Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Change is inevitable if you’re a military family, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful! This can be especially true for kids. A new city and a new home are big adjustments on their own. Add in the change of a new school, new teacher, and being the new kid in class and you have a perfect storm of stress - one that can often lead to struggles in the classroom.
As a teacher and military spouse myself, I have a lot of experience with this process. I’ve discovered in my work with other military families that they are often missing out on resources that are available to them. There are also many things that can be done before the move that many families forget.
In this post, I’ll cover some things that you can do to make the transition more seamless on the school front. (No promises on the move itself!:) And before we dig into it, you can grab this handy PDF checklist that you can use for the next time you learn your family will be making a move.
Gather info from your student’s current teacher - When you get the news that a move is on the horizon, an important but often overlooked step is to get a complete rundown of what’s been covered in your child’s classroom so far. A common reason for struggles after a school change is that the new teacher is in a completely different place in the curriculum than the previous teacher. In this situation, it’s common for kids to be too embarrassed to come forward and explain the situation to their teacher. And the teacher is often so busy with the day-to-day of the classroom that they don’t make a point to ask. Have your child’s current teacher fill you in on what topics have been covered and where your student stands. When the time comes, you can share this with their new teacher for a better understanding of the situation.
Research the new school (and district) - First and foremost, it can make a huge difference if the city you’re moving to has a strong military presence. If that’s the case, the teachers probably have some experience with this unique situation which can make the process easier. These school districts may also have a liaison or special counselor that is designated to help military families. You’ll want to note that information for later in case your child has any trouble adjusting. It’s important to note that not all schools or districts have the funding for this role. If they don’t, or if you’re moving to an area with little or no other military families, you may want to consider engaging an academic coach to help you with the transition from the current school to the new one. An academic coach can also help you through the process of what to ask your child’s teacher before you leave, and what gaps may need to be addressed at the new school.
Talk with your child about their new school - This one may be a bit obvious, but it can easily get overlooked when you’re prepping for a move. Not knowing what to expect can be a big source of the stress your child feels. If you can, give them some specifics (especially positive ones!) about the next school they’re going to, their new teacher, and the city itself. Answering questions and validating their concerns and feelings can go a long way toward alleviating any anxiety they may be experiencing.
Meet with the teacher (and keep the lines of communication open!)
This is of vital importance, especially if you are moving mid-year. You and your child will be coming in late to the party, and won’t have those first days of school or the parent’s/back-to-school night that you would normally get to ease into it. Each teacher has a unique style and way they run their classroom and it can be difficult for a student to make this adjustment mid-year. They’ll need to learn a new set of rules and expectations on top of their regular workload. And if you’re not clear on those rules and expectations as well, it can make for a rough entry. When your child starts at the new school, set up a time to meet with the teacher. Getting clear expectations from them and sharing where your student is at can save a lot of time and potential problems. It helps to get eve
ryone on the same page and also helps you to support what the teacher is doing at home. And when your student knows that YOU know the rules and expectations, they’re more likely to comply. Lastly, it’s important that you keep communicating with the teacher when things are happening at home, like deployments or if you/your spouse is gone for long periods of time. These events can impact your child’s mood and mindset, and you’ll want the teacher to be in the loop to nip issues in the bud.
Check in with your child periodically
Even after the move is complete, there are often a lot of outstanding tasks to handle before you settle in. Again, it may seem simple, but making a point to check in with your child on how they are feeling (in addition to the standard questions about school), is important. Grades and homework tend to be the focus but at the end of the day, your child’s mental health is what really matters.
Get help when you need it
f things aren’t going well, you have some options. Refer to your research on what resources are available through the school and the district. Note that if you want to take advantage of a liaison or special counselor, you as the parent will have to initiate that - the teacher can’t (even if they see issues). If that isn’t an option in your area, consider bringing in a tutor or academic coach to supplement. You can learn more about the difference in this post (LINK). An academic coach can assess where your child is at and create a plan based on their needs. They can help your student catch up as well as providing a stable education anchor to assist with the transition.