Teachers write a guidebook for navigating the school system

Between them, Laura Mayne and Betty Borowski taught elementary school for 57 years. So the Mississauga, Ont., mothers know a thing or two about how children learn.



Between them, Laura Mayne and Betty Borowski taught elementary school for 57 years. So the Mississauga, Ont., mothers know a thing or two about how children learn.

Here’s what they want parents to know: You will always be your child’s first and most important teacher. And you are an essential partner in their education.

While that makes sense, it isn’t always easy to remember when a 10-year-old is having a homework meltdown, you can’t make head or tail of the jargon on the report card, or you suspect your child has a learning problem and don’t know where to turn.

That’s why Mayne and Borowski drew on their combined experience to write Meet the Teacher: How to Help Your Child Navigate Elementary School (Firefly Books).

After years talking with hundreds of parents, they know that school routines and bureaucracy can be as intimidating to anxious adults as the first day of kindergarten can be to their four-year-olds.

“We felt there was nothing out there and this book would be a general guide,” says Mayne, who has a daughter in Grade 10.

The authors stress that parents who understand how things work inside classrooms and school boards are better equipped to help their kids be happy and successful in school. Parents also need to see themselves as part of a three-way partnership with their child and the teacher.

“Education doesn’t stop at the end of the school day,” says Mayne.

The book has hints on homework and study skills, helping your child make friends, bedtime and morning habits, parent-teacher interviews, and what to do if there’s a personality conflict between your child and the teacher.

It explains kids’ different learning styles, the confusing acronyms of special ed, and how to volunteer in the classroom or for the parent council. It’s also full of stepping-stones for young learners, from the correct way to hold a pencil to how to study for a spelling test.

Mississauga mother of three Robin Campbell knows her kids’ school and staff because she spends a lot of time volunteering. But she loves the idea of a user-friendly guide that explains school policies and the system at large.

“There aren’t a lot of resources out there for parents wanting to know how to deal with the schools … how the system works and why,” she says.

Campbell recalls winging it when her eldest son, now in Grade 6, headed into junior kindergarten not really knowing what to expect.

“Meet the Teacher” walks parents through the process, from registration to staggered starting dates and the fundamental skills children will work on. “This book would have really helped me,” says Campbell.

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, welcomes a resource aimed at demystifying the system.

It’s part of the mandate at her parent-led group, which provides online tip sheets in many languages on a range of topics like how to help kids succeed in school, parent-teacher interviews, and special ed.

Mayne, 53, and Borowski, 59, met as teachers at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Mississauga, where they worked together for 19 years. Mayne has taught every grade from kindergarten through Grade 6, as well as special ed; Borowski, who has two daughters and three grandchildren, was a teacher-librarian.

Before they sat down to write, the pair collected input from friends, family and parents they’ve met over the years, asking, “What do you wish you’d known before your child started school?” and “What would you like to know now?” says Mayne.

The result is a guidebook that Angela Langlois of Burlington, Ont., couldn’t wait to read — even though her daughter is only 15 months old.

Langlois, who has fond memories of being taught by both authors, says sections on early learning and literacy and the importance of free play will help her prepare her daughter. As a former school secretary, she also saw many parents confused by the system and not sure of their rights or their roles, which “Meet the Teacher” explains.

“I find the tips really neat. I’ll be pulling it out again when she’s starting kindergarten.”