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Class Act

How partnering with teachers can enhance your child's education.

My son charles's fifth-grade open House was just as I expected: My husband and I sat in too-small chairs as our children's artwork hung like mobiles from water-stained ceiling tiles. Charles's teacher took charge, and at the end of the evening pointed to four sign-up sheets in the back of the room. "These are our volunteer needs for the year," she said. "Please sign up for at least one of them."

I watched the other parents rush forward to volunteer. By the time I reached the sign-up sheets, only one job was left: Put together the weekly Friday folders.

Sorting 25 students' weekly class work into their respective take-home folders was not my idea of fun. As a former school teacher, I wanted to help plan class parties or drive on field trips! So I put my pen down and walked away.

But soon after school started, Charles's teacher suggested I observe him in the classroom to help her curtail his talking during class.

"While you're here, would you mind putting together our Friday folders?" Charles's teacher asked. "I still haven't gotten anyone to take that job."

Sneaky … God is sneaky.

During the one hour it took me that day to put together Friday folders, and on the days that have followed since then, I've been able to see how my son is doing in class, correct him privately if necessary, and get to know his teacher in a way I never imagined possible. Because of my "lowly" job of preparing Friday folders, one day I noticed my son's teacher didn't have a working stapler. Since I knew from firsthand teaching experience that she'd end up purchasing one with her own money, I bought Charles's teacher a good stapler and put her name right on it. She shows off that stapler to every teacher who walks into her room. It's like a prize to her.

Education budgets have been slashed. Teachers are overburdened and underpaid. Now more than ever, parents need to offer a helping hand. According to a 2000 U.S. Department of Education Schools and Staffing Survey, 91 percent of teachers say lack of parent involvement is a problem in schools. No matter what kind of school our children attend or what grade they're in, when we meet our teachers' needs, we not only share Christ's love with them, but also help them better meet our children's needs. Here are a variety of ways to get involved in your kid's education and foster success in the classroom—whether you're a stay-at-home mom with daytime hours to give, or a working parent with only evening hours to offer.

Become visible.

Some of us go an entire school year without stepping foot into the school itself, yet we know the parking lot intimately. So "show up" by attending your school's Open House. Make time for parent/teacher conferences and go to awards ceremonies, concerts, carnivals, science fairs, book fairs, and curriculum nights. The older your child is, the more important it is for you to be there. Often parents back off when children enter middle or high school. Attending these events may be the only way you can plug in at these levels.

As a writer, I volunteer my skills at our son's middle school. I cosponsor a Young Writers Club with his English teacher. It's the only thing I do at his school, but it's enough that kids and teachers know me when I walk through the building.

If you send a note to one of your children's teachers, walk it in and ask the secretary to put it in her mailbox. If you can't volunteer at the school during the day, bring in doughnuts for the teacher's lounge once a month. Finding a way to become visible is the first step toward building relationships with your children's teachers.

Make yourself accessible.

Even if you work outside the home, give your children's teachers your direct contact information. School personnel never should hesitate to call you at work.

If you're at home but find yourself away often, give teachers your cell phone number. When teachers know you're available, they'll include you in much of what goes on at school. Maybe you can't be there for their Colonial Days celebration, but you can send in some of the needed supplies. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to help your children succeed.

Cultivate a servant attitude.

Too often we go into school with an agenda based on our convenience. Set aside your preferences and ask yourself: How can I best support my children this year? and How can I best support their teachers? For some, working at the school isn't feasible. But the time you spend talking to your kids about what they do in school and how they feel about it is just as important.

Ask your children to set some goals for their school year. Offer whatever support they need to reach those goals. Then ask their teachers, "How can I best serve you this year?" You might be surprised to hear one of them say, "Pray for me!" That's something we can do without ever being asked!

But what about serving that teacher who rubs you the wrong way? For example, Mrs. Franklin teaches my son Charles's fifth-grade science class. She doesn't communicate well with parents and is disorganized. And she seems to dislike my son. Consequently, Charles isn't doing well in her class. Yet I knew God wanted me to love and serve her. So I gritted my teeth, put on my best smile, and went to see her. Together we came up with a plan to help Charles improve. Then I offered to help her remember to send home his progress report by hand-delivering one I'd created for her use. She was thrilled! God used this opportunity to remind me that a servant's heart desires to do good for the sake of others.

Stay aware.

By the end of the week, Charles's backpack often bulges with time-sensitive documents sent home from his teachers. At times, we've missed deadlines and overlooked a piece of homework or two, not to mention misplacing the school lunch envelope more than once! I say "we" because as the grown-up, I need to supervise the contents of my child's backpack—and I hadn't.

Every day, supervise your children as they empty their backpacks—no matter how old they are (teens are especially absentminded)! Read everything sent home. I keep it all in a three-ring binder organized by child.

Remain flexible.

Teachers take sick days. Field trips get cancelled. Project deadlines get changed. These common challenges can frustrate you. Choose to be flexible so you can jump in where you're needed, when you're needed. If plans change and you took some time off work to participate, look for a different way to plug in. Another teacher may need your help that day.

Utilize your gifts.

Because I'm an organized person, I discovered I actually love putting together those Friday folders!

Often it's not a matter of logging a certain amount of hours, it's a matter of finding a way to use your gifts. If you have the gift of encouragement, periodically send your children's teachers notes to lift their spirits. If you're task-oriented, volunteer to be a part of a monthly school advisory committee. Meetings of all kinds—including the PTA—generally are geared toward working parents. You can help plant new shrubs on a Saturday, run computer networking cable in the evenings, or stuff envelopes for the annual fundraiser. There is no one right way to be involved.

Although it's great to serve in ways you're gifted, keep in mind it's not always possible to do so. That's when we need to step outside our comfort zone and serve anyway. After all, it's not about us—it's about our children.

Vicki Caruana, a former teacher and author of several books, including Apples & Chalkdust (Cook/Honor) and Apples of Gold: Devotions for Teachers (Bethany House), lives with her husband and children in Colorado.

Being involved in your kid's education doesn't have to end when he or she leaves home. Here are six ways to stay connected with your college-bound student:

  1. Videotape your student's high school, church, mall, favorite hangout, friends, family, and bedroom (in its normal condition!). Have someone narrate the settings. Be sure friends and family wish your child well. Keep the filming a secret, then hide the video among some packed items for college to be discovered later.
  2. Write a Bible verse and special family blessing on a 3x5-inch card for every day of school. Place finished cards in a standard recipe box with a note telling your child to pull one out each day for a quick devotional. Encourage him to describe on the back what happened that day and return the box to you during Christmas break or at the end of the year. The cards serve as a link between home and your student's journey of adjustment to college life.
  3. Add a packet of hot chocolate (in a zip-lock bag), a phone card, or a prepaid video rental card with a note or greeting card.
  4. Add your child to your church newsletter's mailing list. If your church doesn't have one, ask if Sunday bulletins can be mailed instead. Many churches also provide taped sermons. Consider mailing them to your student.
  5. Create a special care package of things your child might not have easy access to on campus—toothpaste, hand lotion, clean socks, laundry detergent. Include a favorite magazine or snack. Homemade cookies are worth their weight in gold! Here's another super idea— a roll of quarters for the laundry machines.
  6. Make a T-shirt quilt for your student's dorm bed. Collect her worn-out tees with sports logos, brand names, music groups, etc. Cut out the panel with the design/logo. Sew these together in squares. Use polyester batting or a flannel sheet as the middle layer, and 100 percent prewashed cotton or flannel for the backing.

—Cynda Strong

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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