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 firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
My daughter started first grade a few weeks ago at our neighborhood public school. We moved here recently from a different region of the country, where we homeschooled for pandemic reasons. She comes home happy each day, which at this age is our main priority.
Because of Covid restrictions, we have only been inside the school once, for an open house before the first day of school. There was a TV at the front of the classroom, and the teacher also said the kids would have their own tablets in class. (Headphones were on the school supply list.) I must have blanched a little, because she reassured me they still used paper and pencil, but then went on to extoll some app that “all the kids love.”
Every day when my daughter comes home from school, she mentions multiple screen moments from her day: A video about colors, a screen-based number game, an Imagine Dragons video (?!), a panda video they watch every morning before the bell rings, and so on. None of it seems inappropriate per se, but it feels like a lot. I don’t know if it’s relevant, but for context, the school serves a very racially and economically diverse neighborhood (75 percent Hispanic), and the teacher is experienced and beloved.
There’s no way to make this not sound annoying, but my kid has had very minimal screen time to this point in her life. It’s possible we are hearing about every single screen moment because they are so exciting to her, and it’s not actually a huge part of the day.
I could use an expert gut-check on this. Is it normal to be watching multiple videos over the course of the day in first grade? Is it fair or advisable to inquire about it, maybe later in the school year? The tablet use has not even started yet, as far as I know. I’m sensitive to the extraordinary exhaustion educators are experiencing during the Covid era, and I’m torn between wanting to be a chill, supportive public-school parent and my instinctive discomfort here. I’d love a teacher’s perspective on what I can and should expect in terms of in-class screen time during the elementary years.
— Screen Angst
Dear Screen Angst,
It’s not uncommon for teachers to use videos throughout the day as transitions, moments of levity, and in support of instruction. My wife, a kindergarten teacher, loves Jack Hartmann’s videos. They are full of music and support many of the concepts that she teachers.
As her husband, I sometimes wonder if she loves Jack Hartmann a little too much.
That said, the total amount of time her students watch videos each day probably only totals about 10 minutes. Those videos are sometimes the highlight of the day, filled with humor, catchy lyrics, and interesting characters. Because of this, her students probably mention them a lot to parents, even though they make up a very small percentage of each school day.
This is likely the case in your daughter’s class, too, but there is nothing wrong with asking the teacher about the content being shown in class. I’d simply ask what your daughter is watching, and when or why it’s being shown (i.e. Is it for a math lesson? Is it a brain break? Is it a nature documentary?). You can also ask whether there is anything you can do to support the content at home. Perhaps you could learn a song being taught in a video, or watch that panda video yourself, so that you can talk to your daughter about it and maybe check out a book on pandas for you to read together.
I’d ask these questions without judgment. View it as a simple fact-finding mission to better connect with your daughter’s school day.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
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My ninth grader has recently come out as trans. Do you have any advice for how best to support them as they enter high school this fall?
I sure do.
Because you’re concerned and care enough to reach out, you’re probably already doing a lot to support them. Good job! First and foremost, trans kids need to know they have their parents’ unconditional love and acceptance, so tell them. Tell them too that they have your support. Ask what they want that support to look like. Let them tell you how, when, and with whom they want you to intervene.
Then you may have a tough call to make. If your kid tells you they don’t want you to talk to teachers or administration, as a teacher, I’d advise you to go against their wishes. Hear me out! It helps so much when I know this kind of background information about my students. And as a parent, I’d sleep better at night knowing that the school has a plan for supporting trans students. (Update, Sept, 22, 2021: I realize to some readers it isn’t clear from the letter whether this kid is out just to family or out to the world. I read it as the latter. No one should be outed without their consent so if it’s a hard no, it’s a hard no.)
Assuming you have that meeting with your child’s school, what can you help ensure teachers and administrators will do? At the very least, the school should use the student’s correct name and pronouns, avoid segregating by gender in the classroom, and express a commitment to keeping students safe. Even one session of diversity, equity, and inclusion training for the staff could make a huge difference in your child’s high school experience.
We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. For example, as I update slides and handouts from prior years’ lessons, I find I wrote “he or she” all over the place. When I created those lessons, I thought I was using proper English. Now I know.
The other thing you can do is call out transphobia wherever you see it. In fact, call out bigotry in any form. Show them what standing up to a bully (or an ignorant person) looks like. Teach them to stand up for themself. Role-play. Practice.
Our society is more inclusive of gender differences than it’s ever been, but there are still a lot of jerks out there. Remind your kid, over and over, they’re OK exactly as they are, and it will get better.
—Ms. Scott (high school teacher, North Carolina)
We are SO excited to be returning to school in person this year! My daughter just started fifth grade, and her bully (friend?) is in her class. This girl started bullying my daughter in second and third grade. The worst incident involved the bully hitting and kicking my daughter, taking her shoe and throwing it in a mud puddle. Other behavior included classic mean-girl stuff: You can only be my friend if you stop being so-and-so’s friend. You can only be my friend if you can do a handstand. You’re not my friend unless you bring me candy and gifts.
