Back To School Special

Cindy Jones, a former teacher and member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, outlines methods for parents and their children to use as they prepare for returning to school and getting settled in the first weeks.

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Rosemary Cope:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness wellcast.  I'm Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections.  We are speaking today with Cindy Jones, who is a retired classroom teacher with 36 years of service.  She is a member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the creator of Innovative Programs in the Murfreesboro school system, and now a private tutor for students of all ages.  As summer comes to an end, and back-to-school season starts, it can be hard to get back into a regular schedule for both kids and adults.  Cindy, before the school year begins, and into the first few weeks, what do kids and parents need to do to make a successful transition into a new school year?

Cindy Jones:  Five tips that I always tell my parents for the first couple of weeks of school for a good, smooth start ... the very first important thing is to be excited because your child will have a few jitters, a few nerves.  They are thinking, "Will I like my teacher, what new things will I learn, can I find my locker,"  and they are going to be getting off their summer routine that is so relaxed.  So, if you have an attitude of excitement, if you talk to them about the positive things they are going to see and do, this is contagious.  They will feel a little bit better about going back to school and breaking their summer routine.  So, you be excited for them and they will be, too.  The next thing, and it is very important for old and young alike ... about a week before school starts, you have got to kind of put your foot down and start school-time bedtimes.  This really helps with the first few weeks' fatigue and it is not easy to do, but to go to bed more on time and to get up a bit earlier - this will help you with your first couple of weeks.  Another thing that is very important for older and younger kids is organization.  Now, your older children may have some routines already in place and so you are going to augment those.  One thing I always suggest is to put by the door that you go out in the morning a little strip of paper that says, "BLHO."  What this stands for is back-pack, lunch, homework, and other.  If you get your older child to pause at the door, "Are you ready to go to school?  Yeah, I am ready!"  Okay, pause at the door, BLHO, and make them think for a moment ... chances are they are going to get everything ready to go to school.  Now, your younger children - help them pack their back-pack the night before.  Lay out clothes.  Talk about what's coming up and what day of the week it is.  Of course, have them buy supplies with you.  Nothing is worse than an older child having an inappropriate agenda.  They are not going to use it.  And so, have your children with you, old and young, when they buy supplies.  So, this type of organization will help.  Another thing parents don't think about is transportation - not transportation to school but coming home from school.  As an elementary school teacher, I saw children day after day anxious and not thinking about school.  They are wondering, "How am I getting home?"  Even older children, even if they are driving a car, you've got to have alternatives.  What are you going to do if the car breaks down or runs out of gas?  Who are they going to call?  Have a rock-solid backup for old and young children because otherwise, old or young, they are going to worry all day and that is not going to make them school ready.  And the last thing is - you know your children.  You know how to calm them down.  Does that mean when you are driving to school, you tell jokes?  Do you sing?  Are you quiet?  What is it that you are going to do to calm your child's jitters, because help them realize - from preschool, they have done this before; they can do it again with ease.

Rosemary Cope:  During the first month, what should parents look for to make sure that their children are adapting well?

Cindy Jones:  This is important.  Your first couple of months you need to establish a professional, but close, communication with the teacher.  That means the first couple of weeks send each of the teacher or teachers a brief note saying, "Hi, I am Mary Smith.  My daughter is Amy.  She is in your Economics 101.  Thanks for all you are going to do.  Here is my number in case anything comes up."  You also (and parents don't seem to know this) ... all teachers in public schools are mandated to have a website.  On the website is about the teacher, lunch schedules, daily schedule, homework, upcoming events.  Get on your computer and check the websites, maybe once a week, maybe once a week, because remember, teachers are people.  They like what most people like, to be respected, and to have some attention paid to them.  Number two - watch for changes in behavior ... now, not positive changes (that means things are going well) ... Talking about negative behaviors such as maybe not sleeping well, having bad dreams, maybe even some regression where a young child has not wet the bed in months and suddenly a few nighttime accidents.  These are red flags that say, "I need to go and talk face-to-face to my teacher," because they need to know that things are going alright.  You need to know that.  And remember, a good habit to get into with old and young, is a couple of times a week say, "Okay, school so far - what are some of the best things that happened, what are some of the challenging things that happened," and follow up on the things that seem to bother you and them.  Try to visit inside the classroom, number three, even if it is just to drop off a notepad, to bring some cookies, to help out.  Attend parents’ conferences and open house.  Why is this important?  Because this helps your child see you are buying into and support education.  They, then, will, too.  And the last thing - if you have concerns, red flags, you must remember the chain of command.  You must start with the teacher, as uncomfortable as that may be.  Start with the teacher.  Then, if that isn't resolved, all the child's teachers as a group, then the principal and the teachers ... after that, superintendent ... last of all, perhaps Board of Education or the State of Tennessee.  But you must start with the teacher.  If you don't, they are going to send you back there anyway.  So, start with the teacher and be honest and open.

Rosemary Cope:  What resources are available that can help parents and students make these important transitions, Cindy?

Cindy Jones:  Best of all is the parents' own common sense.  You know your child.  I would ask every day, every other day what was good, bad, or indifferent ... keeping communication, as we said, open with the teachers, and just using your parental instinct.  If you feel something is not going right, trust your gut.  Go with that.  Also, you can just Google "smart tips" or "smooth tips" on Google.  You'd be surprised the number of good sites that come up.  I did and there were about eight - American Psychological Association, parent groups.  So, go ahead and Google.  There are some good ones on there.  But don't forget that very important person, your school counselor, because they are a good source of information and I'll tell you, with my experience with older children and middle and high school, they are a good lubricant to getting these busy teachers to correspond with you and to work with you.

Rosemary Cope:  Cindy, thank you so much for helping us out today to better understand what we need to do to make this a great, smooth year for our students.

Cindy Jones:  I'm hoping they will.  Have a good year, everybody.

Rosemary Cope:  Thank you all for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at