Meet the parents

I’m a new middle school science teacher, and the thought of back-to-school night is already making me nervous. What should I expect? What should I do?
—Kate, Savannah, Georgia

Whether it’s held before school starts or during the first few weeks, this annual event provides an opportunity for the important adults in a student’s life to meet each other. It also gives parents (or other caregivers) a chance to become more familiar with the school. Ask a colleague what format is used in your school, what the expectations are, and how the event is publicized. Most middle schools have their event during the first month or so of the school year.
Typically, the parent is given a modified copy of the student’s schedule to follow during a “back-to-school” night. The bell rings as parents move from classroom to classroom for brief periods. The schedule is very compact; often there is only time for brief introductions. There’s not much time for questions and conversations or for parents to look around your classroom/lab before the next bell rings.
An “open house” is less structured. Parents get a copy of the student’s schedule but are free to visit the classrooms in any order. This is a more leisurely pace, but you can be overwhelmed if you get a lot of parents at once or if one parent starts to monopolize your time.
With either format, some schools also invite students to attend as a “take your parents to school” event. This provides students with the opportunity to introduce their parents and teachers. Students can guide their parents to the classrooms and show them some of their work.
Regardless of which type of event your school hosts, here are some things you can do to get ready.

Make sure the classroom/lab is clean and tidy, even if you have to stow some materials away for the evening. Put anything away that could be a safety hazard (chemicals, scalpels, etc.) and keep your grade book or other confidential or personal information out of sight. Display your safety posters and equipment in prominent places. Prepare a brief handout, syllabus, or pamphlet with your contact information, a statement of your teaching philosophy or beliefs, a course outline, and other information or requirements. Some teachers prepare business cards with their school address, phone number, email address, and the URL of the class web page. Create a sign for the hallway with your name, room number, and your picture. Prepare a sign-in sheet with spaces for the parent’s name, the student’s name, and a phone number or email address you can use to contact the parent. (Some schools have a parent meeting first, so the parents may have already signed in.)
On the night of the big event, greet the parents just inside the door with a handshake and your biggest smile as you give them your handouts and thank them for coming. What happens during the event depends on the format. For a back-to-school schedule, you’ll have time for a brief presentation describing your course topics and activities, leaving a few minutes for questions. For an open house, drop-in format, after you greet individual parents, invite them to explore displays illustrating what you do in science: collections of objects to examine, an example of a science notebook, a simple activity they could do (e.g., with magnets, hand lenses), a self-running PowerPoint highlighting a project or lab investigation, and displays of ungraded student work, both written and multimedia. If the students accompany their parents, they could show them their science notebooks and other projects they’re working on.
In either format, be very firm with parents that this is not the appropriate time to discuss individual student issues. Encourage the parents to make an appointment or get their names to contact them later. Explain you can’t always return calls or respond to email immediately during the day when classes are in session, but you will reply as promptly as possible.
After the event, record the number of parents you met and reflect on any concerns raised. Follow up on any questions or conference requests.
Even with all of the preparation and publicity, sometimes the turnout is less than expected. Keep in mind some parents have to deal with work schedules, childcare arrangements, or transportation issues. Others may be contending with language barriers (another reason to encourage students to accompany them).
Those parents who attend deserve your respect and gratitude. Take a deep breath—I’m sure you’ll do a fine job.

This entry was posted in Ask a Mentor and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Meet the parents

  1. PeggyA says:

    Speaking as a parent with the experience of back-to-school nights for 3 children (only 2 more years to go!), I really appreciate hearing–briefly–how teachers communicate their expectations for classroom behavior and homework completetion to the students, and how they plan to follow through if necessary. This lets me know that they have a plan to keep the focus on learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *