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Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in education among other subjects. Her work has been featured in InformationWeek, EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), HealthCare Finance News, RFID Journal, Dataversity.net, SemanticWeb.com, Federal Computer Week, IT Expert Voice and many more outlets.   

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Set the Right Expectations for Successful Parent-Teacher Relationships

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Parent-teacher relationships are an important aspect of students' success—maybe even more important than the teacher's relationship with students. The start of a new school year brings with it the opportunity for educators to set the tone for creating strong parent-teacher relationships.

I asked Barry Saide, a former elementary school teacher and current director of curriculum and instruction for Tabernacle School District in Tabernacle, New Jersey, and Andrea Bazemore, a kindergarten teacher at Uplift Mighty, a free, public charter school in Forth Worth, Texas, to share their thoughts.

Your Promise to Parents

As the person in charge of their child for much of the day, it's important to come to an agreement about what parents should expect from you.

Practice Open Communication

Saide and Bazemore both commented on the importance of staying connected with parents. Use the time at back-to-school night to get the ball rolling. Explain how you'll differentiate your instruction on academic, behavioral, social, and emotional levels, Saide says, and provide a clear picture of what the classroom day looks like and why.

Part of open communications via regular emails, phone calls, meetings, and even social media, is making sure that parents see teaching and learning as a process that sometimes involves failure.

"Just because I taught it doesn't mean students learned it, nor were they always supposed to," Saide says. "Sometimes, introduction to content means grappling with ideas, abstract thoughts, or making meaning. Learning should be about continual growth, not initial or overall mastery."

Bazemore adds that open communication makes parents feel like you're on their side, building trust even when the dialogue may be difficult.

"I want to let my parents know that I will talk to them about anything in regard to the education of their child, good or bad," she says. "If I see that development is not keeping up the pace to others, it's my responsibility to speak about it."

Provide a Welcoming Space to Learn

Making sure that kids are comfortable in their academic environment is important, Bazemore stresses. School should feel like their home away from home. "Many parents will tell their children that I am their second mom," she says, "and I don't take that responsibility lightly."

The kids themselves should take part in making their surroundings comfortable for learning, Saide notes. They can show parents how they've mapped the classroom's layout (right down to where loose-leaf paper is stored) as an example of what true student-centered classroom design looks like, and to give parents a window into what it's like to be their child in this classroom.

Be Committed to the School, Classroom, and Children

When teachers quit in the middle of the year, it sows parental distrust in the educational system. "Letting parents know that not only am I committed to filling the educational duties but that I will do everything in my power to give kids the best education possible puts parents at ease," Bazemore says. That commitment should extend to being a part of your students' community as much as possible.

Bazemore attends any after-school activities she's invited to and even has coached basketball.

Your Expectations of Parents

Now that parents know what they can expect from you, share the expectations you have for them.

Ask for Help Getting to Know Your Students

Teachers appreciate parents helping them understand their kids. Saide, for example, would send home a "Getting to Know Your Child" handout each year, with questions that helped him see children through their parents' eyes.

"[The handouts] helped guide me when forming initial individual relationships," he says. He might learn, for instance, that a child likes to work more at home, so he'd find additional resources to extend the student's classroom learning.

If there's something going on at home that's impacting your child, Bazemore asks that parents alert her. It may not be necessary to confide specific details. But if teachers at least know that some type of situation exists, they can take steps to help stressed children.

Be on the Same Page

Clarity, consistency, and fairness on everyone's part are crucial when parents and teachers interact, Saide says.

"Children can become easily confused or feel loyalty torn when it seems their parent(s) are on a different page than their teacher," he says. "I've always asked parents to communicate to me when they didn't agree or understand what they believed was transpiring in the classroom. We're here to work together to do what's best for their child."

Bazemore has occasionally dealt with parents who wouldn't cooperate to help their child meet classroom expectations, despite her providing resources to guide their kids. "The student ended up suffering," she says. Fortunately, those are the rare cases, with most parents appreciating the opportunity to work together with her.

Remember: Teachers Are People Too

Teaching is a high-stress job. And like everyone else, teachers have outside commitments and familial expectations that add to the pressure. Sometimes, despite trying, it's hard to get the balance right.

"I don't believe anyone goes into work each day saying, 'I'm going to do my best mediocre job today,'" Saide says. Teachers have to own their mistakes, of course, and apologize and learn from them, he says. But it helps when parents show a little understanding if teachers make a misstep.

As a teacher, working with parents is a two-way street. Use these tips to form a strong relationship, and your child will benefit your child in many ways.

