Care and Feeding

“No, Mommy! Don’t Go!”

My kid is a wreck at school drop-off. What should I do?

A small boy cries while wearing a backpack.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

This week’s Ask a Teacher panel:

Cassy Sarnell, preschool special education, New York
Matthew Dicks, fifth grade, Connecticut
Brandon Hersey, second grade, Washington
Katie Holbrook, high school, Texas

I’m writing to get your help with my now first grader who has a history of struggling with morning school drop-off. When my child was in preschool, he loved it and had a great time, but he always struggled at drop-off. The preschool teachers advised a hug and a quick handoff, rather than a drawn-out process. One of them would distract him or hold him if he cried, and they were able to calm him quickly after I left. In kindergarten, however, his classroom had only one teacher, so this method was not feasible. He still struggled at drop-off, so much that I often had to stay with my child for up to 40 minutes until he either calmed down or until the class went inside, or else he would run after me into the busy parking lot.

Consequences did not seem to work—my child was in full-blown panic mode. We just went through the same misery at summer day camp drop-off. Do you have any advice for this school year? Is it normal for the early grades to have outdoor drop-offs, making it the parent’s responsibility that the child stays put? Should I consider the school bus—or a therapist?!

—Morning Madness

Dear Morning Madness,

I think parents make drop-off harder for kids. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong per se. But having that awkward time in between physically arriving at the school and leaving your home caretaker creates a blurry line, and kids do better with clear lines. This is why, in general, we preschool teachers advise a quick handoff.

The longer drop-off lasts, the more reinforcement the kiddo gets from crying, which also makes it harder for parents to say goodbye. No one wants to see their kid cry. Teachers don’t want to see the kids cry. But it’s easier to comfort them if you rip off the proverbial Band-Aid.

Don’t feel like you need a therapist because he’s still crying at drop-off in first grade.  Still, there are a couple of things you can do. First, give it time. Eventually, he will learn to cope on his own. Second, if the bus is an option, I would definitely consider it. It promotes his independence, is an additional place to socialize with peers, and creates a much clearer line that school is starting. Of course there are exceptions—I have absolutely worked with parents who have a hard time getting their kiddos on the bus. But for the most part, it seems to be an easier transition for parents than taking kids to school in person. Good luck!

—Ms. Sarnell

One of my good friends is a very talented and dedicated elementary school teacher. I feel confident that she is generally awesome at her job, but one thing gives me pause: She frequently shares pictures and videos of her students on her social media accounts. It’s usually just the kids doing or saying something funny, as little kids often do, and it’s pretty much confined to the types of social media that disappear after 24 hours (Snapchat and Instagram Stories). There’s no identifying info like the kids’ names, and the kids clearly know they are having their picture taken/being filmed and are having fun being silly for the camera, but I find myself wondering if their parents are on board with this?

I’m not a parent myself so I don’t really know what all the current concerns are, but I’ve definitely heard of some parents having strong feelings about not wanting to share their children’s likenesses on social media. Plus, while at this point no one in our social group is close to having kids in elementary school and therefore we are very unlikely to recognize the kids in the pictures, I could see this getting a little weirder when we do hit that phase in a few years. Is this a normal thing that teachers do to share the hilarity and chaos that often makes up their school day? Is it worth gently mentioning to my friend that this might raise some privacy concerns for some families?

—Pushing the Boundaries of Privacy

Dear Pushing,

You should absolutely speak to your friend about these privacy concerns—immediately. It is entirely inappropriate for any teacher to post images of students on their own social media accounts. Many parents avoid posting photos of their own children on the internet, so to have a teacher posting images of children—regardless of the temporary nature of these posts—is far beyond the bounds of professional behavior.

Even when a student’s image is posted on a school or classroom website, a waiver is almost always required, and names and images of small children are almost never linked online.

As a writer and storyteller, I often draw from my professional life for inspiration, but when the stories are more fact than fiction, students’ names are never used without the permission of the student and their parents, and I often change their names. I also often change the sex, age, and other distinguishing features of students in my stories to further obfuscate their identities. I always wait a year or more before sharing a story that involves a specific student. I never tell stories that cast specific students in a negative light. I am very cognizant of the fact that privacy is the right of every student in my class, and I treat it with great care and discretion.

Speak to your friend. Warn her now. It’s only a matter of time before a parent discovers that the image of his child is on a teacher’s Instagram account and things get very uncomfortable for her.

