Parent Guide: Who's Who at Your Child's School


There are many people at your child's school who are there to help your child learn, grow socially and emotionally, and navigate the school environment. Here's a selected list of who's who at your school: the teaching and administrative staff as well as organizations at the district level. You might want to keep this list handy all year long.

In the Classroom

Subject-Area Teacher: Around fourth grade, students begin having different teachers for each subject in middle school. Middle and secondary school teachers specialize in a specific subject, such as English or history, or even career-oriented ones like cooking or automotive repair. Like elementary teachers, middle and secondary school teachers work with school counselors and with special education teachers on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Whenever you have a concern about your child's academic progress, you should seek out the teacher or teachers involved.

Special Education Teacher: Special education teachers help children with learning disabilities and their families over an entire academic career, starting with the IEP, which sets personalized learning outcomes. They work closely with general education teachers to coordinate students' individualized educational experience and develop specific steps to prepare the students with disabilities for middle school, high school, or, for older students, jobs or further study. You may use the special education teacher as a resource, too, in learning what to do at home to support what your child is learning at school. Also, you may follow your child's behavioral progress with the teacher.

ESL Teacher: English as a Second Language Teachers specialize in helping non-native students master English language and culture, and may also support instruction in reading and basic content knowledge, such as science or history facts. By providing English skills as well as content knowledge, ESL courses help students join a general classroom appropriate for their age and abilities. Teachers may be ESL-certified in addition to their primary teaching area; for example, a teacher may be an elementary education teacher with ESL certification, or a teacher's primary certification may be in ESL. When you speak with your child's ESL teacher, you will learn about your child's progress with English skills as well as with mastering the content. (Sometimes these teachers are referred to as ELL, ELD, or ESOL teachers as well.) Some ESL teachers may be fluent in another language and culture, but it is not necessarily a requirement in order to teach English as a second language.

Support Within the School

Assistant Principal: Sometimes called vice-principals, they help the school principal by becoming primarily responsible for an administrative area of the school. Your child's school may have one or several assistant principals, depending on how many students attend. Assistant principals may handle student discipline and attendance problems, recreational programs, and health matters. For example, if your child must miss school for an extended time, perhaps because of an illness, you may work with an assistant principal to decide how your child will keep up with schoolwork and how the absence will impact your child's academic record.

Guidance Counselors: Counselors help students with social, behavioral, and personal challenges to develop the life skills to succeed. At the middle and high school levels, counselors provide increasingly more vocational and academic counseling, including helping students evaluate their own interests and abilities. High school counselors also help students plan their post-graduation experiences, by advising them about college admissions, resume writing, apprenticeships, and more. You may want to speak with the counselor about your thoughts on your child's post-graduation opportunities.

College Counselor: These specialized counselors focus on students and colleges. They help students select courses to meet admission requirements, choose where to apply, study for standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, and prepare college applications. College Counselors may also provide information about financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Librarian: The librarian administers the library, including overseeing its evolution to a media center. That means the librarian selects books, helps students research online and in texts, manages the library computers, and chooses videos for the school collection. At a back-to-school night, you may want to ask whether the media center is available for after-school research time.

Literacy Coach: Literacy coaches improve literacy instruction across all classes, by helping teachers of all subjects include literacy skill-building work. The coaches also assess how well the school teaches literacy skills, and may develop school-wide literacy programs.

Occupational Therapist: Occupational therapists (OT) help schoolchildren who suffer from a disabling condition, whether mental, physical, developmental, or emotional, to develop and maintain daily living skills. In schools, for example, the occupational therapists assess children's capabilities, recommend therapy, adapt classroom equipment, and help children participate in school activities. For disabled students approaching a transition, such moving on to high school, or, for older students, jobs or further study, an occupation therapist can help design therapies targeted to specific skills that will be needed.

Paraprofessionals: Paraprofessionals offer support in a number of ways, often extending the individual attention that can be given to students. Middle or high school paraprofessionals may specialize in a subject, such as science or history, and may tutor, take charge of special projects, or prepare equipment, as well as monitor the cafeteria. Paraprofessionals also work with special needs children, helping them participate successfully in a general classroom. You may want to speak with all of the educators who regularly works with your child to stay informed of your child's progress.

Parent Coordinator: Parent coordinators (also called parent liaisons or outreach coordinators) are responsible for encouraging parental involvement in a child's education and in school activities. The parent liaison is a member of the school staff, rather than a volunteer, and is a source of support, information, and contact for parents about school policies and programs. Many bilingual parent liaisons may also be able to assist parents with interpreting, or direct parents to other interpreters or staff who can help provide information and answer questions in a parent's native language.

Principal: Each school has one principal, who sets the academic and administrative expectations for the school. The principal is responsible for ensuring the school meets state, local, and federal goals on test results. Principals meet with teachers, work with staff, talk with parents, report to the school board, and, if needed, discipline students. Principals are the school's decision maker and chief public representative. You may speak with the principal about your child, such as his or her class placement, as well as about school issues that concern you.

Reading Specialist: A reading specialist provides reading services across the curriculum. For example, the specialist may work individually with a struggling student, as well as work with the literacy coach to manage the reading support services provided at the school. The specialist may also train teachers on reading strategies for the classroom. You may contact a reading specialist with questions about your child's reading habits.

School Psychologists: These professionals apply the psychology of learning to provide safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school personnel to address students' learning and behavioral problems and growth. For example, they may oversee a school's peer counseling program. If your child is identified with special learning needs, either disabilities or giftedness, you may meet with the school psychologist to help plan his or her education.

Secretary: The school secretary manages the administrative work of the school, ranging from registering students to scheduling appointments with the principal, from answering phone calls to monitoring attendance. Frequently, a school has a secretarial team of a few people to handle all the work. When you call or visit the school, a secretary will help you reach the person you need.

Speech-Language Pathologist or Speech Therapist: These therapists help students with problems relating to speech, language, and voice communication, such as stuttering or understanding language. They can assess and diagnose problems, as well as treat existing conditions or help prevent such disorders. If your child regularly has trouble saying or responding to certain words, you may want to seek help from the school's speech-language pathologist.

Teacher Aide, Teacher Assistant, Instructional Aide: See Paraprofessional.

Support Around the School

PTA/PTO: The Parent-Teacher Association (or organization) brings the parents together on behalf of the school through activities like parent newsletters, special events, and fundraisers.

School Board: The board is responsible for the legislative functioning of the public school district. Its members are elected, appointed, or both. The school board also oversees the budget for the district and makes district-level policy decisions. School board meetings are open to the public — check its website for a meeting schedule — and you can lobby the school board on their decisions, like which schools will have special programs.

School District: The district is the geographic region of schools that work together, typically, a city, town, or county. Two of its primary jobs are assigning students and staff to schools and managing the school properties. In general, children are assigned to schools based on where they live, but you may request your child go to another school within the district if another school offers a program not available at the school your child would ordinarily attend. Check your district's web site for full details of its geographic boundaries and student opportunities offered.

Teacher's Union: The collective presence of the teachers, the union bargains with the public school board about issues that affect a teacher's employment, such as salaries and tenure, and establishes them in a contract. Periodically, the contracts are renewed or reassessed; as both a taxpayer and a parent, you may want to know the current or proposed contract details.


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