The Benefits of Tutoring and 5 Questions to Help You Decide if It's Right for You

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Tutoring for a living is often seen as a way station between completing your teaching degree and waiting for your first full-time teaching job. But have you ever considered the benefits of tutoring alongside your full-time position? Certainly, the extra income is always a help, but beyond that, it gives educators an opportunity to adapt their teaching skills to an entirely different setting and reap the rewards of having been an intimate part of a child's success.

A Professional Boost

Being able to add tutoring to your resume is a big plus, says Victoria Evans, an academic intervention services reading teacher at Northern Parkway Elementary School in Uniondale, New York. "This helps show that you can teach and interact with large groups, small groups, and individuals," she says. Evans, who began tutoring grammar school students in reading comprehension 10 years ago, believes having this experience makes you a stronger teacher overall.

One of her colleagues, resource room teacher Mary Ann Shapiro, privately tutors elementary school students in reading comprehension, writing, and math, and believes tutoring is critical to improving her teaching craft. "Professionally, I get to further use the knowledge and skills that I have learned," she says. Because tutoring requires educators to go beyond simple textbook learning, this additional teaching time helps support and understand different learning styles. "When applicable, I will use materials in the classroom that I have used during my tutoring sessions. This gives me an opportunity to perfect the lesson. One on one, you see the strengths and the pitfalls of a particular lesson," says Shapiro.

Both Evans and Shapiro say that the personal benefits of tutoring are substantial as well. With more intense help, students who have been falling through the cracks make gains, Evans says, and she wants to be a part of helping them grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Shapiro agrees that there is great satisfaction in knowing that you've been a part of helping a child improve not only their grades and confidence but also their social and emotional well-being.

Is Tutoring Right for You? 5 Questions to Consider

There are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you consider taking on tutoring in addition to your full-time teaching assignment.

 

 

Teaching after AP Tests: How to Keep the Fire Burning

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As an advanced placement (AP) teacher, it can feel like your job is done mid-May because it's test time for your students. But after those challenging, college-level exams take place, it can be a while before the clock runs out on the school year, and you need to keep your students engaged. Fortunately, most students in AP courses are there because they want to be. So even once they're over the test hump, chances are that they'll continue to be enthusiastic about learning. But in order to master the art of teaching after AP tests, here are some tips from the pros.

Build on Students' Zeal

At Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts in Bethlehem, PA, AP U.S. History teacher Tim Shuman recognizes that opportunities to sustain learning stem from his students' keenness for the subject. He looks for ways to marry their fascination with U.S. history and the school's mission to develop their talents in dance, music, visual arts, literature, theater, and other arts.

"Because we are an arts school, the students also prepare a group presentation based on their artistic major," Shuman said. Their project, which they do in lieu of a final exam, should interpret how their chosen art form is a reflection of a historical time period and also how that time period reflects the art form. "It's another way of saying, 'Does life imitate art?' or vice versa, or sometimes a little of both. Students have written songs, produced original paintings, and written original scenes to make their point." As an example, his pupils have integrated history, literature, songwriting, and artwork in projects on Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home," a short story about a soldier who returns home from World War I with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Connect Real Life

At Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls high school in Hempstead, NY, 12 AP courses are offered, and their success is reflected by the fact that 57 students were recognized as AP scholars last year. Like Shuman, Camille Emmett—who teaches AP World History—taps into her students' obvious enthusiasm to keep the fire burning after the AP tests have been taken.

Emmett uses some of her post-test class time to encourage students' appetite for history by putting the spotlight on current global issues. After all, the events happening today will be the history of tomorrow. "I will be assigning articles on current issues for the students to read from a magazine all students receive here at SHA, called Upfront," she said. "We will then discuss the article and perhaps have debates on the issues presented."

Prepare for the Next Wave

In some cases, when teaching after AP tests, you'll have to start preparing students for statewide standardized exams. In New York, for example, students take Regents exams in subjects including English, math, science, and social studies to show that they've met mandated standards to earn a high school diploma. These exams start in mid-June.

The AP World History exam's emphasis is on highly analytical essay writing, involving document analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, Emmett said. With that experience under their belt, the Regents' "requisite thematic and document-based question essays would pose very little difficulty." Of course, she said, it's still important to plan reviews for Regents exams, which also include multiple-choice questions that may be stimulus-based and analytical. Practice tests keep students' test-taking skills sharp and their confidence high.

