Chapter 6: Trust Your Gut

You are your child’s best advocate

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An advocate is someone who stands up for someone else and makes sure that other person gets what he needs. While your child is in school, you are his advocate. Teachers and counselors certainly want what is best for all the children in their care, but they are responsible for dozens — sometimes hundreds — of children. You, on the other hand, can focus on just one very important child at a time: your own. It’s your job to make sure your child gets the help he needs in school.

Sometimes parents feel a little intimidated by the teaching staff at their child’s school. Teachers are trained professionals, after all. They know how to help children learn and grow. But when it comes to your child, you are the expert. You know when your child is struggling. You know when your child is upset. You know when your child needs extra help.

When to step in

Sometimes, things go great at school. Maybe your child has the best teacher ever. Maybe the school is just a really good fit for his interests and needs. When this happens, it’s great! You can sit back and watch your child blossom.

Other times, though, things might not go so smoothly. How do you know when it’s time to step in and be your child’s advocate? Here are a few signs.

  • Slipping test scores – One or two low test scores are nothing to worry about. Your child may simply be learning something new, and he’ll soon catch up. But if you notice that his test scores are getting steadily lower, it may be time to get involved.
  • No communication from the teacher – Most teachers send home lots of information — school schedules, report cards, your child’s “What I Did Last Summer” essay. If you are not getting as much information as you would like from your child’s school, you should contact your child’s teacher and find out why.
  • Reluctance to go to school – Some kids love school and others don’t. That’s normal. But if you see a sudden change in your child’s behavior, something may be going on at school that needs your attention. Maybe your child is being bullied. Maybe he’s falling behind the rest of the class. Whatever the problem, you need to find out what’s going on and see what can be done to fix it.
  • Sick days when he’s not really sick – Kids who don’t want to go to school sometimes play sick. Other times, worrying about a problem at school can give them very real physical symptoms. If your child is missing lots of school days, check with his doctor to see if he’s sick. If not, he might have a problem at school.
  • Homework takes too long – The National Education Association endorses the “10-Minute Rule” when it comes to homework. This means a child in the first grade should have about 10 minutes of homework at night. Ten more minutes should be added for each grade level. Second graders, for example, should have about 20 minutes of homework a day, while third graders should work on homework for about half an hour. If your child’s homework takes much longer than this, you should contact the school.

How to be an advocate

Once you’ve decided your child needs your help, it’s not always easy to know what to do next. Here are a few tips.

  1. Remember that what you have to offer is as important as what your child’s teacher, counselor or doctor can contribute. While these professionals have training and test scores to work with, you have first-hand knowledge of your child. You know what he does well and where he struggles. Even more important, you have your gut instinct, which tells you when something just isn’t right.
  2. Tell all the people involved about your child’s strengths. When a team of educators focuses only on a child’s struggles, some very important opportunities can be lost. Remind them of what your child does well and point out any improvements you’re seeing.
  3. Be calm but insistent. Everyone at your child’s school wants what is best for him, of course. But if you feel that your concerns are not being addressed or that changes to your child’s school program are not helping, don’t back down. Calmly insist that your child needs additional help.
  4. Keep a file for your child. Keep a copy of his test scores, progress reports, medical records and school evaluations. Whenever you have a meeting of any kind, write down who you met with and what was decided. Keep any notes from your child’s teacher, as well.

When to step it up

Your child’s future is more important than his teacher’s feelings. If you have tried your best to communicate your concerns to your child’s teacher but feel your concerns are not being addressed, it may be time to talk to someone else. Start with the counselor at your child’s school. She will be able to tell you who else you can talk to — whether it’s the reading specialist, the school psychologist or the principal — and how to get an appointment with that person.


National Education Association, “Research Spotlight on Homework,”