Back-to-school nights are upon us. They mean different things for different schools and grade levels. Just as upper grades follow their child’s schedule and meet teachers from algebra to zoology, parents of children in younger grades may get an overview of how the class works or how a particular academic program works.

Some creative preschool teachers in Prince George’s have a scavenger hunt in their classrooms. Parents get the clues on a piece of paper and, with their child, try to find their child’s cubby, their class work posted on the wall or the area where they play dress up.

Here’s my most memorable ‘Back to School Night’ scene, played out before a classroom full of sixth grade parents:

MOTHER to TEACHER: (Son) needs help with all this homework you’re giving. I shouldn’t have to teach him. I have my own work to do. I have dinner to cook.

FATHER: You don’t cook dinner.

MOTHER: Go to hell.

Lesson number one: Don’t air your family’s dirty laundry at back to school night.

I talked to some teachers to find out some of the do’s and don’ts for back to school night. First, know that most educators understand that parents are rushing home from work and often don’t have a sitter for the evening. They’d rather you come with a child in tow than throw up your hands and stay home. So, don’t worry about that because there may be a room set aside for day care. And besides, you’ll need someone to keep you from getting lost on your way from the gym to the media room.

Bring a notebook and be prepared to ask general questions about school, faculty, your child’s schedule, safety rules, and most important, the academic curriculum. Many of these things are introduced at orientations held during the first’s day of school. But now’s your time to ask about those things you’re already wondering about, like when your child comes home with indecipherable math problems, or not enough homework (or too much).


· Talk to your children before back to school night to find out their concerns. You’ll pay closer attention to the math teacher or the gym locker room if your children express distress about those situations.

· Come, whether your child is doing well or poorly. You can always learn something new that will improve your child’s school experience.

· Come even if your child is about to graduate, even if you think you know all you need to know about the school. The last year may be the most important one, and there may be new staff, projects and rules you need know.

· Introduce yourself to the parents of your child’s classmates. Get their personal contact information; you may want to communicate with them beyond the classroom phone chain.

· Meet your children’s friends.


· Don’t try to hog the teacher’s time or try to get the teacher off by himself to ask “How’s my child doing?” or “Why did he get the F?” on last week’s quiz. It’s hard to resist, I know, but contact the teacher privately or, if it can wait, save your questions for parent-teacher conference.

· Don’t disagree with the teacher or staff in front of students. It undermines the authority of the adults in charge.

· Don’t balk at the rules if children are present, or set up a situation in which students can manipulate parent and teacher later, such as the one I witnessed below in the same sixth grade classroom.

PARENT: They won’t have homework every night, will they?

TEACHER: Probably not on Fridays or holidays.

PARENT: Oh, thank God.

Finally, a plea to dads. My father never set foot in any kind of PTA meeting. But that was back then, plus he was at home every night to check homework and tell me to go to bed. Today, educators say, fathers bring a dramatic presence that changes some of the dynamics when they are in the school building. Do go.

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