Back to School checklist: notebooks, pencils, megaphone

It's that time of year again, and as we're making the most of our last few days of freedom, I've been thinking about what it's going to take to make this year a good one, and I wanted to share the best advice anyone ever gave me about being a parent of school-age kids:

Follow your instincts and stand up for your kids. 
If you do not advocate for them, no one else will. 

If you see your child struggling, if you sense something is "off", say something.  I you are concerned about academic progress or socialization, talk to her teacher.  If your kid is stressed about testing, or how much homework is coming home, send a note to the principal, or call your district's instructional coordinator and share your concerns.  If your child has special needs, know your rights and know what you need to do to make sure school is all it can be for your child. Talk to other parents.  Talk to educators.  Talk to the principal.

Just say something.

That's your job, and you need to do it - but do it respectfully, and value the fact that your child's teachers are professionals who have knowledge of your child that you do not see yourself, just as you have knowledge of your child that they will never know unless you share it with them.   Your kids' teachers want you to take on this role - they need you to share concerns that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle of the increasingly outrageous demands of their profession, that make it difficult for them to do everything they might want to help each student. In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, teachers are struggling, and many are even leaving the profession they love, often because they aren't sufficiently supported by their districts.  A strong showing of parent support can be a huge help in addressing this issue. 

Say something.

I was reminded again today that even though I hate "complaining" about things, I never regret it and I've always seen amazing results when I try to approach situations that concern me with respect for all parties and an open mind.  Being honest, open and fair creates a climate of respect and collaboration - this helps teachers, and it helps students.

And don't feel like you have to stop talking once you walk out the classroom door.  

Now, more than ever, we need parents to pay attention to legislation that threatens the funding for our public schools and dictates the curriculum used by our teachers.  We need parents who are watching school board agenda, following policy changes, making sure that the only "interests" that elected officials and administrators are putting first are the interests of our students. We need parents to unite and say ENOUGH to the standardized testing that is being used to pigeon-hole not just our kids, but their teachers and even their schools by "ranking" them according to "report cards" based on arbitrary scores that often reflect little more than the relative poverty of a given community.

So say something.

Go to PTO meetings. Go to school board meetings.  Join a committee or a parent group or volunteer in the school, if you can, to become better aware and better oriented with the needs of your district, and to take your commitment to your child's education to the next level. Go to legislative hearings to share the much-needed perspective of someone who actually knows what's going on in our schools, and what impacts policy has on our kids.  Look closely at candidate records on supporting public education when it comes time to vote (and it's time to vote very soon!).  Connect with groups and organizations that connect parents to information that helps us help our teachers & schools. Get informed and know what you need to know to feel confident speaking up and standing strong in support of your students.

Here's to a great year for our kids, our schools, and the teachers who make possible everything they'll learn and do!  Let's do our part, as parents, to support our kids and the public schools that fulfill the promise we make to each other: that we all deserve a fair shot at being the best we can be.

All you have to do is speak up.  For your kids, for your teachers, for your schools.

Because if you don't, who will?

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