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What teachers want parents to know

In some ways, back-to-school time is the same for kids today as it ever was.

Except when it's not.

No doubt about it, schoolchildren and teenagers in 2011 have a lot of pressure on them to succeed and achieve in every aspect of their education -- starting from the very first day of classes.

At the same time, many students are under more time crunches than ever before, with activities, sports and other commitments.

Experienced teachers who see floods of fresh-faced students come through the doors each year have some advice for parents and families that can help ease the adjustment pains that often accompany a new academic year.

Read on for their practical suggestions.

And relax! Holiday breaks are just three months away.

1.) Summer assignments? Do them now.

High school teacher Jeff Librock, father of three school-age children and an educator with 32 years experience, knows firsthand the virtue of summer school assignments.

Summer reading and writing assignments sharpen the mind and get critical thinking faculties into gear, said Librock, who teaches computer classes in the business department at Williamsville East High School.

That can make a big difference after a summer of relaxing, he said.

"It gets students back into the habit of thinking critically, and primes them to be totally involved for that first day of school," said Librock.

His advice on when to tackle such work? The sooner the better.

"Do it now, so you can take your time and do a good job," he said. "Don't do it the night before school starts. It really helps."

2.) Have a list from your teachers of school supplies to buy? If so, follow it to the letter.

Some parents sigh when pondering a lengthy list of classroom supplies requested by the school and teacher for the coming year, teachers agreed.

But go along with the list and do your best to follow it, they advised -- even buying particular brands of supplies like crayons and tissues and glue sticks, if your list spells that out.

"There are some very tried-and-true brands -- Crayola, Elmer's -- that teachers prefer because they last longer," said Karla Menchette, a kindergarten teacher at the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo on Delaware Avenue.

"Parents aren't the ones replacing them midway through the year -- teachers often are. Parents don't understand that kids really do need a ton of glue sticks, because they go through them."

3.) Trust the teacher.

It's hard to walk into a new setting and place immediate trust in the person in charge, but teachers agreed that trusting the teacher to do best by your child is imperative.

"Trust us," said Kathryn, a teacher with 24 years of experience teaching at Elmwood Franklin School in Buffalo who was browsing for supplies at the Teachers' Tools and Treasures store on Cleveland Drive; she declined to give her last name.

"We know what's best for your child," Kathryn said. "The first day of school is so crazy. We're focused on the kids, and the parents are so needy -- we don't know who to help. Give us a couple of weeks (to focus on children's needs). We're setting the tone for the whole year in those first days."

4.) Communicate.

Teachers aren't offended or bothered when you write a note to them, discussing some issue or detail of the school day.

In fact, teachers said they welcome such communications, because it helps them do a better job by your child -- and makes their role a bit easier.

"One thing I think is really important is, have as much communication with the teacher as you can. Write a note," said Colleen Silverthorn, a teacher for 15 years in the Maryvale school district in Cheektowaga. "Communication is really the most important thing."

So if you have a special request for a child, or need to juggle dismissal people or times, or want the teacher to know that something significant happened in your child's life, like getting or losing a pet -- write a note and send it along with your child. And communicate as early as possible! It saves everyone stress.

5.) Let your child go.

This one pertains to a child starting kindergarten -- but hey, it could work for transitions to new schools or academic levels, like middle or high school, as well.

When it comes time to walk your child into that classroom on the first day, teachers said, know when to say goodbye.

It sounds hard, teachers said, but there is a time to walk away.

"Expect your child to cry a little bit," said Menchette, at the Catholic Academy. "And LEAVE. Parents tend to linger. They'll keep coming back if their child is crying. But that just makes it harder."

Menchette said that anxious parents can walk down a hallway or go to the main office, if they feel they must be in the school setting, but don't remain where the child can see you, she said.

"If they can physically see you, none of us have a chance," she joked.

Menchette said parents can take comfort in the fact that most teachers have been dealing with these anxieties for many years -- and hundreds of students -- and can handle the child's nerves calmly and well. Teachers know when a child will settle in, she said. And if there's a real problem, the school will let a parent know.

"If there's a problem," she said, "we'll call you."