How to augment lackluster 1st grade teacher's performance?
April 21, 2008 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How to augment lackluster 1st grade teacher's performance?

My wonderfully bright son is in the first grade in a good public school with a teacher who seems to be 'phoning it in' as the year goes by. I hate to see him discouraged and would really like to enhance his innate love of learning.

Do I accept the teacher's lack of enthusiasm? Any parents on the green have any alternative ideas?
posted by toastchee to Education (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This doesn't involve changing the teacher's behavior, but... Do you have the time to supplement his learning at home using workbooks? I can't recommend this strongly enough. From preschool until the seventh grade, my mom had me working on math workbooks she picked up at learning stores, toy stores, and even grocery stores. From the get-go, she had me working on material at least two grades ahead of where I was. I enjoyed it very much at first, though as a willful seventh grader, I refused to keep going, but in any case... Because of this approach, I was ahead of the game until my senior year of high school, when calculus entered the picture. With no other coaching besides these workbooks and standard public-school math classes (classes in which I slacked, I have to admit), I scored 750 on my math SATs.
posted by lizzicide at 8:38 AM on April 21, 2008

Best answer: Can you offer the teacher some volunteer hours? Helping out in classroom for a few hours a week would be great: you could offer to work with groups of students while the teacher focuses on individuals or smaller groups, to give one example. Or, if your work schedule precludes coming in during the day, offer to take home and prepare classroom packets or other paperwork.

This time of year, a lot of teachers are under quite a bit of pressure to prepare the students for standardized tests. Even in states which only test the upper elementary grades, many districts require the younger kids to take practice tests. Teaching kids to test sucks a lot (if not all) of the enjoyment out of teaching so anything you can do as a parent to give time back to the teacher will help a lot.
posted by jamaro at 8:45 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hate to see him discouraged and would really like to enhance his innate love of learning.

Can you give more details about this? Normally a first grader won't really be able to tell if a teacher is "phoning it in" or not. What exactly are his feelings about school and how do you know it's the teacher's fault?

Also, he's young enough that he will get a lot of cues about whether he should like or dislike school from you. If you say discouraging things about school in front of him, he will probably get discouraged about it. If you praise him every time he brings home some of the work he's done, and talk to him about how great school is, he will probably have a better attitude.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:51 AM on April 21, 2008

Best answer: Not a parent, but a teacher.

- Take your son to museums, art galleries, and anything else that gives him a chance to learn. Do what I can't do in the classroom with 20 other kids.
- Talk to other parents in the area (or in class) to see if they'd like to join you on these excursions. This kind of networking could also help your son develop his social knowledge and develop new friendships and interests.
- Find out from your son what he's interested in learning about (astronauts? dinosaurs?) and hit up the library. The "Eyewitness" series from DK ("Boat", for example) were personal favorites of mine between the ages of 6 and 9 - lots of detail which helped me refine my interests. Also, find out if your local library offers any programs for very young readers.
- Instruct adult friends/relatives to try and add their own flavor/experience to the learning: if one of them works at a culinary academy and your son pines for his own rolling pin and silicone baking sheet, could a visit be arranged?

While I can't comment on your son's teacher's specific issues, I can say that as a teacher myself in a very cushy, very independent setting where I can pretty much do what I want as long as we get through most of the stuff in the book by the end of the year (though I'm simplifying here to save space), I still struggle with issues of just how much time I'm willing to dedicate to lesson planning and design, especially with classes with students of very mixed-ability students. It sounds like some of your son's classmates may have varying abilities of proficiency in literacy or numeracy, which could mean that students who are "behind" in these "essentials" truly do warrant more attention from the teacher or other "specialists" at your son's school.

I'd also approach the teacher to see if he/she needs any additional support with admin tasks like correcting tests or organizing supplies; I imagine parents are expected to contribute in some way, and being able to observe the teacher as he/she works might make you more aware of what's really going on. You might even want to ask the teacher if there's anything else you can do at home or on weekends/over vacation to reinforce what he/she's doing in class.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 8:56 AM on April 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

We have used lots of workbooks and museum visits as well, but I wanted to also put a plug in for well designed kid software. Sometimes this is "games", sometimes it's "stories", sometimes it's "learning aids"... our public library has a good collection. A couple fun and creative titles: Gizmos and Gadgets, Incredible Machine, I Spy, Kid Pix... there are several.
posted by sporb at 9:19 AM on April 21, 2008

Best answer: Cook with your son. There are lots of children's cookbooks out there to give you ideas for simple recipes to make together. Baking is especially good, because all the measuring will help with his counting and math skills. Knowing how to cook will serve him well throughout his life, too.