My daughter is a strong girl who cares A LOT about fairness and justice, but this bully-girl is like her kryptonite. She tolerates so much to win this particular girl’s friendship. With her teacher’s involvement and a lot of discussion about what is friendship, and frankly, minimal contact, things settled down a bit. We had some relief in fourth grade when the bully wasn’t in her class, plus we were remote learning almost that entire year anyway. I thought the bullying was over.
Now we are in the second week of school, the bully is back in close proximity to my daughter, and things appear to have picked up right where they left off. This girl has already thrown food in my daughter’s hair at lunch time, broken new school supplies in my daughter’s backpack, and assigned my daughter to buy stuff for her. My daughter was in tears telling me about it, yet also defending her in the same breath, and is begging me to take her to the store to buy the items that were asked for.
Even my 8-year-old son can see the toxicity of the situation and is encouraging my daughter not to put up with this treatment. I went ahead and let her new teacher know a little about the history, but I’m at a loss how to help my daughter. I am triggered by my own school experiences with mean girls, and I can’t hide it from my daughter that I really do not like this girl. But since they continue to be “friends” I feel like that will just backfire. How can I help my daughter?
I’m so sorry your daughter is going through this. As we return from remote learning kids are looking for whatever sense of familiarity they can get. Unfortunately, for your daughter, that means her frenemy (friend + enemy), and for your daughter’s frenemy, that familiarity comes in the form of treating your daughter poorly. Luckily there are a few passive and active strategies you can use to help your daughter, depending on the type of approach you want to take.
If you’d like to go the passive route, I’d start by building your daughter up emotionally with positive affirmations through what’s called extreme praise. Extreme praise is a tactic we teachers often use in our classrooms to reinforce good behaviors in children, it can also be used to boost general self-esteem. Your daughter could be looking for this girl’s friendship because she needs some form of validation from her. Her need to please her bully could be less about this individual and more about yearning for connection and friendship post-pandemic. Even kids with a strong sense of self and fairness are susceptible to this type of bullying, because they want so badly to believe the bullying will stop. Showering her with affirmation and praise could help fill that potential void and gradually give her the confidence she needs to say no.
A more active approach would be to request a classroom transfer. In my school, if we know two students have a complicated or unproductive relationship, we almost always place them in different classrooms. Based on what you’ve described to me, it seems the bullying is escalating. Given all that is going on in the world and in schools, the last thing your daughter needs to worry about is a bully. While requesting a transfer doesn’t fully eliminate their interactions, it would certainly reduce them and give your daughter a bit more peace. If I were in your position, I’d probably request the transfer given the history between the two. The priority should be to make your daughter’s return to in-person learning is as positive as possible so she can focus on her learning.
—Mr. Hersey (elementary school teacher, Washington)
My pre-k kiddo gets to have a water bottle, but the kids have to keep water bottles out in the hall. Consequently, he comes home with no water consumed. I’ve assured him that he can ask to go get a drink whenever he is thirsty, but I think the combination of his being distracted by fun, and his reluctance to ask to go get water are leading to him to not drinking anything. How do I not be “that parent” while making sure he can actually be hydrated? He already has constipation issues even when drinking like a fish. I fear this is going to make pooping into an even bigger thing, among other dehydration issues.
—Drying Up Over Here
Dear Drying Up,
It’s really hard to teach kids to stay hydrated. They are distracted by having fun, and often don’t feel thirsty even if they haven’t had enough water (adults, too, have this problem—have you had enough today?). However, there is also a difference between “my kid doesn’t drink quite enough” (like most of us) and “my child is dehydrated.” If you are concerned about your child’s health, you aren’t being “that parent” bringing it to his teachers because they need to know about his potential health risks. It may be challenging for them to tell if your kid is dehydrated, doubly so with a mask covering any part of his face if he is wearing one.
As long as you are not making demands of his teacher, it’s perfectly reasonable of you to tell the teacher you’re worried because your child is often constipated and needs to drink more. The teacher can work with you to solve the issue (maybe the whole class needs a water break anyway, or maybe they can encourage him to drink more during already-existing transitions).
I’d also recommend you practice with him at home. When he is playing at home, ask him periodically if he is thirsty and prompt him to get his own drink. You can leave a water bottle or cup out somewhere for him to prevent unsupervised spillage. Even better, you can model recognizing that you’re thirsty and pausing to take a water break. It truly helps kids develop good habits if we demonstrate good habits ourselves—whether it’s regulating hunger or thirst, or how we manage frustration. If he sees that sometimes grown-ups need to stop what they’re doing to hydrate, it normalizes that behavior for him, and he may begin to practice it better on his own.
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, New York)
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Last weekend, my wife’s and my friend had a pool party for her 16-year-old daughter. The birthday girl invited male and female schoolmates to the party, all around 15-to-17-year-olds. My wife started to put on her one-piece swimsuit to join the swimming until I stopped her. I felt like it was inappropriate for her to consider swimming with a bunch of teenagers, since she is a teacher at that school. She stated that it was a one piece and only one kid there was a student of hers. Plus, this was outside of school. I still didn’t agree with it, and she decided not to do it, for me. Was I wrong on this?