As a credentialed teacher and a parent, I had experiences with schools that were both good and bad. Working in schools with a mostly dedicated staff, it always shocked me when I heard about teachers bullying kids or being unresponsive to students’ needs. When I became a parent, I looked high and low before finding a great preschool. Even at an expensive private school, I learned that it is important to look for red flags and not settle for a mediocre education. Here are some characteristics of good elementary schools, and, how to spot bad ones.
A Responsive and Warm Staff
When I was substitute teaching and job hunting, I quickly learned what schools I wanted to work at and what schools to avoid. When the office staff was cold and rude, it was usually a good indicator of the site’s overall atmosphere. Likewise, when my daughter went to private preschool, the entire staff treated us like family. On the other hand, when we went to a different private school for kindergarten, a lot of the staff was cold and unresponsive. Luckily, her current teacher is warm and wonderful!
Red Flag #1: While teachers may have the professional expertise, they should still be open to change. If a teacher is rigid and unbendable in his or her policies, this is a red flag.
Your Kids Should Be Having Fun
The other day, I was delighted to see my daughter come home with a pumpkin turkey. I thought, what a fun craft. A good school will have field trips, opportunities for hands-on experiences and creative curriculum (like games, songs and chants).
Red Flag #2: If your child doesn’t want to go to school or has a sudden temperament change, this is a good indicator that he or she isn’t enjoying school.
The School has Differentiated Instruction
I was a student teacher at two different districts in San Diego. One of the schools didn’t have any reading groups. The kids simply sat in their desks all day and completed worksheets. In elementary school, I don’t see how kids can learn without small group instruction. I had both reading and math groups. Good schools make sure that each child’s learning style is being supported.
Red Flag # 3: Be wary if every child in the class does the same activities all day long. This reveals the class is not student centered and doesn’t give children a choice in what they learn.
The Staff Works Together
The school I most recently worked at used Professional Learning Communities. This is where we worked together to ensure our children were learning. We used data, collaboration and hard work to achieve our goals…together. We had enrichment groups where the kids were able to go to another teacher for an hour a day to work on their strengths and areas where they struggled. At good schools, teachers should be on the same page, even though their teaching styles may be unique.
Red Flag # 4: When staff members are not on the same page or appear to be at odds, it may be time to go elsewhere. After all, how can a school work together to help your child if they can’t get along?
The School Welcomes and Communicates with Parents
Do you receive newsletters from your school? Does your teacher welcome parental involvement and classroom volunteers? Frequent communication is important. However, communication is a two-way street. Always remember that as a parent, it’s vital to stay on top of your child’s progress. At the same time, teachers and staff should also respond promptly to emails, phone calls and notes. While teachers are busy, I would say that they should respond within 24 hours.
Red Flag # 5: If days have gone by without a response from an email you sent, this could signal a problem. If your child is doing poorly in an area and you haven’t been contacted, this would be a good time to set up a conference with your child’s teacher.
The media tends to pounce on negative education stories. There are plenty of good schools out there. However, you need to look for characteristics of good schools and don’t forget to watch out for those red flags.
More from Melissa:
Learning in a Bubble: Standardized Testing in Kindergarten is Too Much Too Soon
What Do Teachers Really Do After School?
Teacher Turnover: Why Do Educators Leave?