on back to school night. I like having the time to think about what I need to know.
  2. Photo slideshow   One teacher had already snapped lots of pictures of the kids in class and created a powerpoint that looped in the background of her presentation. What a thoughtful touch (and how reassuring to see our kids smiling at us during their first days in fifth grade).
  3. Class roster    Circulate a sign up sheet or, better yet, ask for contact information on the questionnaire. Having a quick reference of kid and parent names (because I get tired of talking to “Matthew’s mom.” I’m sure she has a name!), phone numbers and emails is invaluable.
  4. Support one another   We had a third grade teacher with 30+ years of experience. At back to school night she told us that she didn’t need a room parent or volunteers or even a class donation. What she wanted instead was for us to support one another. She encouraged us to go to the sporting events, plays, and performances of all the kids in the class, not just our own. When a friend would show up at my daughter’s basketball game or she would ask if we could go to her friend’s baseball game, my heart swelled. The gift of our time and attention is wonderfully valuable.


Things I could do without

  1. Immaculate classroom     My dear friend Kim teaches first grade and kills herself to neaten up her room before a parent event (she’s been known to shovel the stacks of paper on her desk onto a cart and lock it in a closet). To me, a neat classroom is unimportant. I actually barely notice the state of the room. Having artwork on the wall is nice but other than that, I think a slightly messy classroom signifies busy kids and lots of learning. Give yourself a break and don’t worry about cleaning up.
  2. Paper   My younger daughter’s teacher gave us a folder with handout after handout. The folder went into my recycling bin when I got home. My older daughter’s teacher had two stapled sheets. That’s better. What would work even better is a follow up email with the documents attached or a website with the forms and details of the curriculum that I can reference on demand.
  3. “My child…”     Since kindergarten, my daughter has had a boy in her class with severe food allergies. Every year on back to school night his mother would steal the stage to explain the specific foods he was allergic to, the type of food other parents should bring for parties as a result, and the effect on her child if he were to eat a food he was allergic to. I’m sure you know this mom. If it’s not food, it’s another topic specific to her child. I would appreciate a teacher who could gracefully curtail these type of monologues that don’t pertain to the whole group and assure said mom that she would be heard offline and her issue handled separately (in a class email listing acceptable party foods, for example).


A lovely idea for parents everywhere

We all want our kids to have successful school experiences. To that end, some parents in my daughter’s fifth grade class sent home an invitation to join them for coffee at a local shop after drop off during the first week. I met parents I didn’t know and got a chance to learn more about their kids. Parents who know each other can work better together and be a strong support system for their teacher. 

Teachers, what can the parents of your students do to make your year better? Parents, what ideas do you have for supporting your child’s teacher?

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