Open House Nightmare
Are you really ready?
Your room looks great. It should. You've spent hours getting everything just right. Butterflies are fluttering overtime in your stomach. But you put on your smile over the exhaustion you really feel, Ready to meet those parents and kids . . .
And then . . . here they come. You stand at the door meeting,
greeting, and inviting everyone into your room to find a seat. You walk to the front of the room and begin your "Welcome to the new year" speech. All of a sudden, the child in the back begins running around the room, shouting in glee, picking up everything. Another child tentatively joins in the "fun."
You try to continue, wondering where the parents are. Why don't they stop their child? You are not in charge of the children. You don't even know them yet. You've lost the attention of the group.
The noise level escalates. A parent tries to motion to his child to come sit back down. Younger siblings begin talking out loud, a baby starts crying. Another parent just follows her child around the room and so on. The well-planned meeting has quickly gone downhill. You do your best to conclude, hand out papers with information, and assure parents that their child will have a wonderful year in your classroom.
From the Parents' perspective . . .
Let's look at the parents' viewpoint.
Parent tells kindergarten child, "You're going to start school this year. Tonight, we get to go meet your teacher and see your new room. Won't that be exciting?" Child asks," What will it be like?" Parent, "I have no idea. I guess we will just have to wait and see."
OR . . .
Parent tells older child, "Tonight we have to go to another Open House. That's the only way we can find out who your teacher will be this year. I won't have time tomorrow to walk you to your classroom when school starts. I have to let you out so I can get to work. I know you're hungry but we have to wait until after the meeting to get dinner. Let's go."
And, finally, the child's viewpoint . . .
Inside a Kindergarten child's mind— "What does that mean, 'start school'? New room? I have a room. I don't want another one. New teacher? Will I get to play? What do I get to do?" Very nervous and anxious but doesn't know why.
Inside the older child's mind—"Oh, no! Another year. I hope I'm in so-and-so's class. I sure hope so-and-so isn't in my class. And I sure hope I don't get you-know-who for my teacher."
Most parents are ill-equipped to know what to expect and how to prepare their children to start school unless bringing their second or third child. For some, it's a difficult time to say goodby for the first time in five years as they turn their child over to another adult, for others it's a relief, for others whose children have been in pre-school and daycare, they think it's just a slight transition, not much different. Whatever the case, be prepared to help parents, especially those who are sending their first child to kindergarten. They are in new territory and this is an opportunity for you to help them navigate these scary waters successfully.
You will make a huge impact on parents as well as their children. You're in this together with the same goals. You have been trained, you have had the child development and child psychology courses, you have spent hundreds of hours in preparation. You have the opportunity to help parents grow in their parenting skills by developing relationships. What happens during the hours your students spend at home greatly impacts the hours they spend in your classroom. Be involved!
Do not assume parents know what to do or how to do it, especially parents of kindergarteners and any students who are new to your school. Kindergarten parents need as much help and guidance as you can give them.
1-2 Weeks Before School Starts
Schools reveal teacher assignments at different times. No matter whether your school notifies families of their assignments ahead of time or on the first day, the following suggestions will go a LONG way toward having a successful first few weeks. If your school does not make plans in advance, be proactive and do as much as you can to help yourself and other teachers.
Send out a Welcome Letter. Along with your welcome and introduction, include the following:
If at all possible, invite parents to bring their child by the school during whatever times you are available for a brief, one-on-one meeting. Show them around your room, make one connection with them so you will remember who they are, ask parent volunteers to give tours of the building. The first time the child is in the building can be an overwhelming experience. By coming at a time when very few people are around will give the child confidence for coming to Open House and/or the First Day. I realize those 2 weeks before school begins are crucial to your room preparations. I also realize that you are probably not paid for those days. But
Open House Preparation. Describe to parents the purpose for Open House. This varies from school to school.
Will it be in an organized meeting format or just roam the building?
Will everyone meet in the cafeteria/auditorium first and then go to classrooms or just go straight to classroom?
How will your school provide for families with 2 or more siblings? Single parent of 2 or more siblings?
Include the Agenda & Timeframe. Be respectful of parents' time. If your Open House occurs the night before school starts, set the end time early so families can get home and children go to be early.
Encourage parents to leave younger siblings (babies, toddlers) with a grandparent or other babysitter. If parents must bring them, provide a place for them to sit where they can slip out quietly if these children become disruptive. Some schools even have a designated place where younger siblings can play while under adult supervision (either a parent volunteer, paid sitter, etc).
Be sure they know they are responsible for the behavior of their child and younger siblings at all times during Open House.
Prepare your child. Encourage parents to prepare their child a few days before
coming to Open House. Include these suggestions in your letter.
PREPARE. Explain to your child what an Open House is and what to expect.
ANTICIPATE. Come to Open House with a bag of quiet activities—crayons, coloring pages, dot-to-dot, tablet, earphones, etc.
EXPECTATIONS. Explain to your child that he/she will stay with you, sit beside you, and when adults are talking, he/she must sit quietly.
CONSEQUENCES. Tell your child beforehand what will happen if he/she makes wrong choices.
Anticipate and Be Prepared
Greet students and parents at the door. Hopefully, you have already met them and will remember their names. Make them feel like they are the most important people you have seen all day.
Hand the students a packet of age-appropriate activity sheets. For younger students these can be coloring pages, simple dot-to-dot, etc. For older students, complicated dot-to-dot, back-to-school questionnaire, riddle sheet, etc. Some schools will have a separate room for students to go to while teachers talk to parents.
Be careful about overloading parents with information. This is a high-stress time and they will forget much of what you tell them.
A well-organized handout will be more effective.
Try to take as many questions as you can in the amount of time you have.
Be respectful of the time constraints.
Contacting you. Assure parents of your availability and ease of contact. Give them the best way to contact you for a quick response. Set your hours for responses so they will not be alarmed at no reply.
Finally . . .
I wrote this blog post as a result of watching family members whom I love very dearly go through a very bad experience taking their child to his first Open House as they prepare for his First Day of school. As a teacher, it broke my heart that those first impressionable moments were destroyed by so many adults. It could have been prevented.
So this blog post is not just for music teachers. It's for all teachers. All administrators. We are in this together. We are partners with the parents, grandparents, and the community. Our goals are the same. We want to create a safe and nurturing environment where students of all cultures and backgrounds will develop respect for others while building a lifelong love for learning.