—Mr. Dicks

My wife and I recently returned to live in the U.S. after spending the past three years living in Japan where our 6-year-old attended a Japanese preschool/kindergarten. The good news is he has learned quite a bit of Japanese, and he can even read in Japanese at grade level. My concern is that while he speaks fluent English (it’s his first language), and he knows the English alphabet, he doesn’t really read in English. I realize I probably should have spent more time practicing reading with him over the past year. We do read together every night before bed, but that’s just for the story, not skill practice. After work and on weekends I’d much rather just play with him, and so that’s what I’ve done. My wife likes doing flashcards and reading games, but she’s been gone (working in yet another country for the past nine months), so while my son and I have gotten really good at fighting Sith and Thanos in our backyard, he doesn’t read well in English.

Is this going to really set him back this fall as he starts first grade in a U.S. school? And will using the next several months to focus more on learning to read be enough? Or do you have any particular suggestions for another approach that won’t have us sacrificing too much play time, either?

—Wanting to Bond, Not Teach

Hi there, Wanting to Bond,

First, thank you for prioritizing play with your child. The short answer to your question is no, it will not set him back. In my opinion, these moments you share will have a profound impact on your kiddo’s overall development. The fact that he can read in Japanese means that he understands the basic concepts of reading. I have worked with many kids who enter first and even second grade as nonreaders, and with a little extra attention, most catch up to their peers quickly. In the meantime, I think continuing to read to your son on a regular basis will be beneficial.

That said, if you’re still looking for something to work on with your son in the next few months, I’d focus on phonics. At this age, much of reading instruction focuses on phonemic awareness and decoding skills. There are tons of free online materials and activities available that I use in my classroom that my students find very entertaining. While it may not compare to defeating Sith Lords or Thanos, I’m sure it will help your son feel more ready for reading in the first grade. Good luck and may the force be with you.

—Mr. Hersey

I am a student teacher. I have an unpredictable, likely-will-never-end, freaks-everyone-out, totally-safe, has-never-affected-my-teaching chronic episodic health condition.

In student teaching and my training program more broadly, when I have had an episode, it has been nigh impossible to manage the responses of my cooperating teachers’, supervisors, professors, and academic/administrative superiors. I’m pretty sure many of them are at the point where they no longer believe I can teach, when in reality, teaching is fine—it’s managing their emotions and reactions that is difficult.

I’m looking for my first job now. I know this will continue to freak people out, but I also know I will continue to be a capable teacher in the classroom (as much as first-years ever are).

I have been told it is legal to keep my condition private until I am in the final stages of recruitment to avoid bias. Although I know there must be other teachers out there with episodic issues, and as a fully certified member of staff, things will be different, I don’t know how to (or whether I have to) explain things so that I’m not solely defined as That Person With the Thing and also so that colleagues I see every day don’t completely freak out and overreact. (For example: force me to go to a hospital when I have repeatedly told them I don’t need to or want to—this has happened.)

Is there a balance? Can there be a balance? I can teach. I want to teach so badly. But I don’t want to be immediately ostracized due to my health. And if anything happens, I want my needs—my actual needs, not the needs others think I must have—to be heard.

—The Teacher With the Thing

Dear Teacher With the Thing,

I’m sorry that you have to deal with this. Let me start by saying I am not an expert in the field of employment law, and you should seek qualified experts and resources to vet my suggestions. But I will offer my general two cents. My understanding of the Americans With Disabilities Act is that you do not need to disclose your condition during the interview unless you need an accommodation for the interview itself. But if you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to teach, you will have to disclose your condition so that your employer can meet your needs.

By law, employers must make reasonable accommodations, but employees must be able to perform the essential functions of the job. If hired, will you need an immediate accommodation? Before an interview, read through the job description and consider this carefully. If the biggest issue with your condition is how others respond to it, you might request that your co-workers and supervisors attend an etiquette and awareness training. Of course, you should not be subjected to unnecessary medical interventions. In the schools where I’ve worked, I’ve always been asked to fill out a form with my emergency contact information and the hospital I want to be taken to in the event I am incapacitated. Such a form might be an opportunity for you to develop a health plan if you have an episode at work?

You mentioned that your supervisors and cooperating teachers have had strong emotional reactions to these episodes. How might students react if you have an episode in the classroom? How could you prepare them (and yourself) if this happens? You should also consider how parents might respond. I realize this is all very tricky, but being prepared can mitigate fear or panic that might otherwise occur.

Ultimately, it is up to you when and how you share information about your health. The Job Accommodation Network has a wealth of resources on this topic, including tips on disclosure. Please reach out to them for assistance!

P.S.: Join a union.

—Ms. Holbrook

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