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 new middle schooler is nonbinary, and they were very excited when applying to their program to find a lot of inclusionary questions about pronouns, etc. However, their teachers don’t use their “they/them” pronouns regardless of being reminded. And the power differential seems so huge that our child is afraid to keep reminding their teachers. We’ve reached out via the school app, as there are still no in-person parent-teacher conferences, to no avail. Without taking things up to the principal, do you have any other recommendations for us and our child?
Dear Enby Parent,
Are Zoom conferences an option? I don’t know what your school app is, but I’d email the teachers directly and request a virtual conference.
If you get no response, or a response other than “You are so right. We will use all students’ correct pronouns, and thank you for holding us accountable,” then no, I have no other recommendations. Take it to the principal. If you get no response there, take it to the school board.
It is 2022. If your kid’s school staff members are not actively fighting against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, what-have-you, then they’re tacitly condoning it. Hold their feet to the fire.
—Ms. Scott (high school teacher, North Carolina)
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My toddler is 3½ years old and is not a napper. She hasn’t napped at home since she was barely over 2, and at her old day care, they were pretty understanding of this, and she did well. This year, her day care closed and we switched to a new day care. We like the day care and her teachers a lot except for one sticking point: They don’t seem to like that my daughter won’t nap. I have not spoken with them directly yet about this, but my toddler now regularly says that she doesn’t want to go to school. When I ask her why, the only reason provided is that she doesn’t sleep well at nap time. She also tells me many stories about how her teachers get mad at her and yell at her for not sleeping during nap time. Most recently, she came home and told me she is going to get coal for Christmas because she is “naughty” because she won’t nap. When I asked her who told her this, she said all three of her teachers by name.
While I can understand her teachers wanting her to be quiet during nap time, I am very upset that they are telling my daughter she is bad because she won’t nap and raise their voices at her for not napping. I am also very hesitant about how to talk to her teachers about this because except for this one issue, she seems to enjoy school, her teachers, and her friends, so I don’t want to damage the otherwise good relationship she has with her school. Is there any advice on how to broach this topic with her teachers?
Dear Not Tired,
You should talk to them, for sure. Even if she seems to enjoy school, her teachers, and her friends, she clearly doesn’t enjoy it as much since she now doesn’t want to go. And, frankly, I don’t love the idea of teachers telling kids they’re “naughty.” Children aren’t inherently bad. Behaviors can be unwanted, but even then, unwanted behaviors come from somewhere. Children don’t generally do things we don’t like for the purpose of being evil. So a teacher telling a kid they’re naughty just rubs me the wrong way.
On the flip side, if you haven’t spoken to them yet, you don’t actually know how they feel about it. Maybe they do like your daughter, and maybe they are annoyed she won’t nap but aren’t as mad about it as you think they are. As always, I think it’s best to come into a meeting with a team mindset. Both you and her teachers want her to have a happy and successful year, so the way I’d frame this isn’t “Hey, why don’t you like my kid?” but rather “My daughter has mentioned a few times that she’s having difficulty during nap time. How can we help?”
An easy solution (one the teachers may or may not have tried!) is to do a quiet activity during nap time instead. At many preschools, they’ve done away with nap time entirely because many kids do not nap well. Instead, they have “quiet time” or “rest time,” where the difference is that quiet activities and rest come in many forms. Some kids nap. Other kids may color or read to themselves or play with play dough. It may be the case that your daughter, during nap time, is trying to rouse her peers because she is bored. In this case, she just needs an activity she can do quietly. I’ve also used technology to help—you can find an old iPod on eBay pretty cheap and load it up with an audiobook or two. There are options to alleviate rest time issues, but you won’t know what the issue is, nor how to tackle it, if you haven’t actually talked to the teachers first.
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, New York)
I have three kids. My first grader and kindergartner attend our local elementary school. We live in a major metropolitan area with some of the best schools in the country. The children in our neighborhood attend several different types of elementary schools: our assigned elementary school, a larger elementary school that students throughout the whole district apply to go to, and some additional local private and charter schools. My husband and I are firm believers in public education.
