It had to be the homemade chocolate chip cookies because it certainly wasn't Ollie. His behavior sends most teachers from zero to roiling in nine seconds flat. He's a walking, talking, gallbladder attack. But not so with Mrs. Kahlmankuhl. By June of third grade, she loved Ollie and he loved her. He even allowed her to teach him division.
Teacher Says: Get baking! When friendship forms between teachers and students, the learning channels blast wide open. Parents and kids can turn the new teacher into a friend using the ingredients that build any friendship: consideration, kindness and common sense.
Teacher Terry Bennett advises kids to "be the first one to do the right thing. Be the first person to be good and correct, set an example, even for the teachers." A high school English teacher at the American Heritage School in Boca Raton, Fla., Bennett says, "be cooperative, prepared, be a meaningful participant. Then the teacher will want to be your partner in the educational process."
Kids should "befriend a new child or a sad child; never laugh if a classmate makes a mistake," counsels Jean Brew, first grade teacher at Chango Elementary School in Ballston Lake, N.Y.
Students who speak up rock with teacher Terry Moore. "Don't sit in silence if you do not understand something that we are doing in class. Take a chance, ask questions, take an active role in your own learning," advises the fourth grade teacher at North Chevy Chase Elementary School in Chevy Chase, adding that she becomes a "marshmallow-hearted pushover" when students "respect their classmates, try their best and are honest with their peers and me."
Parents can charm Ollie's new teacher, too.
First, no more pointing. "The blame game is counterproductive," says Moore. Instead of blaming, parents should turn every opportunity into a "friendship opportunity," she says. "Teamwork is essential to earn a teacher's respect," says Bennett. "Students, parents, administration and teachers are part of the learning team. We are in this together."
Second, complete your assignments on time. Jean Brew loves parents who "carefully read my back-to-school letter and make every effort to send in supplies, and if something is missing, sends a note explaining why, like, `Mrs. Brew, there are no glue sticks left in all of upstate New York.' " Enchant Ollie's new teacher by buying supplies for kids who can't afford them or extras for the class.
Make big points by filling out those routine back-to-school forms by the next day. "Parents that win my heart complete and return emergency information as soon as possible," says Brew of those annual forms that detail home, health or family changes, medical information and emergency contacts.
But, don't let those forms be your last word. Prove you're a teammate by keeping Ollie's new teacher "informed of circumstances at home and in the family that may impact behavior and performance at school," says parent Cindy Hyder, whose daughters, Callie and Jamie, attend public schools in Falls Church, Va.
But, beware of the first day of school. "The first few weeks of school are such a crazy, exciting time that teachers are overwhelmed," says adjunct graduate education professor Kathleen Byrne of Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.
Cookies help. Brew appreciates parents who come bearing snacks in those early days of school. "It seems like we all get used to eating more often during vacation and we get hungry often during that first week," she says.
Bennett agrees: "I always thought chocolate chip cookies worked for finding your way to a teacher's heart."
If not your cookies, then your time. "In first grade and kindergarten, dismissal and lunch time can be very confusing to the children; extra helpers are wonderful," says Brew. Or volunteer an hour every Tuesday to read Ollie and his fourth grade classmates a back-to-school book like, "The Best School Year Ever" by Barbara Robinson (Harper Trophy, $4.95). Or to sixth graders, read, "Flying Solo" by Ralph Fletcher (Clarion Books, $15).
Avoid like leprosy anything remotely resembling a teacher conference on the first day of school. You'll trash this budding friendship if you collar Ollie's new teacher and launch into an unabridged recitation of his life through grade three. Smile and introduce yourself, but never "bombard teachers with information before they meet and get a sense of your child," says Byrne, who advises parents to call or write to "schedule a meeting time a few weeks into the school year." Don't just drop by.
And then, don't meet with the principal or guidance counselor -- meet with the new teacher first. "I appreciate it when parents come to me and talk about what's going on with their child instead of shutting me out of the process," says Moore. "If I understand the problem or issue, I can get the right people involved -- counselor, principal, etc."
During that first conference, listen first. "Wait for the teacher's input on strengths and areas of improvement," says Hyder. "Asking for the teacher's advice fosters a good relationship. You show respect for their knowledge and experience." "Parents that think their knowledge and techniques are superior to the teacher's have negative impact on the teacher's relationship with that child and family."
Tucked in everyone's memory is a teacher they loved. A person who, with a twinkle in the eyes and a smile, touched a young heart and opened a child's mind to learning. That magical relationship can make a reading-repelled fourth grader spout Shakespeare, or a math-panicked sixth grader breeze through three-digit long division. When a friendship between a student and a teacher is born, its influence on learning lasts a lifetime -- whether or not they ever lay eyes on each other again. Do your part to make it happen. And don't forget the cookies.
Contact Evelyn Vuko online at email@example.com or write her at Style Plus, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071.