By Dan Coulter
© 2004 All Rights Reserved
Think about the best teacher you ever had. It’s an uncommon
pleasure to remember someone who believed in you before you were
sure you were worth believing in.
I remember a third grade teacher who made the sun rise and set
with her look of approval. Actually, I don’t remember the sun
ever setting. I just remember she made me feel I was worth
something in a way I don’t think I’ve ever lost. I worked
awfully hard to please that teacher.
It’s what we all want for our kids: the gold standard of
teachers. A classroom leader whom you want to please because
you see your self-worth reflected in a mirror you can trust.
As I said in a recent article, it’s really important for parents
of kids with special needs in mainstream classes to provide
input the school can use when they make teacher assignments. I
also touched on areas such as meeting with teachers before
school starts, sharing information about your child and his
diagnosis, and making it clear you’re always available to talk.
With a new school year about to start, it’s time to think about
ways we can help bring out the best in the teachers who’ve been
selected to work with our kids.
Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.
Sending regular notes to teachers thanking them for things you
appreciate lets those teachers know you’re talking with your
child about the school day – and who isn’t affected by having
the good things they do appreciated? If you have to look a bit
to find something to praise, you may just become the bright spot
in a teacher’s day – and help that teacher rediscover some of
the biggest rewards of teaching.
If you can make the time, it’s a good idea to volunteer to be a
“room mom” or “room dad.” Providing logistical support that
frees up more of a teacher’s time to spend on teaching can
benefit both your child and his or her classmates. By serving
as a chaperone, you can help ensure that field trips go
smoothly, particularly if you have a younger child who has
problems with meltdowns in new or unfamiliar situations.
If you really want to go the extra mile, make yourself available
to volunteer in ways that don’t directly support your child.
Volunteers become an extension of the school staff – and staff
members naturally tend to go out of their way for people they
know and interact with regularly. Schools have different
policies on volunteers, so you need to find out about local
rules and customs. My wife, for example, served as a parent
volunteer in the "college and career center" at our son's high
school. She organized materials from colleges and vocational
schools and helped students find the information they sought.
Sometimes schools are short on supplies. It may be helpful
to ask what resources your child's teacher needs and then see
if you can find a business in the community to make a
donation. You need to work closely with the teacher to make
sure you're going after things that will be truly helpful --
and that you're working within the school's policy on
donations. This is especially important if a business might
want to publicize its donation. You may want to come up with
some ideas, then see if you can brainstorm with a teacher to
identify things she or he will find really beneficial. If you
make the offer, but let the teacher make the decisions and
lead the show, you're more likely to provide needed, welcome
Even for natural teachers, leading classrooms filled with
today's kids can be tough. Letting teachers know you care about
the job they do and that you’re willing to lend your support can
help bring out the best they have to offer – and increase the
chances your child will have multiple candidates for his or her
“best teacher ever.” Supporting the administrative team can
help put an entire school staff on your side.
It’s easy to see educators only in context of their jobs.
Thinking about them as complete people with the same challenges
– and the same appreciation for praise and support -- that we
all have can give you insights into ways you can help them help
your child. A happy, appreciated teacher is a better teacher.
It all comes down to thinking about what we want for our kids
and supporting the people who could make our adult children
think back to third grade, or seventh or twelfth -- before they
make the right choices and do the right thing.