Former national teacher of the year shares 5 tips to help kids go back to school

A national teacher of the year shares tips to help students returning to school.

August 17, 2022, 11:05 PM

As students across the country head back to school, a top priority for educators and parents alike is making sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

After two years of school changes due to the coronavirus pandemic and the normal change of pace during summer break, students may have challenges returning, both emotionally and academically.

But instead of dwelling on how much students may have fallen behind during their time away from school, some educators are focusing on meeting students where they are rather than focusing on what they've "lost."

"Sometimes the phrase 'learning loss' doesn't value and uphold all of the hard work that teachers, students and families did over the last year and a half to really try to stay the course and really keep their students learning," Juliana Urtubey, the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2021 national teacher of the year, told "Good Morning America." "We're going to work really hard to catch all the kids up, but what we want to focus on is the future and how to meet all the needs of all of our students instead of working, fixating on the pressure of catching up."

Here are five tips from Urtubey, a special education teacher in Las Vegas, for parents to help their kids feel supported as they head from summer to school.

National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey interacts with a group of students.
National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey interacts with a group of students.
Courtesy of Clark County School District.

1. Co-write a letter with your child to the teacher

Urtubey said co-writing a letter with your child to their teacher is a good way for teachers to get to know students, but also a good way for students to introduce themselves to their teacher. Students can talk about anything from their family to their favorite activities. It can also include what they struggle with in school or what they're excited to learn. Parents can also include their concerns in the letter.

"As a teacher, I loved getting these letters at the beginning of the year," Urtubey said. "They made me feel like I already knew the child and I already had a first step in terms of building this kind of trust with families."

2. Do activities that are both academic and of interest to your child

If your child expresses an interest in certain subjects like art or reading, Urtubey said it's good to push them to explore the topics more. For example, if a child is interested in space, Urtubey said a trip to the library can help get your child reading books about space.

"You're carving out time at home for them to read, so that learning is enjoyable, so that learning is self-guided and self-motivated and that the child has some kind of way to share the learning at home," Urtubey said. "I think that especially during this last year, we have to make sure that all students feel joy in what they're learning."

3. Visit school before the year begins

For big transition years, like kindergarten or the start of middle school, one way to help prepare students for the upcoming year is to visit the school before the year begins. That way students know where they're having lunch, where their classroom is, who their teacher is and more.

"A lot of schools will already schedule this," said Urtubey. "I know that this is really helpful in reducing stress before the first days of school."

4. Help students practice introductory questions

Urtubey said when she taught fifth grade students, one way to help them prepare for middle school was spend time with them on things like switching classes or practicing opening a locker. Another way they prepared for the school year was to practice social skills to make new friends.

Urtubey suggested practicing different conversations for different scenarios with your student to help them take the stress or anxiety out of forming friendships or meeting new people.

5. Encourage deeper conversations about school

At the end of each day, Urtubey suggested asking your child questions beyond "How was your day?" since that doesn't necessarily start a conversation with them about what happened during school.

Instead, Urtubey suggested questions such as, "Tell me about a time that you felt really happy today," "Tell me about a time you felt challenged today," or "Tell me a bit about what you learned today," will help foster more discussions about what they're feeling.

Editor's note: This report was originally published on Aug. 20, 2021.

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