Teachers as Teammates: The Key to Success for Your Military Child’s Education
We can all remember the teachers who made a difference to us when we were in school. A teacher who made us feel special or recognized our unique abilities. A teacher who whispered a few words of encouragement or offered a hug on difficult days. A teacher who made us want to do our very best to make him proud. Their praise was just as rewarding to us as the praise of our parents.
Now, as an adult and a mother of two school-aged military kids, before every move and deployment, I pray my children will have teachers like that. Like many military parents, I know that good teachers are essential to the educational success of highly mobile military-connected students like my son and daughter.
When my children enter a new school in a new home town, I hope they'll have teachers who will differentiate between initial shyness and a continuing struggle to connect with peers. Because states vary widely in learning standards, my military kids need teachers who are responsive to curriculum differences, who have the time and help them catch up with new curriculum if they're behind, or keep them engaged if they're repeating material they've already learned.
Many burdens are placed on teachers today. We ask them to be protectors, counselors, and mediators, parental substitutes, and supply cabinets, without paying them what they are worth. I worry that teachers are being asked to solve too many problems. I worry that the needs of my well-behaved military kids will go undetected, lost in a sea of needy faces, additional tasks, and administrative demands.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 now requires federally funded schools to identify and track the academic performance of military-connected students. Identifying military students in a classroom is a positive step, but all the tracking and data in the world can't match the power of a caring and attentive teacher.
A good teacher can make or break a military student's year, especially after a move or just before one, or during a deployment. Deployments, TDYs, and ops tempo demands can also affect a military child in the classroom. Teachers can be the calm during these storms by offering compassion, understanding and a listening ear.
After identifying military students, even the best teachers can't meet the needs of those students without partnership with military parents. The concept of parents and teachers as a student-advocacy team is central to a book I coauthored with Amanda Trimillos, Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers. (Elva Resa Publishing, June 1, 2018.)
Amanda, who is a teacher and parent to military-connected kids, says parents and teachers should both feel free to ask questions, to begin the conversations that build the partnership between parents and teachers.
“The truth is teachers may need to help start the conversations with parents,” Amanda says. She suggests that teachers ask military parents questions like these: How many schools has the student attended? When is the next deployment? Or the most recent one? Is the student struggling to make friends? What struggles or successes did the student have last year?
“These are questions that can create a partnership between parent and teachers. Don't let the burden of asking for help or reassurance fall only on the parents,” Amanda says. “Military families, because they live a unique lifestyle, are sometimes unwilling to ask for help or appear to be complainers.”
Amanda recommends parents take initiative in conversation with teachers, too. “Yes, it's true, teachers are asked to be many things. But a teacher wouldn't be a teacher if they didn't care. As a teacher, I hope parents willing to share their personal concerns with me, so I can help settle the student in the classroom and provide the best learning environment I can. It's what teachers do.”
For a military family, teachers are the windows we desperately need into our students' academic lives to ensure they can manage the multiple stressors placed on them by military life. Teachers can't help us unless we partner with them as team, and that means communication.
Here are a few ways to troubleshoot issues at school or head them off before they happen:
Talk to your child's teacher. Make an appointment and be considerate of his or her time. Spend a few minutes one on one.
Share your concerns, your hopes, your fears so a teacher can place your military student on radar. Let the teacher know if a move or deployment is looming, or if you are concerned about your child's behavior or schoolwork.
Seek input from other staff members at school. Guidance counselors have amazing tools to help students feel more connected, supported and welcomed. School psychologists are trained to help when tough situations arise and can help the team if parents and teachers are out of their depth.
Don't forget about principals and vice principals, they run the ship and help steer serious concerns back into calmer waters.
Whether it's moving this summer or starting new school in the fall, parents and teachers in partnership can help students to thrive socially and academically. Military families need and value our teachers and schools even if we are only there for a year or two. They help keep the home front afloat during tough times.
There are days I think our military family needs a teacher more than they need us. But the truth is we need each other to ensure our military students thrive.
What are some ways you troubleshoot issues your child may experience when they move to a new school? Share your tips with us in the comments!
Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman is an Air Force spouse, writer, mother, and advocate within the military spouse community. A parent-to-parent trainer for the Military Child Education Coalition since 2017, she leads workshops and seminars on many topics related to the education of military-connected students. She is the coauthor with Amanda Trimillos of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Tips for Parents and Teachers, Seasons of My Military Student Action Guide