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Back-to-school night basics

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By Marian Wilde

4. The homework and discipline policies

The homework policy should include information on when homework is due, how it is evaluated and how often, how much is assigned each night and on weekends, and how much it counts towards the final grade.

5. How to contact the teacher

Find out how to contact the teacher and what form of communication she prefers: email, voice mail or notes. Many teachers now use Web sites or weekly classroom newsletters to stay in touch with parents. If the teacher plans to send home a printed newsletter with your child, you'll want to know how often and if you should expect to receive it on a particular day of the week, so you'll know to remind your child.

Jeff Wright, 2006 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and a high school science teacher, urges parents to be proactive when it comes to contacting teachers. "When you look at the fact that high school teachers have around 150 students, it really does help when parents call me," he says. "Just having a parent call and say 'What's his behavior like? What's his grade like? Is he doing better for you?' really helps a teacher."

Questions to ask at back-to-school night

Denis Cruz, 2006 California Teacher of the Year, suggests asking these questions:

  • What is the policy on late work and make-up work? How does it affect the student's grade?
  • How do absences affect the grade?
  • How do I teach my son or daughter to gain independence in middle school?
  • How can I check on my son's or daughter's progress in school? Do you give weekly progress reports?
  • How do I know what the homework is? Is there an online homework calendar?
  • Should I call or email the teacher?
  • Are there field trips?
  • How can I check on detentions or behavior issues?
  • Is there anything you'd like me to do?
  • May I volunteer in the classroom?

Back-to-school night vs. parent orientation night

Many schools hold back-to-school night several weeks to a month after school starts. Other schools have a parent-orientation session, either before school starts or sometime during the first week of school. Advantages of parent orientation nights:

  • Teachers and administrators communicate everything they need to early on, heading off any misunderstandings.
  • Children are more likely to be allowed to attend with their parents. Teachers will use the opportunity to meet the children and give them a preview of the classroom, easing them into the school year a bit.
  • The PTA or the PTO can get parents involved from day one.

Advantages of back-to-school nights in late September:

  • Parents can see student work in the classroom
  • Teachers will be familiar with their students
  • The usual juggling of students that occurs during the first weeks of school, as teachers balance classroom counts, has settled down, and parents know for sure what teacher their child has.

Jeff Wright, a 2006 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, has both parent orientations and back-to-school nights at his high school. "We have an open house at the very beginning of fall," he says. "Later, we have a back-to-school night and every class - freshman, sophomore, junior, senior - will have different sessions on different nights. We do that because a lot of times people just can't make it on one night. It does help in that one night you deliver all the information, give the parents and students time to let that sink in, and then a couple of weeks later they come back and say, OK, here's all the questions we have."

Comments from readers

"This is very helpful. I love it. I will bring pen and paper to write information down. Thank you very much."
"Exactly, what I was looking for. Will be attending my first back to school night for my lil KG"
"Good ideas. As a mom of four, I always keep up to date on these 'back to school nights'. It's always interesting to meet/see my children's teachers, etc. "
"Great article. I mentioned it in my podcast Link4Learning at In this episode I addressed ways that parents can find out what their children are learning."
"This is great advice. I am going to include this link in my next podcast so others can hear about it."
"Great article. This was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you."
"Thank you so much for all the good tips and information we receive during the year, they are very helpful and interesting. We are the parents of a first grader girl."
"I fine this very informative. This a great idea...."
"Very informative article specially when the B2S night it's this upcoming Monday and our 3rd grader is new to the state, to the system and to the school. Thx! very helpful and will definitely take pen & paper! : )"
"As a parent of a boy just starting KG, I found these tips very useful and valuable. Thank you"
"This article was very helpful as it is aiding in jogging my own personal memories of backto school night, some 22 years ago when I started Kindegarden. Now that I have my own youngster starting school, it was a great refresher to recall what to expect and what is expected of me as a parent. Thanks a lot"
" Thank you, I find this very helpful and informative."
"As a 8th grader I am very excited for school! I think the tips are great to get ready and know the teachers!"
"Great information for a positive relationship and great year for students, parents, and teachers."
"We are the parents of a boy who is starting kindergarden this fall. I really enjoyed that article and I have jotted down things to ask at the meeting. Bravo! What a great resource."
"Great article! Keep them coming."
"Great Info. One thing I want to mention - I will take my child to meet her new teacher (insted of looking for childcare for that night, as it was suggested in the article). She already knows when it is and it is very exsited. Of course it will be kind of hard to do that if you have more than one, but I think she will fell much better not going to a total stranger on her 1st day of the new school year. I have even taken her to the PTC's last year and I think it helped her relize better what her teacher's expectations are (she enjoeyd it too, and I think the teacher was very comfortable with her being there). Agan thanks for the tips and keep up the good work. "
"I found this information incredibly helpful and interesting. I even shared it with family and friends. Thank you for all you do to help us to help our children succeed in school. "
"The site has helped me understand the American Educational system. It also answers most of the questions i needed to ask with respect to resource materials. Thank you. Keep the great work going."
"I want you to know that I agree with your statement 'you'll want to know how often and if you should expect to receive it on a particular day of the week, so you'll know to remind your child.' Yet at my son's elementary school I have been told by the administration that I am out of line by wanting to remind my child. That it is the child's responsibility to remember for themselves. I don't know what you do with adults who act like children."
"great site! Lots of good info!"
"THe article was very informative please keep em coming"