Back to School Night: Tips for Teachers and Parents

Tuesday, September 5, 2023
If you've read the About Me section of this blog, then you know I used to be a teacher. Back to School Night (also known as Open House), is a teacher's chance to tell you all about the school year. It's also a parent or caregiver's chance to learn about their child's teacher and classroom.  I thought I'd share some tips for both teachers and parents for this important evening, since I've learned some things about holding a successful Back to School Night over the years,  If you're scrolling, you'll find the teacher section here at the top, and the parent section towards the bottom. Happy reading!

Important to Note: here in New Jersey, our Back to School Nights (also known as Open Houses) are primarily for parents. Your school district might have a different kind of Back to School Night than we do, so all of my advice might not apply to your situation. But I hope my suggestions are helpful either way! Times are changing and many Back to School Nights are now virtual (called 'Virtual Open Houses') but hopefully my tips are still useful.

No time to read? Pin this image for later and come back to this post for future use!

Back to School Night Tips for Teachers

1.  Be sure your room is decorated, warm and inviting.

Parents will be looking for student work, their child's name, and names of other students in the class.
If you don't have time to complete much student work before Back to School Night, try having the kids write a note or draw a picture to leave for their parents at their desks the night of the event. I'm not saying you have to hang streamers from the ceiling for your class to to be 'decorated,' but it should at least be colorful and inviting, no matter what grade you teach! 

2. Wear something that makes you feel confident. 

I never wore heels while teaching (too hard on my legs when I was always standing), but I wore them to Back to School Night to give me an added professional boost! And for you female teachers, remember not to wear anything too tight, too short, or that shows too much cleavage. That sounds obvious, I know, but really think about it before you head out. Male teachers (and this is just my opinion, mind you) - I'd avoid wearing sneakers, shorts, athletic shirts (unless you're a Phys Ed teacher) or jerseys. You want to make a wonderful, positive, professional first impression!

3. Keep your door open. Literally!  

One year, a few parents wandered into my classroom a little early on Back to School Night. They were parents from the previous year. They were upset because their child's new teacher would not let them in the room early and had her door closed.  They came back to me because they knew they were welcome in my room. Parents should always feel welcome in your room. They entrust you with their children, after all.  If you don't feel comfortable letting parents into your room early, then put a little sign on the door with a smiley face, saying, 'Almost ready!  Please wait outside!' or something equally pleasant. But keep all situations in mind- I have had divorced parents who did not want to see one another, so one would come a little earlier than the other and then leave. Maybe some come straight from work and have been commuting for an hour and just want to sit down.  Letting them in a few minutes early won't hurt.

4. Make extra hand-outs and check for typos.

If you're supplying print-outs, make sure you print enough. I have had divorced parents come separately and each wanted their own supply of hand-outs.  Check all of your letters, papers, and digital presentations for typos.  One year I had a welcome letter waiting for the parents at each child's desk. While walking around before my presentation, I caught sight of a typo and had to go around to each letter with a pen to fix it before the parents got there. But I was glad I caught it!

5. Be sure your room is neat and the kids' desks are clean.

It only happened to me ONCE in my ENTIRE career of teaching, but I will never forget that one year when I did not have the kids straighten their desks out prior to Back to School Night.  One mom flipped out over the messiness of her daughter's desk.  She started pulling out papers and books and throwing them on the floor.  'What IS this?' she kept repeating as she formed a small pile of debris on the carpet.  This was a parochial school and the desks were small, old-fashioned wooden ones where the seat was attached to the desk.  The books and papers were stored underneath the seat.  I was mortified. Looking back, I realize this was inappropriate of the parent, too, but as a fairly new teacher, I was not sure how to handle it at the time.  I just remember smiling awkwardly, removing the pile to the back of the room, and assuring her that her daughter would clean up the desk tomorrow. 

6. Consider a short slide show or have a slideshow running nearby.

Parents love to see their children's smiling faces and see the faces of their new classmates.  But remember you'd have to be taking photos up till this point to have something to show on screen, so that might take a little pre-planning.  Also, be sure your school allows you to photograph the children, as some schools have strict policies about this.

7. Post your contact info.

Put it on the board or somewhere nearby so parents can write it down, even if you have it in a hand-out for them. If you're doing a visual presentation, give parents a moment to take a photo or jot down your info in their phones. 

