Students begin 6th grade as children and after three quick years they go off to high school as young adults. As a middle school teacher I get to be a part of that ride. It’s like some kind of implausible but reliable miracle every year.
My goal this year is to support the parents of my students in joining us for that ride while still allowing their student to be in the driver’s seat.
For my teacher evaluation framework, I will be focusing on TPEP’s Criterion 7: Communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community.
It’s such a fine line between engaging as a supportive parent and hovering helicopter-like over students’ lives. Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean at Stanford and parent herself, warns of the consequences of the latter in her book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. And just as I ask my students to focus on essential questions as we dive into new units, this year I’d like to ask my students’ parents to keep Lythcott-Haims questions at their forefront of their minds:
Did the safety-conscious, academic achievement-focused, self-esteem-promoting, checklisted childhood that has been commonplace since the mid-1980s and in many communities has become the norm, rob kids of the chance to develop into healthy adults? What will become of young adults who look accomplished on paper but seem to have a hard time making their way in the world without the constant involvement of their parents? How will the real world feel to a young person who has grown used to problems being solved for them and accustomed to praise at every turn? Is it too late for them to develop a hunger to be in charge of their own lives? Will they at some point stop referring to themselves as kids and dare to claim the “adult” label for themselves? If not, then what will become of a society populated by such “adults”?
And I get it. I’m a parent too. So here are my tips. Which I drafted as a teacher and then revisited as a mom.
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR MIDDLE SCHOOL HUMANITIES STUDENT
1. Read with us.
We’ll be reading great, challenging books this year. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird with big ideas, strong language, grown up themes. Your student is ready for this. Follow our reading schedule and talk about our books at home. You don’t need to analyze the lit. Their Humanities teacher is here for all the over-analysis they need! Trust me! You and your kid—you’re a book club! Here are some question ideas to get your reader talking.
- Do you think you’d be friends with any of these characters? Why?
- Do you think this book would make a good reality TV show? Why?
- What kind of tattoo do you think the main character would get? Why?
- Which character is the worst? Why?
- Do you think Miley Cyrus would read this book? Why?
Are you picking up on my Why? theme? It’s the dialogue that matters. The thinking more than the answers. The journey more than the destination if we’re going to continue with this whole ride metaphor.
2. Be an enthusiastic, useful audience.
Your student—even your quiet, introverted tween—will become a performer this year. (Here’s my 5 min talk about why I teach my students to be brave and how it happens like awesome, unfathomable magic every year in our class.) They will act out Romeo and Juliet and Buddy Wakefield poetry. They will perform out their vocabulary quiz corrections. We will have paragraph battles. Battles. When your student practices at home—and maybe they’re practicing for an upcoming Humanities assignment or maybe they’re just reading you something “hilarious” from snapchat or telling you excitedly about some lunchroom drama—give them positive and (here’s the kicker) specific feedback about their performance. Here are some ideas for such feedback.
- Way to get my attention by starting with the best part!
- You should have a spotlight follow you around with that bold posture.
- Very Tig Notaro on that punchline dramatic pause.
- You could be the movie phone guy with that captivating voice.
Wait—do people born in the 2000’s know who the movie phone guy is? But I digress.
3. Let your student speak for themselves.
This is about self-advocacy. Question about a class assignment? Concern about a recent grade? Unclear about why we’re learning about activism in our 6th grade English class? No problem! Support your student in emailing me and setting up a time to talk. Would you like to join us for a follow up conversation if our talk needs more clarification? Sure! Come on over. Have your student help coordinate that conference. Check out this post on teaching students to email like a boss. And here are some questions you can ask your emailing student to think about as they practice their self-advocacy.
- What is your question or concern?
- What are your ideas for solutions?
- What are a couple of times you could meet with your teacher to follow up?
- What might be a clear, specific subject line for this email?
- Did you include your class period number in the message?
4. Let your student fail.
It will happen at some point this year. I promise. Your brilliant child will miss an assignment. They will bomb a test. They will forget or lose their book. They will have mood swings sharp and unprompted that will derail class periods, even whole school days sometimes. And it’s okay. Even if after practicing their self-advocacy from Tip #3, their teacher says, no, sorrynotsorry, but there is no make-up test, no extra credit this time, no re-do on this one, it’s still okay. Your kids are more resilient than you realize. Middle school is a perfect time to learn about grit and consequences within a system that will not be considered when your child is applying for college (I know you’re already thinking about this). School, after all, is practice for real grown up life where sometimes, despite our best efforts to speak up for ourselves, we only get one shot and then we have to move forward.
And that’s it! Four ideas to kick off our year of glorious teacher-parent communication and collaboration. Welcome to another invigorating, bumpy ride of a school year! Fasten your seat belts—parents, students, teachers—we’re all in this together and it’s going to fly by.
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