Cottrel: New school year offers reasons for optimism in Clark County

Students return to the classroom this week in Clark County. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Students return to the classroom this week in Clark County. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Another school year is starting.

Remember the magic of walking into that classroom with tablets with clean pages and pencils that haven’t even been sharpened yet? The glue sticks haven’t hardened yet, the caps are on all the markers and the colors of the caps match the marker. Every crayon is still has its factory point, and they are still arranged in the box in rainbow order. Ah, the possibilities.

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We need to start the school year at home too. We need to give each student the message that we take their education seriously also. When I was teaching I could tell which students had positive support at home.

One way we can do this it to prepare an “office” for our student. There needs to be a place somewhere in the home that is dedicated to school work. After all school is their “business.”

Ideally that means a desk, in their room or someplace separate from the chaos. However, sometimes their rooms are places to goof off instead of study.

Seriously, a study office doesn’t have to be much. It just has to be a clean surface, free of distractions. In many families that means the kitchen or dining room table, which is just fine as long as the distractions are under control.

It is good to have a file somewhere for papers that come home. It will help you see a trend, and also provide proof that a paper was turned in.

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Actually, the kitchen table is a good place. It’s a great place for parents to keep an eye on the progress and make sure that the student doesn’t lose focus. If a parent is working on something like cooking, cleaning, or balancing the checkbook while the student is working, they are there to answer questions, and there to get the daydreamers back on task.

Daydreaming was always my problem. I was sitting at the kitchen table with homework in front of me and my brain was off on another adventure.

The kitchen table is also a great surface for the laptop or the notebook. It is better than on a lap in front of the TV. Study in front of the television is not study. No way.

Distractions are the enemy.

Every student age group has different needs, but they all need a distraction free place to concentrate. Find it.

But I don’t have homework, your student will say. Well in my opinion there is no such thing as “no homework.” At the very least there should be a few minutes of independent reading. This can be at bedtime. It can be a novel, a book on dinosaurs, a nature magazine, a devotional, a how-to book, instructions for a game, a travel brochure, or sports news. I don’t care, but they need to spend some time reading every day. Reading is a skill that needs constant work like sports skills.

The teachers are also full of hope; hope that it is a good year, hope that a connection will form so that education and growth will happen, hope that drama and trials will be few.

We have to be behind both the student and the teacher as they begin this journey.

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Communication between parents and teacher is vital and one of the most important things a parent can do is go to open houses to meet the teachers. Those open house/ meet the teacher events set the mood for the whole year.

Information papers don’t always make it home, but learning how to get classroom information and reach the teacher is important.

Most important are the parent teacher conferences. I cannot stress this enough. It is your time to have a busy teacher’s full attention. Ask what you can do to help and listen. Take notes.

Nothing is more disheartening to a teacher than parents who never come to conferences. If a parent cannot make the conference or whatever reason, they need to request an appointment with the teacher as soon as you can make it.

And while I’m at it I might as well ask a favor of the teachers. I know you are already working as hard are you can to set up communication with the parents. Keep trying. Don’t let that bad grade card be the first indication they have of student problems. You were not born yesterday. You know your notes might not be getting to the parents. Find a way to let them know that there is an issue and you want to work with them.

A new day is dawning and a new school year is starting. A great year is possible, reach for it.