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The A to Z Recipe For a Successful School Year

I was never a teacher who measured success merely by looking at a student’s grades. A student demonstrates success by making progress — behaviorally, emotionally, academically. A child who never liked school and now does is a child who has had a successful year.

A child who never completed homework and who now regularly does is a successful child. A child who has learned to manage his/her temper and control his/her behavior is a successful child. There are varying degrees of success; that being said, I believe there are certain ingredients necessary for any child to achieve some measure of success in a school year.

Here I share with you my A to Z Recipe for a Successful School Year.

A – Attention. I have told students that I could be standing on my head, but they would have missed it because they’re not paying attention. There are distractions galore; the important thing is to pay attention to what is most important. And generally, our lessons are more important than the car alarm blaring outside, the principal’s high heels in the hallway, or the antics of a classmate on the other side of the room.

B – Buddy. School is a social place. And it helps a student to have at least one classmate, one friendly face, one person to ask for the week’s spelling words or to borrow a pencil. School can be difficult, and intimidating, but it is much less so when there’s a buddy with whom to go through it.

C – Curiosity. Children who wonder, who ask questions, will be the children who develop a new way of working out a math problem, who approach a situation from a different perspective, who want to learn more. These children have a thirst for knowledge, and just by wanting to know more, they will open themselves to more learning opportunities.

D – Down Time. School is incredibly structured. Each teacher is required to have a posted daily schedule. Children, though, need down time. Time at home with no scheduled events, no activities that require being at a specified place at a specified time. Children really benefit from the opportunity to play, to be creative and imaginative, and not have to rush out the door.

E – Equipped. Students need to come ready to work. They need to bring sharpened pencils in their backpack, extra paper, and completed homework with their names written on it.

F – Family. I can only do so much. I am with my students for approximately six hours a day, five days a week. I can’t do it all. I really need a family’s support at home. I expect families to stress the importance of homework. I need families to encourage good study habits. I need families to make sure their children are doing their jobs — being the best students they can be. Take away the video games, limit the TV watching, encourage reading. Ask questions about a child’s day. Get in touch with me.

G – Give a whole-hearted effort. I tell my students that I wasn’t born understanding fractions. Why did there have to be so many ways to write 1/2? One-half which is the same as two-fourths or five-tenths. It was terribly confusing for me. Now, I teach it. I understand it because I tried. I put forth the effort, didn’t give up, and kept working at it until it began to make sense.

H – Honesty. I begin each school year by telling my students that our class only functions well when we trust each other. They trust that I won’t go through their backpacks when I’m in the room at recess, just as I trust they won’t go through my things when I’m helping a child across the room. I have much more respect for a child who is honest, who admits he wasn’t paying attention because he’s tired from staying up too late the night before, then a child who tries to make excuses and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions.

I – Initiate one’s own learning. A child initiates one’s own learning when they ask questions — for more information, to review a concept, to gain a deeper understanding. I tell my fifth-grade students that they need to acknowledge their challenge areas and work on them, whether it be cursive writing or long division.

J – Join In. I want my students to participate, to share a comment, an observation, a connection. I want them to ask a question and to add to the discussion.

K – Kindness. Being a student in a public school classroom is also a lesson in getting along with others. Our learners are diverse — their backgrounds, their experiences, their learning styles. A school year is much more productive if a child can treat her classmates with kindness, acknowledging that while she understood how to find an equivalent fraction the first time around, half the class didn’t, and some time will be spent reviewing the concept.

L – Leisure Time, appropriate for a child’s age. Many of my students tell me they fill their weekends watching TV and playing video games. Truth be told, my son participates in those activities as well. However, my son is watching pre-school friendly programs and I know every game he is playing. Some of my students, on the other hand, are playing games rated “M” for Mature and watching “R-rated” movies.

M – Maturity. Depending on the grade I teach, a child’s maturity level differs. However, kindergarten children should come to school potty-trained and knowing how to flush a toilet. (I have had students who weren’t and couldn’t.) Fifth-grade students are going to read about the digestive system and the excretory systems. Words like urine and feces will be discussed, and I hope they’ll be discussed without snickering and giggling.

N – Nutrition. I am a firm believer that a child needs to eat at least three meals a day. Breakfast is not a bag of chips. Lunch is not a bag of chips. A bag of chips is a once-in-a-while snack. Healthy minds and healthy bodies go hand-in-hand.

O – Open Mind. I don’t want a child to tell me they can’t do something, that it’s too hard for them. Not all children will grow into master mathematicians, but all children can at least try. Come with an open mind, be willing to listen and make the effort. And be open to others who eat different foods, who wear different types of clothing, who observe different holidays, who learn and behave differently. Acknowledge that there are differences and move on.

P – Practice. Classwork is practice. Homework is practice. Tying shoes, riding a bike, braiding hair – they weren’t mastered the first time we tried them. It took practice. Lots of it. For a kindergarten student, learning to write one’s first and last name and learning to read are no exception.

Q – Question. I want students to question, respectfully. “Why do we have homework if we worked all day in school?” “Why does that shortcut work when you multiply by a 1000?” And, “I still don’t understand. Can you please show me again how you simplify a fraction?”

R – Reach. We used to tell students to reach for the stars. I want my students to reach, to strive for the highest grade. I don’t want them to be satisfied with a passing grade, but I want them to strive, to reach for all they are capable of. They often under-estimate their own abilities, and it breaks my heart.

S – Sleep. A child who comes to school and promptly falls asleep isn’t getting enough sleep at home. For my fifth-graders, I tell them they should be going to sleep no later than 9:00 each evening, but I know that isn’t the case for all of them. Without the proper amount of sleep, their bodies aren’t functioning at their highest levels, and my students cannot focus when they’re exhausted.

T – Triumph. A student who finds success in one area will be more likely to find success in another area. For example, our weekly spelling tests consist of ten words. A child who can study and practice and consistently earn a 9 or 10 each week is buoyed by the success. That success can have a positive domino effect, leading to triumph in other academic areas.

U – Unafraid. I want my students to be unafraid – unafraid to ask a question, unafraid to venture a guess, unafraid to say, “I don’t get it.”

V – Value education. My students have to firmly believe that there is value in attending school, and that they need to learn the skills and concepts within each grade level’s curriculum. They need to know that a solid education is their ticket to future success.

W – Write. My students need to write. They need to be able to express themselves coherently. They need to be able to articulate their thoughts and ideas in a mature manner. We do a lot of writing in class. But a child who writes at home — fan letters to a celebrity, letters to relatives, or creative stories — has a distinct advantage over children who don’t write.

X – Extracurricular Activities. Children need to get involved, to feel like they are a part of something larger, namely their school community. Being involved means saving Box Tops from cereal boxes, participating in fundraisers, and wearing school colors to show school spirit.

Y – Yearning to Improve. We all have things we’re better at, things that are more challenging. The important thing is not to settle, to continue to try to learn and try to improve.

Z – Zero Absences and Tardies. Life happens, children get sick, car batteries die. But as much as possible, children need to be in school daily and not miss because of trips to Disneyland or to stay at home in celebration of one’s birthday.



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