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Family Matters Blog: Teachers Look to Schools, Parents for Support

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2012 – When Department of Defense Education Activity Director Marilee Fitzgerald last week proclaimed teacher support a top priority, as many school systems do, I wondered how even the best intentions would trickle down to teachers thousands of miles away.

Then I spoke to Laurie Arensdorf, a first grade teacher at Vogelweh Elementary School, Germany, and I knew.

Arensdorf had just gotten home from her first day back to school – students would start a week later – when she returned my call seeking input about the new school year from a teacher’s perspective. I asked how a teacher might feel supported and how important that is.

“I’ve gotten that feeling already!” she said. “Our principal must have talked for 10 minutes today about the value of us, and how valued we are in the school.”

Vogelweh Principal Sandy Meacham “has always been like that,” Arensdorf said. But the level of support was so strong, “I had a sneaky suspicion it was also coming from higher up.”

“I really do think we are heavily supported,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like a spoiled child. I get everything I need. Especially at my school, I know I can go to the administration with anything I need and they will support me.”

Clearly, the message had gotten through that not only do principals have to have their teachers’ backs, but they have to communicate that, as well.

It was the perfect “welcome back,” Arensdorf said of the start of her second year at Vogelweh. She also taught fifth grade in Okinawa, Japan, for 13 years. “I’ve really hit the jackpot at my school,” she said.

That feeling of support, as Arensdorf explained, comes mostly from the local level – from principals and parents – but it helps to have the full weight of the school administration directing it.

“The main thing is that I feel valued, then I can take that feeling to my class and they feel happy and valued,” she said of the end result for students.

That support translates into a full team approach of teachers, the principal and administration all working together on behalf of the students, Arensdorf said. “I don’t feel like I’m ever teaching by myself,” she added. “It takes a whole team.”

DODEA is awash with change from rebuilding and reconstructing 70 percent of its schools to adopting common core standards with state school systems – both of which Arendorf welcomed.

“The fact that they are listening to what we need as teachers, that makes a big difference,” she said.

So what can parents do to also ensure teachers feel supported?

“The biggest thing is to ask your child’s teacher what you can do to help,” Arendorf said. “And, ask what you can do to help your child at home.”

Don’t worry about reaching out too much to your child’s teacher, she said.

“If there’s ever a question, just email me,” she said. “I would rather have questions brought to the surface than to not know it’s going on. I really need to know my students and anything you can tell me, that helps me know them better.”

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