In some circles, the reputation of public schools has been trashed. Critics cite low academic standards, pervasive underachievement and a gutter teen culture among the problems hurting the lives of our school-aged children. Private school and home schooling are becoming increasingly popular choices among many families.
There are those who seem to think that there is simply no hope for a child who goes to a public school. This is far from true. While private school and home schooling can be excellent options for those to whom they are available, one need not view public school as a choice of last resort.
At the same time, however, it is irresponsible for parents to simply ship their children off to public school and expect everything to work out. If you as the parent are not getting involved with the education process, the chances of your child’s success in public school drastically diminish.
Education begins in the home, and your child’s success will have a lot to do with the groundwork laid before the child even walks into kindergarten that first day. Moreover, education must continue to be reinforced in the home throughout your child’s schooling. It should, in fact, be a joint effort between parents and teachers—home and school.
Here are five things that you, as a parent, can do to help your child excel in the public school system (though they also apply to those attending many private schools). These are based on the assumption that the teachers are truly interested in your child’s education. But even if teachers are not meeting this standard, that is all the more reason for you to be active in your child’s public school experience.
1. Be involved with the school
Most schools have many annual activities that parents are invited to: parent-teacher conferences, open houses and music concerts. Parents should place a high priority on these events—even through, and especially in, high school. Not only will you be able to see where your children are succeeding and struggling, but all of these are great opportunities to show your children that you are interested in their lives.
Whatever limitations a public school may have, they are made far worse by parents neglecting their children—leaving them feeling unbridled and unloved. Being involved in your child’s education will help your relationship at home.
Teachers notice if you take an active interest in your child’s education. Not showing up at some of these events gives the teacher the impression you do not care about your child’s education. Forging a positive relationship with the teacher is vital.
Open houses give children the opportunity to show you what they have been working on throughout the year.
At parent-teacher conferences, both parents should attend if possible. In a family with a stay-at-home mom, once all the children are in school the mother can volunteer on a regular basis—helping the teacher with certain class projects or chaperoning field trips.
Being involved helps you get to know the teachers and administrators who work with your child each day. That knowledge enables you to maintain a dominant influence in your child’s life.
2. Help with homework
Parents have a responsibility to know what their children are learning.
Ask daily if your child has any papers you are to look at or sign, or any homework. Review your child’s scores and grades. Notice where there is difficulty—and help. Spend time ensuring your child knows what is being taught. Repeat examples or problems; drill spelling words or facts he or she needs to memorize—whatever your child needs so that when he returns to class, he will be on top of the situation.
Not enough time for that, you say? This is some of the most valuable time you can spend with your child! Several minutes here and there will help bond you to your children or teens, and it will show them that education is a valuable and lifelong pursuit.
However, don’t overdo the help to where your children rely heavily on your involvement. Be available, but also stress their individual responsibility and the need for them to pay attention. Instilling the habit of listening is one of the most constructive ways to help with homework. If they pay attention in class, the homework will be much easier. And in a world where young people are glutted on television and video games, filled with junk food and deprived of sleep, your child will likely soar to the top of the class if listening is habitual.
Establish a homework routine for your child. Ensure that the environment is conducive to learning. Every person learns differently, so be sensitive to the fact that he or she may thrive in a different type of environment. Discover what works best for your children. Really get to know their educational needs.
3. Be positive
As much as we may find wrong with the public schools in our society, we should never let our children perceive this as a negative attitude toward education. We must encourage our children to love learning.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Now a government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it. … Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education; but the surest way of instilling it into children is for parents to set them an example.” Education is the same: We must love it in order to preserve it—and this sets an example for our children.
Are you excited for your child when she brings home a hard-earned “A” or when he gets really creative on a science project? Don’t overpraise or flatter, but be genuinely interested in their work and thrilled at their accomplishments. Young, impressionable people—even teenagers—need that from you.
4. Emphasize daily attendance
Parents should do everything possible to ensure their children do not miss school unnecessarily.
Make sure your children stay healthy. Ensure they get enough sleep. If they are too tired to get up and go to school, cut back on the extracurricular activities.
Regularly taking your children out of school will be communicating to them and their teachers that you simply don’t place a high priority on education.
The Worldwide Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong, gave this advice: “Do not let your child get away with feigned sickness or provide excuses for him. Each day is important. Getting behind is discouraging and frustrating to a child, and disrupts the progress of the rest of the class. … Also, have you ever wondered what happens at school when children are instructed by their parents, ‘Tell your teacher to send you home if you don’t feel well’? In numerous cases, from minute one the child asks, every few minutes, to go home. If your child is ill, keep him home. If he is not, do not put the idea in his mind. After all, he reasons, it is easier at home than working here, and Mother doesn’t mind if I come home” (Good News, January 1984).
Be aware that your child will suffer academically if you don’t place a high priority on daily attendance. It may not show up immediately, but this lackadaisical attitude will inevitably translate itself into his or her attendance on the job and in other aspects of life.
5. Support the teacher
At one time or another, your child will come home with a complaint about the teacher. How you react in this situation is vital. Avoid sympathizing with your child right away. You are, after all, only getting one side of the story.
Too many parents today believe everything their children tell them about how bad their teachers are. By agreeing with the child, they end up hindering the child’s education—and even his or her respect of authority in general.
You should be able to weed out the typical complaints, however, from a genuine problem with a teacher.
Years ago, parents would say, “If you get in trouble with the teacher, then you are in trouble with me when you get home.” Public schools would have far fewer problems if all parents took this approach.
Your talk with your complaining child may go something like this. Student: “Mrs. Smith was really cranky today. I hate that! She shouldn’t be that way.” Parent: “Well, maybe she was having a bad day. You have times where you are cranky. Something may have happened at home that you didn’t know about. Give her the benefit of the doubt. And make sure you didn’t do anything to put her in a bad mood. Overall, she’s a good teacher who wants you to get the best education possible.”
When you talk to the teacher, for example at a parent-teacher conference, avoid becoming defensive if he or she points out areas your child needs to improve in. That’s a gift to help you help your child to overcome and grow. We must fight the impulse to make excuses for our children.
“Remember that teachers desire success for your child and want him to gain a solid foundation in school. Instructing is a tremendous responsibility. Show your child that you and the teacher are unified in your concern for him. Any questions or misunderstandings you have should be handled directly with the teacher, not through your child. Uphold the teacher in your child’s eyes” (ibid., May 1983).
Parental Involvement Produces Blessings
Children of parents who take a hands-off approach to a public school education will most likely end up with subpar academic achievements, compromised morals, and a distant relationship with their parents. But if you stay involved, public schooling can actually be an opportunity to draw closer to your child and your community. It can also be an opportunity to build in your child a love for education and a respect for right authority.
If you apply these principles, your child’s life and yours can be richly blessed!