What’s Not on the Syllabus for High School


The high school years can be a difficult and conflicting time for children, or adults . . . or whatever they are at that age. There is an intense desire for independence and responsibility, coupled with the lingering desire to be taken care of and told what to do and how to do it. During these years, a child is supposed to mature into a young adult working on the person he or she wants to become — both personally and professionally.

As confusing as this time can be for teenagers, it can be even more stressful for parents. How involved is too involved in a teen’s personal, academic, work, and extracurricular life? How does a parent hover just enough to keep a teen on the right track, without doing too much for him or her (and thus shielding the child from experiencing real responsibilities, decisions, successes, and failures)?

Clearly, one of the most dominant themes of the high school years is preparing a teenager for the real world. Teenagers are ultimately responsible for who they become, but the support and guidance of their parents play a huge role in this process as well.

However, we cannot forget about another major influence in the transformative high school years: Teachers. Teachers play a unique role in the lives of teenagers because they serve as mentors, authority figures, and sources of knowledge to students without the prior emotional history of a parent.

In order for teachers to help your child learn and grow, there are a few things that they want you, the parent, to know. However, some of these things can’t necessarily be stated in a typical syllabus or course description. In order to give parents some insight into how to successfully maneuver the tempestuous high school years, I asked for feedback from some of the best teachers I encountered in my nine years of teaching.

Here is what teachers really want parents to know:

  • We became teachers because we love kids and want to make a difference in children’s lives. Anyone who becomes a teacher for the hours, vacation, or pay is not going to last long in this profession. Teachers care about your children, and we all want the same thing: your child’s success. We are on the same side.
  • School should be a challenge. Just because a student makes an A in a subject one year, does not mean that he or she will necessarily make an A in that subject the next year. Be prepared for classes to get more complex and challenging from year to year. Focus on the amount of LEARNING that is taking place, rather than only thinking about the final grade.

For instance, a student may make a C in an English class, but that student may have overcome a fear of public speaking and finally learned how to write a thesis statement in that same class. These skills are more important in the long run than the letter on the grade report.

  • Technology has changed the modern classroom, and parents should take advantage of this. Most high schools now require teachers to maintain a strong online presence. Figure out how to log into whatever system your school uses, and you will likely have access to your child’s attendance, class schedule, calendars, and grades. Check in every so often to monitor how your child is doing and have some idea of what is going on in his or her classes.
  • Please do not text or call your child during school hours unless it is an emergency. While there are some ways to use phones in the classroom as a learning tool, oftentimes they are simply distractions. It is especially difficult to enforce cell phone policies when it is a student’s parent helping him to break those policies.
  • Remember that teachers are humans too. Sometimes teachers make mistakes. It is much easier to resolve a problem when parents do not automatically assume that a teacher is intentionally trying to do something to disservice their child. In public schools, it is not uncommon for a teacher to have anywhere from 75-180 students on his or her roster in one semester. In trying to manage that many students, on top of lunch duties, coaching and club sponsorship responsibilities, grading papers, answering countless emails, and planning lessons, even the best of teachers will make mistakes from time to time. Be patient with us, and know we are doing our best for your child.
  • Encourage your child to take responsibility for his or her learning and grades. If they have a question about an assignment or certain class material, or if they disagree about a grade they received, students should advocate for themselves and make an effort to conference with teachers before or after class. Sometimes this is difficult for students, but once they learn how to discuss their concerns with teachers — rather than just complaining about a teacher or class to friends and parents — they are much more likely to succeed and gain more from their classroom experience.
  • Do not jump the gun in wanting to conference with the teacher yourself. If you, the parent, have a minor question or concern, talk to your child first. He can probably tell you (better than the teacher) why he didn’t turn in last night’s homework assignment. However, if you have a concern that your child cannot address or explain, or if you feel the concern is of a more serious nature, then by all means contact the teacher. Remember, we teachers are here for your child, just like you. We need to know if something is wrong. But if you can find out the answer on your own, we thank you for not adding one more email to the thirty we’ve already received this morning.
  • Encourage your child to step away from the video games, iPad, and television every once in a while to do things that promote independent learning and problem-solving.
  • Teach your child to learn to read for pleasure. Help her find books appropriate to her reading level that are about content she finds interesting. A habit of reading, no matter what is actually being read, is one that will benefit your child her entire life and help her academically in every subject.
  • Let your child experience failure, then help him learn how to cope with this failure. It is okay to not win the election, not be a starter (or even make the team), and to fail a test from time to time. These experiences are real life. But help teach your child how to do better next time rather than demanding a recount, a starting position, or to re-take the test. Let them know that Mommy or Daddy will not be there to “fix it” every time, and that’s okay.

Are you a high school teacher with some advice for parents? What else do you want parents to know? Comment below!

Parents of current and former teenagers, do you have any advice for parents just starting the high school journey with their child? Comment below!