You’ve done it. Another semester is wrapping up and all eyes are focused on Christmas break. My high-school daughter is in the middle of finals; my middle schooler is stressed to the max; I am balancing all of the things in my own classroom.
I’m in the middle of my 26th year of teaching 8th-grade reading and writing. Believe it or not, I honestly love teaching 14-year olds. And I’m super blessed because a ridiculously high number of my colleagues also genuinely enjoy the challenges of teaching middle-school to on-the-cusp teens. Right now, we teachers are (getting) revved up to make this next semester another fabulous term of learning and growth for your kids. Even though it’s Christmas break, we’re still excited to start anew with your kids in January.
We know we can’t do it alone. As we head back to school in January, here are the top ways we need moms to help us help your kids.
(Disclaimer: The unabridged list contains 112 bullet points. I’ve seriously culled it for your busy schedules. You’re welcome.)
(1) Breakfast is important.
Not to brag, but this morning I made my 15-year-old daughter an omelet before she caught the bus. Yes, Queen!
I’m no stranger to morning chaos. Check my car in a week, and you are going to find the remains of our typical school-day breakfasts: half-eaten granola bars, Pop-tart wrappers, and empty yogurt containers (I know, ew). That’s how we roll on most days. It’s not a perfect breakfast, but it’s breakfast.
So, get yourself to Costco and buy a crate of some protein-laden, grab-and-go breakfast items. Stock up on apples and bananas. Even if your kids roll their eyes at you, make sure they have some bit of nutrition in their ever-growing bodies before school.
And – if feeding your kid breakfast is a problem for your family right now – maybe you’re financially strapped, your kid’s refusing to eat, or you’re not there to monitor them in the morning – PLEASE let the principal or one of the teachers know. We’re here to support you and your family. We’re not going to embarrass your child. I promise – we’re going to take care of it.
Empty stomachs impede learning. Growling stomachs embarrass teens. Feed them so we can teach them.
(2) Turn off the technology.
The use of technology by our kids is out of control. We grown-ups HAVE to help our kids get a handle on it. There’s no excuse for us except lethargy and a lack of follow-through. I’m including myself in that indictment, so don’t feel attacked.
Every single day, I have more than a few bleary-eyed students who have no shame in sharing that they’re exhausted because they were up after 2 AM – Snapchatting a friend, binging a Netflix show, or battling other students in Fortnite (or the latest game du jour). These yawning kiddos do not have the energy to learn how to do a quadratic equation, parse Spanish verbs, or write a persuasive essay. They can barely keep their eyes open.
Save your kids, Moms. Go hard-core. Take their phones at night. Turn off the wi-fi in your house after 11. Unplug the XBox and put it in the garage. Put on parental controls to keep the porn off their screens. Put down your own phone. Whatever. It. Takes.
The iPhone has an automatic screen time feature that can be easily set for any phone on your account. Much to my girls’ chagrin, no apps work on their phones after 10 P.M. They can still set a morning alarm, but that’s basically it. The happy news is that despite their initial dramatic protests, they seemed to have suffered no long-term ill effects of not being able to produce a TikTok video at midnight.)
We can do this! Control those screens. There’s no nap-time in middle school, and it’s tough to teach tech-overloaded, sleep-deprived zombies.
(3) Make lists. Check them twice.
Middle-school children need systems to help them find success. I’ve watched many perfectly functioning teens spiral out of control when they realize they forgot an assignment at home or a basketball uniform in the wash. Help your kids start the day right by helping them create a nightly checklist of what needs to be in their backpack and a morning checklist of what needs to go to school.
When my girls and I don’t complete our lists, we know there’s going to be chaos. My car keys will have vanished, the middle schooler’s library book will be AWOL, and the high schooler’s school-issued iPad is not going to be charged. We will all leave the house agitated and annoyed. I promise you – these lists really work.
And, I know this sounds hyper-hovering, but don’t just believe your kids when you ask if they have everything and they say yes. Spotcheck them once or twice at the beginning of the semester. Match the contents of their backpack with the items on their list. As a special favor to me, ask them to show you one sharpened pencil. HUNDREDS of brand-new pristine yellow #2 pencils live sad, unfulfilled lives, never to see the light of day until June’s locker clean-out. It breaks my teacher heart.
Prepared students are ready to learn.
(4) Allow your kids to solve their own problems.
As stated in #3 – there’s nothing wrong in helping your kids set up systems for academic success. However, there’s a difference between being a coach on the sideline and subbing yourself into the game. Give your kids the space to struggle and to figure life out independently. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of students who appear to have no coping skills and who immediately look to adults to solve their problems.
One contributing factor is that most of us moms (and teachers) are kick-ass problem solvers. We can figure out multiple solutions to a myriad of problems – all while simultaneously making dinner, signing permission slips, and wrangling the dog out of the garbage. Kids are so used to having their superhero moms solve their problems, that it seems inefficient and intimidating for them to try it on their own. Let them.
Moms – and teachers – have to learn to keep our mouths shut. Resist the urge to immediately make it better. Let your pre-teen struggle through a unit of math, figure out what to do when a band instrument is at home, sit out a game when they forget their cleats, or work out a disagreement with a friend.
Not getting involved is one of the most important lessons we can teach our students at school. We need you to do the same. Sit back and watch them struggle and grow.
Moms – partnering with you to help your child grow is an honor. Thank you for your tireless work to raise good people. I promise to give my best to make them better readers, writers, and thinkers. Bring it on, New Semester. Together, we’ve got this!
With hugs and hormones,
A Middle School Teacher