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It’s hard to believe summer is already drawing to a close and soon school buses will rumble down neighborhood streets, families will set alarms a little earlier and the chaos of getting kids back to school will begin.
According to the Arkansas Department of Education, our state employs over 32,000 public school teachers ready to welcome nearly half a million students back to school this August. What an honor and an undertaking for our teachers. From pre-kindergarten up to high school, here’s what some Arkansas teachers want students and parents to know on the first day of school.
Our classrooms are all about providing a safe environment. Pre-Kindergarten teacher Jenna Mayes assures her students and parents that first and foremost, she’ll keep her young students safe. She also tells her students their parents WILL come back for them at the end of the day, an important fact to know when you’re starting school for the first time. Parents, remember, saying goodbye will get easier as students get to know and trust their teachers. Soon they’ll be skipping into the classroom with barely a wave goodbye.
Elementary school teacher Kelly Whittle lets her music students know her classroom is a safe place to explore and try new things without worrying about making mistakes. “When we make mistakes, it’s a chance for us to learn and improve.” Allowing students the room to make mistakes is foundational to learning.
School isn’t just about learning. It’s the place where children form deep friendships and discover how to work within a community of people. For that reason, recently retired Fayetteville Elementary Teacher of the Year Teresa Cornett always encouraged her students (and her own children) to look for someone who needs a friend. “It takes the focus off being the center of attention and happiness and directs them toward a more outward focus.”
Celebrating differences is another way teachers help children begin to understand each other and work together. Acknowledging and understanding our differences and helping each other through our individual strengths are great ways for students to see how they can work together to achieve more than they can alone.
School means homework, tests and projects. It can sometimes seem like a never-ending parade of assignments. As students progress, their ability to keep up with their own work becomes essential to success. We all know how difficult accountability can be, even as adults. Teachers are essential in helping to instill this valuable skill in their students.
High school math teacher Melissa Carter discusses accountability in her classroom the first day of school. Not all assignments are turned in for grades, but students must still keep up with the work if they wish to do well on exams. Laying out expectations ahead of time helps students understand they’re just as responsible for learning the material as teachers are responsible for teaching it. Parents can help students by holding them accountable to do their homework, assist when needed, but resist the temptation to do the homework for their children.
Melissa Carter’s students work together to collect data for a Barbie Bungee geometry project.
Every child picks up that school supply list before heading back to school and many teachers stress the importance of filling out that list so children are properly equipped for each day. However, they also ask parents to periodically check in with them throughout the year and ask which supplies need to be refilled.
Arkansas teachers are devoted to their students. When supplies run out, they dip into their own money to make sure kids have what they need each day to learn, but they shouldn’t have to. Remember to check in with teachers every quarter about school supplies. They will thank you for it!
Is joy a strange word to associate with school? I don’t think so. We want our kids to experience joy in learning new things and meeting new people. The teachers I spoke with all look forward to working with the students coming into their classrooms for the first time this August. From telling students something personal about themselves to emphasizing they’re going to have fun and learn new things, many of our Arkansas teachers bring their own enjoyment of learning into the classroom and are excited to pass that on to our students. Isn’t that exactly what we want our children to remember when they look back on their school days?
As our students head back to school, remember our teachers are heading back as well, and they are determined to make this school year a safe, memorable and joyful learning experience for children across Arkansas.
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