8. Share your daily schedule.

Parents want to know what their kids are doing each day.  If you can't print out this information for them, let them know where they can find it online.

9. Let your parents know how much you value their children.

Teaching is truly an honor.  Parents trust you every day with their most prized possessions.  Remind them that you know this and plan on taking good care of their children!

10. Above all, smile.

There's nothing like being greeted by a happy, smiling face, and knowing that's who your child sees every day, too.

Another small piece of advice...

One of my son's teachers began her Back to School Night by having each parent introduce themselves, say their child's name, and tell something about their child.  I loved this because it enabled me to hear about each of the children and see who their parents were.  I know not every Back to School Night allows for this time-wise, but it was really a nice idea (especially if you teach a grade like Pre-K or Kindergarten, where parents are still getting to know each other, too).

Other Ideas for Teachers on 
Back to School Night

-create a "helping hand" or "giving tree."  Write down items that are needed for your classroom (snacks, ziploc bags, markers, pencils, tissues, etc.) and if parents would like to donate, they can choose one of the items (write each item on a separate piece of paper- I used to make a little apple tree and the items were written on paper apples that the parents could take). This can also be done as an online sign-up sheet or google form.

-leave paper for parents to write a note to their child while they are there. 

-leave a checklist of things parents should look for or find around the room (almost like an informative scavenger hunt!).  This also helps if you have early visitors- give them something to do while you are still getting ready!

-put out a volunteer sign-up sheet or sign-up sheets for anything you might need assistance with during the year.  Sometimes I'd even leave out an email list, just to make sure I had the most up-to-date emails on file (have each parent add their current email address to the list). You can also do this digitally. 

Back to School Night Tips for Parents

It's rather refreshing to be the parent at Back to School Night instead of the teacher!  So many years spent prepping and stressing for the big night- now it's nice to be the guest and visit my child's room with eager anticipation. I don't have many tips for parents because basically, all you really need to do is show up!  But here are some things I can suggest, coming from both the teacher/parent point of view:

Be on time. 

I know sometimes that's not always possible, but if it IS possible, then get there when you're supposed to, simple as that!

Leave your kids at home.

Don't be that ONE parent who brings their kids, for whatever reason (if kids are not permitted to attend).  There's always one, and I know that things come up, but your kids really should not be with you on that night.  Just my opinion, but I am sure most of you agree.

If you can't make it, email/call your child's teacher.

If you can't make the event, drop the teacher a line and let them know you still care! Ask if they would be willing to send home the hand-outs for you. It shows you are interested and care about your child's year ahead.

Remember that this is not conference time.

As tempted as you are to say, 'How is little Johnny doing in math?'  you just can't.

Write down any basic questions you might have for the teacher.

I know I have walked out of Back to School Nights thinking, 'ugh, I forgot to ask her about---'

Dress like an adult.

Although you might be tempted to arrive in your flip flops and sweat pants, I believe you should present yourself with respect (especially if you want respect in return). I have parent friends who argue with me about this, but I think first impressions are important all around. I'm not saying you have to wear an evening gown or anything, but business casual (or hey, even resort casual would work!). 


That teacher might be nervous, too.  We're all human.

A young JerseyTeacher (not yet a momma) with a bad hairdo and a  worn out old jacket on.  But still smiling.  Photo by former student Matt R, who was just a kid when he took this, but is now in college.

As I've said before, I used to be a teacher. I taught preschool in corporate daycare, 3rd grade in parochial school, 1st grade (public school), 6th grade (creative writing) and 2nd grade (public school).  I left teaching when we had our son (The Jersey Momma's Boy) and I never went back.  I miss my students, my colleagues and my classroom, but I don't think I can return to teaching.  I often compare myself to Doc "Moonlight" Graham from Field of Dreams.  Do you know that movie?

"Win one for me one day, will you, boys?"

Doc Graham stepped into the field of dreams to become the ball player he always imagined.  But when duty called (in the form of a choking child), he needed to step out of the field to be a doctor again.  The catch? Once he crossed the field, he couldn't ever go back again, and this is how I feel about crossing the parent/teacher line, as well.  But as Doc says, "It's all right.  I'd best be gettin' on home..."  because now it's my job to write, travel, and share my ideas and experiences with others. I've found my very own field of dreams.


Powered by Blogger.