I know it’s a little early to be talking about gifts for your kid’s teacher. Typically that’s a topic that comes up at Christmas and again at the end of the school year. But there’s something your kid’s teacher would really like from you.
She doesn’t want to sound like one of those “fat cat” school teachers from Wisconsin with their lavish “roof over their head” lifestyle and their decadent three-meal-a day habit. And she really did appreciate the apple-shaped paper weight and the personalized coffee mug with your kid’s school photo on it.
Giving these gifts will put your kid at the front of the class, and help keep him there all year long.
But hard as it is to believe, there is something—okay, a lot of things—that she would like even more.
How do I know, you're wondering? I know this because I come from a family of educators. From pre-school through college and every level in between, there is someone in my family who has dedicated years of his or her life teaching at that level.
So, what is it that teachers want from you? No, it’s not getting paid a living wage so she can quit her part-time job at Macy’s and still make ends meet. (She would like that, of course, but she realizes she needs to take that up with Gov. Rick Perry—and she’s in the process of putting together a teacher prayer rally and notifying the press since that seems to be the only way to reach him these days.)
What she wants from you is really quite simple and it doesn’t require you to spend a single dime. Below is a list of seven back-to-school gifts your kid’s teacher would be thrilled to get from you. I know seven gifts sounds like a lot, but there is something in it for you. Giving these gifts will put your kid at the front of the class, and help keep him there all year long.
- From A to Zzzzz. Make sure your kid gets enough sleep. This sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is, most kids don’t get enough. How much your kid needs depends on his age. Three to six year olds need between ten to twelve hours of sleep each night; seven to twelve years olds need between ten and eleven hours; and twelve to eighteen year olds need eight to nine hours. Recent research shows what teachers have known for years: If your kid doesn’t get enough sleep, it takes a real toll on how they function at school. And it goes beyond affecting their ability to make good grades and play well with others. Research establishes a link between insufficient amounts of sleep and obesity, depression and other mood disorders.
- Food for thought. The fact that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school is not news. But there’s more to it than that. When it comes to food, quality matters. A breakfast that is high in sugar is not doing your kid (or your kid’s teacher) any favors. Sugary breakfasts set kids up for failure in that they not only fail to provide the fuel kids need to learn and grow, they also wire their bodies to crave more sugary fare, causing them to have to battle against these cravings in order to eat right. So, feed your kid healthy food—and not just for breakfast, for lunch and dinner, too. Studies not only show that kids who have healthy diets make better grades, they also have fewer behavioral problems and are healthier over all.
- Unplug your kid. Create some time and space during each day that are TV, computer and video game-free. (And no, hours spent sleeping don’t count.) Look, no one expects you to start a family knitting circle, but reading a book vs. playing a game of Madden NFL 12 is hardly a fair match up. And if your daughter assembles the molecular model for her science project while watching Project Runway, it’s not likely to be America’s Next Top Model.
- Get an A for effort. Pay attention to what’s going on. Read the notes and emails that your kid’s teacher sends home. Read the school bulletin. If there’s a class meeting, make sure to attend. You don’t necessarily have to be president of the PTA, but at least sign up to help out once in a while. Telling your kid that school is important is a great start, but nothing drives home that message like seeing you walk your talk by suiting up and showing up for your part of it rather than blowing it off.
- Be a team player. If your kid’s teacher has concerns about your kid, don’t be defensive or take it personally. Trust that your kid’s teacher has your kid’s best interest in mind. Listen to what she has to say, and give it some thought. Conversely, if you have criticism or questions about your kid’s teacher, take it up directly with the teacher rather than complaining to your kid about her. When you criticize your kid’s teacher in front of your kid, it makes your kid’s respect for her drop by at least one whole letter grade. And everyone knows that once a grade drops, it’s really hard to pull it back up.
- Mistakes are the best teachers—next to your kid’s actual teacher, of course. The point is you can learn a lot from your own mistakes. Unless, of course, someone always fixes them for you, stealing your chance to learn from them in the process. So, don’t rob your kids of important learning experiences. When they forget their homework or their lunch or their gym clothes, don’t drop what you’re doing and run whatever they forgot over to school. Experiencing the consequences of forgetting will go a long way toward helping them to remember next time.
- Germs are not germane to a learning environment (unless it’s a science lab, but you get what I’m trying to say). If your kid is sick, school is not the place for him. Not only will he not be in the right frame of mind to learn, he could make other people sick, too—including the teacher. When your kid is sick keep him home so he can rest up and get well.
Forget about the apple-shaped key chain or the set of bookmarks with nice quotes about teachers printed on them that you were thinking about ordering for your kid’s teacher this year. She already has hundreds of gifts like that taking up valuable closet space in her tiny little apartment that she can barely afford. By giving the seven gifts described above you will show that you respect the job she is tasked with doing nine months of each year—and you will actually make it easier for her to do that job well. And if you’re the type that always goes for the extra credit, you can throw in a Starbucks gift card and a shoe box full of cash for good measure. Now if you’ll excuse me…I don’t want to be late for class.