Julie Forbes did some investigative journalism (aka had an honest talk with some friends) and got to the heart of what preschool teachers wish they could tell you.
I know a few preschool teachers who aren’t just great at their jobs, they also have their degrees in early childhood education, and they’re cool chicks (and one is a parent to a preschooler too). So, I asked them to dish with me, off the record, about what they really want to say to parents.
- Your child is not special
Of course your child is special and unique, but so are the other 20 kids in the class. Teachers do not need to know every, single detail about your child, including what they are playing with that week or what their favorite TV show is. Your child’s interests aren’t going to dictate what the rest of the class plays with.
Helicopter parents: they’re looking at you. One teacher said, “Your child can read?!? Good for you. But, so can lots of other kids in the class. I think sometimes parents get caught up in their child’s uniqueness that they want to share every detail.”
The teachers said they’ve received nightly e-mails from parents sharing everything from “the theme” of a child’s play that day to videos capturing their activities.
“We care about every child in our program, but we can’t care as much as some parents want us to care,” they shared through giggles.
It feels narcissistic to them, and they are not going to give your child special treatment. That being said…
Teachers need to know the very important things going on in your child’s life. A new baby, a deployed parent, even a bad night of sleep can all affect the way your child may be acting.
“We’ll have parents who won’t have told us that they have moved houses. That’s relevant information! If we know the grandparents have been in town, and they just left this morning, then we can make sense of your child’s behavior,”one teacher told me.
Just don’t become an over-sharer.
- Keep toys at home
If your child brings something to school, chances are its going to get lost, damaged or traded. And, it’s going to cause a conflict. It’s typically a distraction from the other educational toys in the classroom, and it’s difficult for the teachers to keep track of which toy belongs to which child. Plus, you or your child may get upset if something happens to it. Keep it at home or in the car.
If you’re trying to leave the house and your child won’t put the item down, the teachers say to blame them. Tell your child that the teacher or school doesn’t allow it, one of the teachers said, “We have no problem being the bad guy.”
The one exception is an item that a child uses for a transitional object. “The gross, grubby blanket or the stuffed animal that’s lost its nose are generally not desired by other kids,” says one teacher. Those emotional items are fine for a child to bring in until they get comfortable in the classroom.
- If you volunteer, be helpful
“Sometimes parents come in, and it makes more work for us,” they were embarrassed to admit.
If you tell the teachers you want to come in to help with a project, then have a plan. They say parents tell them all the time they want to do a project with the kids, but then they want the teachers to plan it, design it, and collect all of the resources for a project.
“Teachers like volunteers, but volunteers who are self-sufficient,” sums up one teacher. For example, if you are a baker and you want to make cupcakes with the kids, then tell the teachers how long it will take, what kind of supplies you will need, and when you’ll be done.
- They appreciate your thoughtfulness
I’ll be honest, I was hoping they’d say they don’t care about gifts so I could cross Teacher Appreciation Week off my to-do list. But, they do. Those perfect Pinterest-inspired homemade crafts mean a whole lot to them.
“Maybe you don’t save it forever. But, you get it, and you appreciate it for that moment,”one teacher said.
Another teacher is thankful of how appreciative families seem to be of her job, “My fiance is a high school teacher, so I always feel bad around the end of the school year or Christmas, I come home with all of these cards, and he’s like, ‘I got ONE card.’ I think we’re lucky that we catch families at the beginning, and they really value us.”
- Label your Stuff
If you have ever asked your preschool-aged child to get something out of his or her drawer, you know that the entire contents of that drawer end up on the floor. So, imagine when a classroom full of kids gets one item out of their cubby. It looks like a 3T department store exploded. Everything is all over the place, and the teachers have no idea what goes where.
“Shirts, socks, even underwear. Anything that could get thrown on the ground needs a label,”the teachers said. One of the teachers said that with her son, she just stocked up on cheap clothes and kept them just for “school replenishing clothes.” That way, when something came home wet or dirty, she had another labeled set ready to go.
I asked for their recommendations on the best, most organized labeling system. Their answer? Sharpie.
- Read what they send you
On that note, chances are you received an e-mail or paper instructions telling you to label your stuff. Do it! And, do the other things the teachers asked. There’s a reason why they tell you these things. In the case of labeling your clothes, they don’t want your stuff getting lost.
“There’s nothing more annoying to a teacher than when you write all of this information about events, experiences and activities and the parents respond with, ‘What?! We didn’t know about that.'”They said they try to make it as user-friendly as possible; all you have to do is spend a few minutes reading it.
- Be on Time
They get it, life happens. So being late every once in a while isn’t a big deal. But they say it always seems to be the same parents who are consistently late in picking their kids up from school.If you do happen to be late, don’t make a scene.
One teacher said “Our day has moved on. Grab your child as quickly and swiftly and discreetly as possible. You don’t get to have one-on-one with us at this point.”
Let’s just ignore the obvious that it is incredibly rude, the teachers tell me that you’re just hurting yourself in the long run. When you’re not on time, they’ve moved onto whatever comes next in their day, and they can’t debrief you about what happened in your child’s day. They said it’s those same parents who end up being caught off guard about something that’s going on at school, and then they get upset that they haven’t been kept informed.
- They Don’t Expect you to be Perfect
Cut yourself some slack. They know that you are with your child all the time, and that sometimes your patience runs thin. These particular teachers are only with their students for a few hours a day, and they said it’s much easier for them to always do things by the book – it’s their job.
“If there is a moment at drop-off or pick-up where your kid is being a jerk, we get that, and I see sometimes, parents try to be perfect in front of us, and they end up letting their kid get away with something because they don’t want to look like they’re having a power struggle,” said one teacher.They said they can be there to help you deal with it, or to back up to let you do your thing.
This teacher summed it up perfectly, “We get it. We’ve seen it all. And we’re not fazed.”
- Saying Good-Bye
Come up with a plan. Be decisive. Be consistent.If you think your child is going to have a hard time seeing you leave each day, let the teachers know in advance, so everyone can plan for that.
“There are some children, temperamentally, that take some time warming up to new faces and places,” says one teacher.
But, they also note, that some parents are completely caught off guard when a child has a hard good-bye. They say regardless of what type of child you have, have a plan for hard good-byes and let the teacher know where they fit.
“Sometimes there’s this awkward dance where we’re ready to help, the parent says, ‘OK, just another minute,’ to their child, and what you do with that other minute reinforces to your child the ambiguity of that good-bye. He or she wonders, ‘Are they leaving, are they not leaving?'”
That’s where teachers say you have to be decisive, and trust that the teacher or school will call you if things aren’t okay, “We don’t want to do damage to that child either.”
They say the hardest good-byes are the ones where the parents had an ambiguous good-bye and came back after already saying good-bye.
Predictability is key. Do the same thing every day.