Teaching after AP tests may seem like a lost cause, but when you change your objective—and if you're lucky to have enthusiastic students—it's a feat that proves not so impossible. As long as you show your students the value in their education, you'll all continue to get something out of those final weeks of class.

SAT and ACT Test Prep: Get Your Students Ready for College Admissions Exams

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SAT and ACT test prep is big business. Parents can pay thousands of dollars for services to help their kids do well on college admissions tests. It's no wonder private tutoring and test preparation is a $12 billion industry in North America, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc. But not everyone can easily swallow test prep costs. Fortunately, teachers can direct students to free options to help them succeed on the SAT and ACT.

Well Worth the Cost (If There Was One!)

One resource that's getting a lot of attention is the Official SAT Practice from Khan Academy, which was developed in partnership with SAT administrator College Board. "I recommend Khan Academy for all of my students," said Acacia McCombs, a science teacher at New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA) in Santa Fe. In her role as senior seminar teacher, she also instructs students on college test prep. Besides being free, McCombs listed many other positives attributes of the Khan Academy resource; for instance, it integrates with the PSAT, importing students' results on those tests, and uses that data to help customize practice problems. Additionally, "there are a lot of good college resources on Khan Academy that help students with admissions essays and interviews and getting good letters of recommendation," she said.

Among other recommended free resources is PrepFactory.com, which offers interactive content and test-specific strategy modules that map to both the SAT and ACT. Also getting a thumbs up for ACT test prep are sites like Number2.com, Union Test Prep, and Fabmarks, which have offerings that range from tutorials and study guides to flash cards, practice questions, and tests. The ACT also offers some no-cost help, such as sample questions, study guides, and practice tests (including downloadable printouts to simulate the test-day experience).

Teachers could also direct students to their local public library, advises Ruth A. Wilson, founder and director of development at Brightmont Academy, which has 11 campuses across multiple states. Typically, libraries stock multiple test prep resources to use on-site or check out.

Strategies for In-School Help

When it comes to SAT and ACT test prep, schools or districts may pay for subscriptions to services with features like practice tests to help students sort out what they need to work on. That's the case at NMSA, which uses Method Test Prep and Naviance. Neither program, however, has a time limit as strict as the ACT or SAT on practice problems, according to McCombs. "The time limit seems to be one of the most important strategies that I work on with the students," she said. "They have probably never had a time limit where they have to solve each math problem in a minute or less." Getting a feel for the structure of the tests is why she recommends that "all students take one full-length exam timed as a practice."

McCombs also said she works with the students on doing basic math without a calculator for the SAT exam and scientific reasoning for the ACT test. "We do a lot of graph reading and using the scientific method to predict outcomes," she said. "The test seems very much based on logic, not on science content."

Another Vote for Keeping It Real

Brightmont Academy follows McCombs's same logic about acquainting students with the actual test-taking experience. "It is one thing to review content and feel comfortable with each individual subtest, and quite another to experience the fatigue associated with maintaining focus throughout the entire exam," said Wilson. The school purchases commercial prep books that typically include full-length tests, like The Official ACT Guide.

"Sometimes a student will become frustrated and want to leave the test early," she said. "We are always grateful to have these emotions emerge in our school setting where the student can regroup, engage in additional practice, and build up the necessary stamina to complete the exam."

It's important for teachers to familiarize students with the directions and test format so they don't waste time on test day figuring out what to do, Wilson added. Soft skills like memorizing directions and recognizing time limits "are all teachable strategies that contribute to the student's confidence and most accurate score," she said.

Review and Adjust to Fill Knowledge Gaps

High schoolers generally take the SAT and/or ACT two or three times during their junior and senior years. So, another way educators can help students achieve their best scores is to regularly review test results. That model is followed by the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District in New York, which includes John F. Kennedy High School.

There's no specific college test prep support offered in the classroom, though the district pays for students to access Castle Learning and Method Test Prep online. But according to JFK High School's Director of Guidance Laurie B. Lynn, "based on the trends and any identified gaps we see [during the review], we can and do make adjustments in the types of skills that the classroom teachers address."

SAT and ACT test prep is already a stressful time for your students — there's no need for it to be a financial burden as well. Share these free resources with them or talk to your administration about getting access for your students so they can knock their results out of the park.

Mastering School IT Hiccups: 3 Tips from Teachers

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If you use technology in your classroom, you've likely experienced a school IT emergency somewhere along the way. A critical application won't load, students can't connect to the Internet, or a computer freezes up and you're faced with the dreaded neverending spinning cursor. Sometimes, the problem can be rectified with a simple solution such as restarting the device. But other times, the fix isn't quite so easy. Here's how three teachers deal with school IT issues.

