Is your child left-handed? Left-brained? Sensitive to feeling left out? And to the extent you know that these things impact her schoolwork, how much of a heads-up will you give her teachers before or around the first day of school?

The question of whether to brief the teacher on your child’s particular quirks or learning style is one that dogs parents of typically developing children at the start of every school year. Of course, we know our children best. We know which ones weep in frustration over a setback, which will listen to verbal instructions and which need to be shown, and which just need to be allowed to make their own mistakes. Why not help the teacher get them off to a good start?

Because a fresh start might be even better. “My little brother was a pain at home growing up,” the high school teacher and vice principal Zach Galvin says, when describing the reasons he would rather parents let him develop his own relationship with a student, without preconceptions. “His teachers and the staff loved him because he had a different relationship at school.”

Another high school teacher, K. C. Potts, said something similar. “I prefer to observe my students during the early days of the year through eyes that are as objective as possible.”

Launa Schweizer, a middle school teacher, offered a different opinion by email. She has always found it valuable to get information in advance.

“The more serious the issue, the more I need to hear about it,” she wrote. “If Penny likes the crust cut off her bread, that’s not crucial information, although I will certainly file that away. However, if Penny will hide in the bathroom all day if she is afraid that one of her classmates has a cold, that’s vital for me to know. “

But Penny might surprise her parents by taking crusts and germs in stride in a new environment. As someone who reads, writes and thinks a lot about children, parents and family, I’ve found that I’m prone toward the lay diagnosis and the over-analysis. Teachers seem like a great audience for my insights: interested and knowledgeable. But my husband frequently reminds me that sometimes, as he puts it, “it’s not a problem until you make it a problem.”

I go into this school year determined to step back. I answered the questionnaire that one child’s teacher sent home simply and directly, without going into extravagant descriptions of the child’s prowess or problems. I minimized one child’s resistance to the seating arrangements she discovered at the open house the day before school. In answer to the teacher’s question — would my daughter accept her seat, or should she be moved? — I assured her that my child might pout a little, but would be fine (and I was right).

That moment also reminded me, again, how tempting it is to push people to arrange the world around your own special snowflake. Because if I hadn’t told the teacher (who wondered why one of her new students was stomping her feet in fury before class had even started) what was wrong, I wouldn’t have risked turning a molehill into a mountain. Part of not making a problem is simply keeping your mouth shut.

All the teachers I spoke with agreed that they would want to hear anything relevant to a student’s safety, and many mentioned learning differences or emotional situations as other areas they would want to hear about in advance. But those are broad categories. Dyslexia very clearly presents something a school needs to know about and accommodate. Trouble with following instructions may or not, depending on the cause, and even that can be hard to define.

For real needs, or even just preferences, parents need to teach children to begin to advocate for themselves. “This can range from ‘I’m left-handed and need a different pair of scissors’ in the elementary years to total self-advocacy by college,” wrote Schweizer (adding that “If you have a typically developing child, and find yourself calling his or her college professors, employers or landlord, you may not have done your job!”).

Letting our children learn to speak for themselves is one reason for parents to take a back seat in the first days of school, and clearing the way for each to make her own first impression is another.

What will you brief the teacher on this fall, and when will you bite your tongue?

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

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