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Making the Most of Open House

March 25, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

In the next week or two, thousands of area parents will take part in a classic spring ritual: open house at their children's schools.

Open houses give parents the chance to sit in the room or rooms where their children spend roughly 900 hours a year. It is also an opportunity to meet the teachers who in most cases spend more time with a child each day than the parents do.

There are several ways for parents to make the most of the open house. There's more to it than simply asking, "How's my kid doing in class?"

Here are a few tips.

First, ask the teacher for a list of topics that are covered in class so you know exactly which novels, historical periods and mathematical or scientific concepts your son or daughter is learning. You can monitor your child's knowledge on specific subjects instead of always asking, "What did you do in school today?"

Ask for a copy of the teacher's grading policy to learn the kinds of assignments given, which ones count most heavily toward the final grade and the extra-credit options that are offered.

Also find out how often report cards are given. Many parents are surprised to learn that grades are given at most Westside schools every six or eight weeks, not just twice a year.

The grading policy should mention how often homework is assigned in an average week. If not, ask the teacher. That way you'll know better if your student constantly comes home without books and says there was nothing assigned.

Unfortunately, teachers usually don't have enough time to talk at length with parents during the open house because the visitors are herded through too quickly.

But there's still an easy way to reserve some quality time with your child's teachers. Bring to the open house a note for each teacher that lists your phone number at home and work, and the best times to reach you. List specific questions or concerns you want to discuss, and make sure you include the student's last name if it's different from yours.

As you give the note to the teacher, ask when you can expect to hear from him or her. Asking "Will I hear from you by Friday?" for example, helps to ensure that you really will.

What you see at the open house may tell you as much about your child's school life as what you hear, so explore the classroom thoroughly.

Wall displays, maps, showcases of student work and a seating arrangement that allows students to interact usually mean that the teacher inspires curiosity and open discussion of ideas. (Remember, though, that not all teachers--no matter how inspiring--have wall space, floor space or funding to jazz up their classrooms this way.)

Make time to venture beyond the classroom too. Visit the office to read notices of school activities and meet your child's counselor, or inspect the safety and versatility of the gym or playground. Getting a school newspaper will also tell you a lot about the school's inner workings and most pressing issues.

Above all, remember that examination of your child's academic world need not be limited to the open house. It is your right to visit a public school on any school day, and many teachers encourage parents to schedule visits to actual classes.

If your work schedule makes a daytime back-to-school visit impossible, then making the most of an open house is the best alternative.

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