Scott Cole: Back to school tips for a successful school year

Scott Cole: Back to school tips for a successful school year

If you go to any chain retail store, you know what time of year it is -- back to school time! Some parents are cherishing the time spent with their kids this summer. Many are glad to get them out of the house and back in the classroom. Either way, school starts in just a scant few weeks.

Back in May, a student of mine approached me in between classes and asked, “When I have kids, how can I make them smart?” This student was a senior and had struggled at times throughout his academic career. He did finish strongly, but that was because he was a hard worker.

However, he admitted he wasn’t always serious about his work. He wanted to make sure his future children didn’t have to struggle the way he had to. I gave him some honest answers and he was thankful for what I shared.

The truth is, he is not alone. Most parents want their kids to succeed at school, however, many are unsure on how to give their kids the best leg up. Even though I am a teacher, I do not have all the answers (although some parents think we do!). But 13 years in the classroom have given me a lot of experiences that I think can help.


First, let’s talk about teachers. In this day and age, teachers are expected to be educators, counselors, babysitters, artists, entertainers, social workers, nurses, coaches, psychics and wizards. We have a lot of tools in our bag we can use, but we are imperfect. We do our best to help every child and teenager.

Managing upwards of 30 kids in a class, with at least one-third of them having some sort of special accommodation or need, can be challenging. As a parent, you need to understand teachers are not the enemy. Teachers are not picking on your child if they say they are struggling or are disruptive in class.

The more support you give a teacher in the classroom, the better your child will be. Telling your child that the teacher is wrong is going to make issues worse as the student will think they are not responsible.

If your child’s teacher is doing everything properly, they can be a great asset to you and vice-versa. Take advantage of this and listen carefully. They are with your child all day and may see some things that you may not see at home.

Elementary School

Young kids are always excited about their first days at school. The longer you can keep a child excited about school, the better.

When talking to my student, the first thing I said to him was “read.” Study after study after study shows the more you read to a younger child, the better off they will be. National and state level programs want all kids to be literate by the end of third grade. As a teacher, that is way too late. The earlier you can get them reading, the better. Read with them at night before bed. Read books to them. Help them learn to read.

For a child who can’t read, they learn how to fake it. They can get by, but not be truly successful. Because they can’t read, they will struggle in most of their classes. There is a lot more reading in classes today (more on this later). As a result, a child’s self esteem is hurt because they struggle. As a result, they act out in class, either out of anger at the teacher or act as a class clown to get some sort of positive attention. Either way, it is not good for the class or the child.

Speaking of attention, it is good to give some to your child. Ask your child every day, “How was school? What did you learn today?” Let them talk about their day. If they have homework, help them with it. Interact with the child. It’s good practice for the child, as well as developing good social skills.

Finally, get involved with the class. Teachers are dying for classroom support. Ask your child’s teacher if they need anything. Some needs include supplies such as paper, pencils, tissues and hand sanitizer for cold season. Sometimes, there are school events for which they’d like to have volunteers. The more involved with your child’s academic career, the better off the child will be.

Likewise, emphasize over and over the importance of following the classroom rules. This is good, not just for school, but as they get older and will have to “follow the rules” of society and at the workplace too.

Middle School

Your child has gone through the elementary school process and is now, depending on the district, in fifth or sixth grade. These are the preteen years; the child is becoming more self-aware and becoming more and more self-conscious. Peer pressure starts to matter more during this age.

First, keep the same tips as the elementary school kids. Students still need to read; but it doesn’t need to be Tolstoy. Even reading a Sports Illustrated is something and helps to build vocabulary. Whereas elementary school readers need to work on how to decode words, middle schoolers, as well as high schoolers, need to focus on building their word base.

Next, because this is a such a stressful time for students, you need to pay a little more attention to them. Ask them questions to learn about their lives, their friends and their classes. Look for changes in moods or attitudes as those could be serious signs that there is an issue going on. If something develops, talk to teachers to see if they notice anything going on.

As school work gets more difficult, let your child know it is OK to ask questions. The only way we understand things is to ask. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to say, “Can you explain this? I don’t get it.” 

Besides, as a teacher, I can say that at least one-third of their class is also probably struggling with the same issue.

Another important thing is to manage their electronics time. Parents are giving their children cell phones at younger and younger ages. Many children are up late on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter or are up playing Fortnite. They come to school tired, exhausted, unfocused and not ready to go. 

Give them appropriate limits on how long they can be on their phone. Tell them they can’t be on their phones if they are struggling in class, homework isn’t done or if they are a behavior problem. If they disobey, take their phones away. More importantly, emphasize that they should not have their phones out in class. Class time is time for learning, not for fooling around.

Above all else, work to help build their self-esteem. The classwork becomes more difficult during these years. State testing becomes more of a factor in their education. There is a lot of stress these kids are under.

High School

For students, the light at the end of the academic tunnel is growing brighter. They have almost graduated and are hopefully ready to enter the "real world." Whether a child is bound for college, the workforce, or the military, how can you help your child to be successful?

As with all the other grades, keep the reading up. All state tests, including math, are becoming more dependent on reading ability. The math these kids have today is not the math that I grew up with in the 90s. The skills they need are not the same. And while today’s students feel they can rely on Google for all their needs, they still need to read. Emphasize that and encourage them to read something every day.

Time management is more important during this age. These kids have jobs, sports, clubs and home responsibilities. Getting school work is also important. Just like middle schoolers, monitor their time online and make sure they are making the right decisions when it comes to doing work and having fun.

A lot of kids during this age become very, very, very stressed out about work. Some kids are perfectionists and want a perfect grade. Some are doing anything they can to pass. The pressure of state tests can affect some kids. While it is very important to encourage your child to do their best, don’t push them to the breaking point. It is OK for the straight-A kid to get an 88. If a student is honestly trying their best, it is OK if they struggle.

Others are consumed by social image. Again, keep an eye on them to make sure that they are OK. You are still their parent, not their friend. You need to be their parent. Guard and protect them. Allow them to make some mistakes, but make sure those mistakes are not involving drugs or other risky behaviors.

Just like with elementary school kids, you need to be involved. Ask them how their day is. You would be surprised how much you can affect a child by saying, “How was your day?”


These suggestions may not seem like they are groundbreaking insights. Still, you would be shocked and surprised to find how many parents are not invested in their child’s academic success. Even if you are not a parent, “adopt” a kid in your church or neighborhood and encourage them to be their best. As they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Encourage your kids to be their best. Press upon them to never settle. If they settle for "good enough" grades, they will settle for a life that is "good enough". Help them to unlock the true potential and fire they have building up inside of them. Show them they can be better than they possibly imagined.

The more invested you are in your child, the more results you will see. The more you emphasize reading, the more literate and successful your child will be. The more you engage with your child’s teacher and support them, the more successful your child will be. The more successful your child will be in school, the more successful they will be at life, no matter what it is they choose to do.

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