Teachers Join Education Twitter Chats to Learn, Collaborate, and Grow

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Teacher-oriented events and conferences can help you learn and collaborate with other educators in a ton of ways, but there isn't always enough time to attend them. Good news, though: social media is making these opportunities easier to jump on.

With education Twitter chats, you can gain expert advice, learn about innovative practices, and interact with peers without having to leave your classroom—or your living room, for that matter. Your colleagues are hashtagging #edchat, #edtechchat, #edmodochat, #hseduchat, #kidsdeserveit, #teacherprepchat, #educoach, and many other conversations and live events that focus broadly on education or specifically on certain subject areas, grade levels, and strategies. Check out #hiphoped, for example.

Twitter chats are "like going to a conference or having a personal-development day where you hear about others' experiences and advice, and you can relate and share yours," Edward Steinhauser, an AP teacher and ed tech coordinator at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, told me via email. "By using the hashtag, you can continue to follow the chat long after the 'actual' chat occurred," he added, "so there is always a conversation going regarding your chosen topic."

The Value of Your Peers' Perspectives

It's hard to be a "department of one," as Dr. David D. Timony was in his past position as a learning specialist in a small Philadelphia-area middle and high school. Fortunately, Twitter also can help when educators find themselves in somewhat lonely roles like this. For Timony, who is now an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Education at Delaware Valley University, edchat or other discussions online helped him at the time, connecting him to peers facing similar issues, such as haphazard and incomplete live interactions with colleagues. Leveraging Twitter to "access a broad base of similarly engaged educators helped to support creativity, personal growth/reflection, and problem-solving," he said.

Peers on Twitter helped former elementary school teacher Barry Saide work through some past struggles, too, when he was challenged by a significantly revised fifth-grade curriculum. The revision "was a lot to digest, and the person leading our professional development around the new curriculum was spread thin," he told me in an email. Saide, who's since moved on to become supervisor for curriculum and instruction for Frelinghuysen Township School District in New Jersey, used Twitter to ask if anyone with deep understanding on hybrid nonfiction text would reach out to him. A staff developer at Columbia University's Teachers College and former language arts teacher in Red Hook, Brooklyn, shared his files with Saide.

"Pretty soon," Saide said, "not only was I secure in my understanding of what hybrid nonfiction was and how to teach it, but [he] and I were going to Columbia Lions basketball games together." A friendship was born!

Your Source for Growth

Rejuvenation was a goal for Lisa Stutts when she started using Twitter chats three years ago. A fourth-grade special-education teacher at Northern Parkway Elementary School in Uniondale, New York, Stutts wrote to me in an email that she can't express how much these engagements have changed her.

"I was opened to a whole new world of ideas and professionals," Stutts wrote. After her assistant principal introduced her to Twitter chats, they connected her to helpful links, professional book suggestions, and lesson ideas.

Fresh thoughts and different perspectives from educators around the world are "very motivating, and the perfect solution to complacency," she says. "Twitter has the most up-to-date information and trends, and sometimes our school does not. The information we seek out is on our terms, and that is freeing." She also was exposed to in-person events she otherwise never would have heard of, like nErDcamp. At this literacy-focused Edcamp, she learned about the importance of the "read-aloud" in upper-elementary education.

And if you can't make it to a conference, no matter how badly you want to go? No worries. "You can follow #edcamp on Twitter without going and still get all the links and information," she points out.

An Education Resource

How can you use education Twitter chats to grow as a professional and enjoy benefits that can impact yourself, your students, and your school? First, create a Twitter account if you haven't already. Then, suggests Steinhauser, follow people at your school or district and check out hashtags related to topics you're passionate about. Forums like Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) create these critical conversations online and at in-person events across 27 states.

You can start just by viewing commentary, but "the big thing with Twitter is to join the conversation," Steinhauser says. "There are so many talented and inspiring teachers out there sharing their educational experience with the world, and your engagement with them not only makes you better, but also helps them grow, too."

Chats are easy to dive into; they generally occur at regular times, are based on a certain theme, and follow a moderated question-and-answer format.

Heck, you can even moderate or co-moderate, as Saide does for #ECET2 chat, which takes place on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST. "We're in our third year and are going strong. We average 70 participants and almost 1,000 tweets an hour!" Saide says.

So get out there, and start chatting—it may be the easiest and most rewarding professional-development exercise you've ever done.