We just found out that the district, for good reason, has to redo our local elementary school boundary lines. As a result, instead of going to their current smaller elementary school, my children will be assigned to a larger school that is closer to our home and takes students from all over our large district. My kids know other children who attend this school, and parents in our neighborhood are evenly split on whether their kids will attend our newly assigned school or whether they will seek other options. For various reasons, we are definitely planning to attend the new home school next year.
I have two questions. First, how can I best prepare my children to transition to the new school? Everything I read suggests this will not be good for my kids. Second, the school they will attend is an International Baccalaureate school. What does this look like for elementary schoolers and what are the positives and negatives of this type of teaching method?
—Big Changes Ahead
Dear Big Changes Ahead,
I think the positive attitude that you have regarding this change will go a long way for your children. Bravo!
I would be sure to let your children know that kids change school all the time, so while this may feel new and strange to them, it’s an ordinary part of life. I’ve averaged about three new students to my classroom for the past several years, and it hasn’t taken any of them very long to assimilate and make new friends.
You can also let your children know that kids who are “the new student” are often perceived at the elementary level as an exciting addition to the classroom. Many kids see a new student as a possible new friend, so encourage your children to embrace that role.
I asked one of my former students about any advice that she had for new students—having been one herself—and her advice was this:
“Talk to people. Talk to everyone. Don’t wait for kids to talk to you. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Kids are always looking for new friends. As soon as I started talking, kids started playing with me.”
You might assist this process by joining the PTO, finding the school’s PTO Facebook page, and perhaps beginning to make connections that might facilitate future friendships.
As for International Baccalaureate schools, I can’t think of a single negative thing about them. Your children will begin learning a second language sooner than most, and there will be an emphasis on critical thinking, community building, and personal inquiry. If you were a parent who believed in a more traditional, top-down, highly structured means of learning, perhaps you might view this as a problem, but I suspect that you do not. Good luck.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
My son is in sixth grade, which is the last grade of elementary school in our district. Next year he will attend a combined middle and high school for grades 7–12. Overall, I really like what I’ve seen of the school, but there is one element of the curriculum that my husband and I can’t come to an agreement on. Students in seventh and eighth grade must choose between taking a world language or literature. They aren’t allowed to take both. My husband feels very strongly that our son should enroll in Spanish next year. He feels that it is a more useful class and that we can encourage reading at home, whereas neither of us speaks any Spanish. I believe middle school is a crucial age when many students lose their love of reading, and he will miss out much more by not having the daily reinforcement of a teacher who can share great books and encourage time and space to read. In addition, all students drop literature and take a world language once they enter ninth grade. I don’t think those two years are going to make a tremendous difference. Our son wants to take literature and then take Japanese when he enters high school (Japanese is not a language choice at the junior high level). What are your thoughts?
—Language or Literature
I think you and your husband should let your son decide. Both literature and Spanish are worthy subjects to pursue—there’s no “wrong” choice here. This is not a decision that will have long-term negative impacts on his education if he chooses one over the other; he’ll just benefit in different ways. So let him choose what he wants to do, and accept his decision once it’s made.
I know some parents feel like sixth grade is too young to make these choices, and that may be true in some circumstances, but this is one where it will be 100 percent fine to leave it up to him. I promise.
—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)
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My 5-year-old daughter does dance lessons with a teacher she adores, Miss Emma. Her Christmas concert was this week, and Emma asked each parent to pay $50 for the concert costume. I’ve just picked up the costume, and it has a price tag for $25 still attached. Emma is a very kind teacher, and my daughter very much wants to continue classes with her, but I feel a bit annoyed. I was led to believe she wasn’t making a profit on costumes, and if I’d known she was going to charge us twice the price, I would have gone to the store and purchased it myself. Should I say something to her?