Whenever I talk to parents about their upcoming move, their main concern is the kids. They want to know if they’ve ruined their child’s life (they haven’t) and if the kids will cope with starting at a new school (they will). Although I host family workshops to help prepare kids for that first day, I thought you might want to hear straight from the teachers for this post. Our teachers are on the front line, and they see what happens after the kids walk through those school doors. Here are 9 tips from teachers that’ll help you as you make the transition to a new school.
Ask the school to match your child with another student
Your child’s school may have a program that matches new students with current students. Melissa Drapatsky, a 10th grade teacher, advises that even if your school doesn’t have a program in place, “you can still ask your child’s guidance counselor to pair your child with a current student.” As a parent, this may also provide an opportunity for you to connect with another family in the community.
Find out whether there’s a new student club
Some schools offer a “Newcomers Club” for new students. Robin Sheperd, a 10th and 11th grade teacher, says that a guidance counselor runs the Newcomers Club at her school. She explains, “All teachers receive a list of students new to the school and the Newcomers Club meets monthly for the first semester.” When you’re starting at a new school, it’s nice to know you aren’t the only one.
Request a list of afterschool programs from the school
Kimberly Gabriel, a 7th grade teacher and YA author of Every Stolen Breath, recommends asking the school about programs that may help your child with the transition. “Ask for a list of clubs, extracurriculars, or after school programs in which your child might be interested,” says Gabriel. “Even if your child doesn’t join anything right away, it’s always good to have this list on hand.”
Join a fall team before starting at a new school
Sheperd advises encouraging your child to get involved by joining clubs and sports teams that match your child’s interest. “Some groups begin practice before school even starts. It’s a great way to have friendly and familiar faces in the school building once the school year begins.” In addition, if you are making an international move, the language barrier can be less of a concern when you’re on the soccer field or on the tennis court.
Find the balance between activities, school, and friends
Although getting involved can be a good way to meet people, you don’t want to go overboard. Drapatsky notes that this is a common mistake that kids make when starting at a new school. “Some students get involved with too many activities in order to meet new friends and perhaps get in over their head,” says Drapatsky. “Another mistake would be to just focus on academics and ignore the social aspects of school. A balance is necessary for an ideal experience.”
Ask a classmate to connect on social media
For older kids who have cell phones or are on social media, they can ask a classmate for her contact information in order to follow up on an assignment. Who knows? This may be the start of a beautiful friendship. However, Sheperd shares wisdom learned from her 10th grade sociology students, “Students prefer to connect on social media before exchanging phone numbers because phone numbers are more sacred in the hierarchy of communication.” So, your child may end up messaging on Instagram or Snapchat after an interaction in class or at practice.
Remind your child she doesn’t need to attach herself to a friend right away
In my book, The Art of Happy Moving, kids can fill out a friend chart where they can choose what friend groups would appeal to them the most. Maybe they identify with the debate team or the cheerleaders or the band. The exercise’s purpose is to remind kids they have a choice when it comes to making friends. They can identify with multiple groups and have many different types of friends.
Gabriel describes how new students make the mistake of not recognizing they have various friend options. “I sometimes see new students attach themselves to the peers giving them the most attention without branching out, meeting more people, and finding a good friend or friend group with which they can form positive relationships,” Gabriel says. So, remind your child to be friendly to everyone, but that it’s okay to continue to meet other people at school.
Focus on the positive moments
This tip is for the worried parents out there (which I think covers all of us). Sheperd understands that it can be difficult as a parent to reasonably react to a child’s description of a day at school. “We tend to focus on one negative detail amid a pretty good day,” says Sheperd. “For example, your child may come home from his new school and talk about his math teacher’s joke, the book they will start reading in English, and also that he sat alone during a free period. On balance, that’s a pretty good day. The funny math teacher and English curriculum will last all year. Within a week or two, he will not be alone during a free period.”
Recognize that school is different now
Times have changed since I was in school. Today, teachers create interactive environments and students work in small groups. Sheperd explains that teachers create these groups as opposed to the students, which is a nice arrangement for new students. “Teachers are conscious of the need to create these small groups at the start of school,” says Sheperd. “These classroom connections can turn into social connections quickly.” According to Shepherd, parents shouldn’t worry that their child will go through the day without talking to anyone because today’s classroom environment is more interactive.
If you started at a new school, what did you find to be the biggest challenge or what was easier than you expected?
Melissa Drapatsky is starting her 22nd year of teaching. She teaches 10th grade and runs a program for incoming 9th graders.
Robin Sheperd has been teaching high school for 24 years at a suburban public high school with about 2000 students.
Kimberly Gabriel is a 7th grade teacher with 20 years teaching experience. She is the author of the YA novel, Every Stolen Breath, and you can find more information on her website or connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, or Goodreads.