Read to him. At that age I LOVED when my mom would read books about animals to me before bed. Maybe your son prefers books about trucks or boats or sports or whatever. The kids section at the library will have tons of books you can read to him, to help instill a love of learning and an interest in new things. Seriously, kids can be knowledge sponges, and you should try to encourage that tendency as much as possible.

Have him read to you. There are super-easy books for first-graders that he can read out loud to you, and you can help him along as he needs it. Encourage him. Praise him. And let him see you reading for pleasure in your free time, too. Instill in him the idea that reading is fun and rewarding. I don't have any relevant stats, but it has been my experience that kids who learn early to enjoy reading end up doing better in school. Their comprehension is better when doing school work, they soak up more knowledge outside of school time, their vocabulary is increased, their spelling is better, etc.

Do you have any hobbies? Include him in them. Draw pictures together. Let him choose a plant and care for a corner or your garden. Dance and sing to your favorite music together. Anything that enriches his life will be good.

If you're feeling really ambitious, try working little lessons into the things you do. Tell him you need 5 apples at the grocery store, and let him count them into the basket. Ask him what letters he sees on signs as you drive around. When his math skills improve, have him do simple adding and subtraction ("If we drove 2 miles so far, and it's 3 more miles to Joe's house, how many miles is that all together?") Not only will this give him practice, it will teach him that the skills he's learning in school have real-world applications. Precocious kids figure out early that they won't be doing arithmetic worksheets when they grow up, and it's discouraging if they can't think of any reasons on their own why they might need that knowledge.

And yeah, if you've got time during the day, definitely volunteer in the classroom. Teachers have to do their best to get all the kids in the class up to the minimum acceptable skill levels for their grade. That means they often don't have time to encourage the "wonderfully bright" kids to go above and beyond. Anything you can do to help the teacher out would be very much appreciated, I'm sure.
posted by vytae at 9:46 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing reading aloud. I might add that you shouldn't be afraid to branch out beyond books targeted specifically at 6-year-olds, both when it comes to what you read to him and what he reads to you; you may be surprised at what doesn't go over his head. When I was that age, I loved reading Calvin and Hobbes anthologies to my parents. I picked up a lot of good vocabulary that way, as well as an abiding understanding and appreciation of irony.
posted by Commander Rachek at 11:35 AM on April 21, 2008

Best answer: Read, read, read, read, explore, explore, explore, do things in the real world, do things, do things. I taught at the primary grades for a while, and the parental anxiety was intense - more often than not, kids were more stressed out by their own parents' fears about their learning than any difficulty they may have been having. Don't project your anxieties onto him - treat learning, reading, and exploring the world as a joy that you would do anyway, not a dreary chore.

It can help greatly if you do your best to follow the school curriculum. For instance, if the kids are studying birds or butterflies, make sure to mention excitedly how interesting that is, take a Saturday trip to the wildlife center to see some healing raptors or to the butterfly garden at the zoo (and offer to take a couple classmate/friends along), take out books and videos from the library about the topic and watch them as a family, take pictures of birds you've seen and load them into Flickr and tag them and send them to other kids in the class. Just embrace the learning completely. All of this gives him something to contribute in class, makes him feel that you value the learning school offers, and connects classroom activities with the extremely interesting real world.

If he's not doing any topic- or theme-based learning in school at all, that is a problem in itself, and it does mean life outside school needs to be as interesting as possible. But please don't skill-and-drill. He will pick everything up, and he will do well with your attention, in his own time, unless there is a real and recurring learning issue.
posted by Miko at 12:54 PM on April 21, 2008

Response by poster: FYI I am very 'best-answer' promiscuous.
posted by toastchee at 6:08 AM on April 22, 2008

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