Prep For the New School Year With These Helpful Hints

Prep For the New School Year With These Helpful Hints

Parents’ questions on connecting with teachers on Facebook, considering school choices when your child is still a toddler and the annual hunt for school supplies

Is it OK to be friends with my child’s teacher or past teachers on Facebook?

Social media can bring people together, but when it comes to your kids’ teachers, it has the potential to complicate things. Many schools have policies in place that prevent teachers from being Facebook friends with students or parents, so don’t be offended if they tell you they can’t accept your request. If there isn’t a policy guiding them, ask yourself what you hope to gain from being Facebook friends. Are you looking to become friends in real life? Then it’s best to wait until the school year is over to avoid a conflict of interest, and get to know them outside school. If you want to contact them about school, respect their personal time by only using the methods of contact they request at the beginning of the school year, like email. To me, the most important thing to consider is that having access to their personal lives on Facebook may complicate your professional relationship with them if you see something on their page that colors your view of them … or vice versa. And finally, your kids are the most important consideration here, so how will this affect them? If they’re in middle school, they might be mortified by the idea of their chemistry teacher seeing the personal “on this day” memories you shared on Facebook, especially that one photo of them as a toddler in the bathtub.

We just moved to Durham, and even though my child is 4, I’ve already heard about school lotteries. What in the world is that, and do I need to be worried already about getting in someplace?

Charters and magnets and lotteries, oh my! It’s true that Durham’s system may seem strange to outsiders, but school choice is the newest thing in education, and it’s important to wrap your head around it without getting overwhelmed. To put it simply, charter schools are schools that receive public funding, but are not governed by the school board and run independently with a charter of their own. Each has its own philosophy and lottery to get in. Magnets are public schools that offer special programs or particular schedules (like year-round calendars), which are designed to pull a more diverse student body through their lottery (hence the magnet name). All magnets in Durham Public Schools fall under just one lottery. Both magnets and charters are tuition free, unlike private schools.

Here’s the thing: It will all work out in the end. Hard to believe – but true. Just pretend you’re the turtle, and it’s a slow and steady race. Find out what neighborhood school you’re zoned for, and tour that because it might be the perfect fit, and your search can stop there. Our neighborhood schools deserve love, so don’t rule them out. Then do your research online to see what other options are out there, and start prioritizing: Do you have a commute limit? Is a certain style or focus important to you, like foreign language immersion or play-based learning? Do test scores matter to you, or are you more concerned with the learning environment and growth? Oh, and if you don’t know the answer to any of that, you are not alone. Start touring and asking others about their current schools. Avoid rumors. Don’t rely only on quantitative data from real estate sites. Pretty soon you’ll have come up with some thoughts on what you’re looking for. There is no perfect answer because the school that works for you may not work for another. Take a deep breath, educate yourself, and trust your instincts.

It seems like teachers are asking for a lot with school supplies, and I just know that it’s going to be a headache to find it all – battling the crowds and dealing with my kids asking for everything. I can spend the money, but not everyone can. What’s puzzling me is, for example, do I really have to buy the laminated pocket folder with prongs as specified? Won’t any folder do?

Let’s pretend you asked to borrow a friend’s pickup truck and when you got there, they left you a tiny, two- door hatchback instead. You’d be frustrated, right? That’s teachers when they get a hodgepodge of supplies. As a substitute teacher myself, I can attest to the fact that kids go through materials incredibly quickly, and the off-brands either don’t last as long or don’t work as well. And over the years, teachers figure out which, yes, folder, suits the needs of the kids best. Involve your kiddos in ordering or purchasing supplies so they get excited about the new school year. Then put your frustrations in perspective by explaining to them how not everyone can afford all the items requested, and get them involved in contributing items or money toward helping the neediest kids in our community. Crayons2Calculators (C2C) is a wonderful local organization that collects supplies, and teachers can “shop” for free at its warehouse. This is another learning opportunity for your children: Explaining how our already modestly paid educators spend so very much of their own money in order to create a great year for children in their classes. [According to, on average, most teachers spent nearly $500 last year, and one in 10 spent $1,000 or more.] C2C bins show up in stores starting in July, and you know that what you give is staying in Durham. It’s the same for several other local school supply and backpack drives for kids, including RTP Rotary’s and The Summit Church’s drive. Our state used to have a “tax- free” designated weekend where school supplies weren’t taxed in order to save families (and teachers) money, but that was done away with by the legislature a couple years ago. So if stretching dollars for kids and prioritizing education is important to you, use that No. 2 pencil you’ll be buying to write a letter to your representatives.

Kat Benson
Kat Benson is founder of SoDu Parents Posse, a Facebook group comprised of more than 6,000 members who seek answers to raising kids in the Bull City. Kat lives in the Parkwood neighborhood with her husband, Randy, and their kids, Elliot, 8, and Ruby, 6.